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Reflections On My Rite of Passage

Denzel Goh

Rite of Passage (ROP) is a 3-day-2-night camp organised by our church for brothers who are about to enter the Singapore National Service (NS). It is spearheaded by the ‘instructors’ – our seniors from the Youth Ministry who are 1 to 2 years older and are currently serving or have recently completed NS. The camp is also overseen by some adults, who look into our safety and well-being. The ‘recruits’ are basically those who are set to enlist into NS the next year. The camp is typically held at the end of the year in December.

The purpose of ROP is to impart helpful skills and mindsets in the enlistees so that they can be more confident about themselves when they’re in the army and be a positive impact to those around them.

I was from the Hotel batch (2019) of ROP, the 8th batch to go through the camp.

ROP is not easy, and there are a lot of lessons to learn.

I remember a few months before ROP began, it was on my mind pretty often and I would become worried (I tend to over think a lot). In my mind, I pictured it to be a rigorous camp with a lot of shouting and punishments meted out by people one or two years older than me.

My batch comprised of seven recruits. I was not even fit, and was in fact the weakest physically in my cohort. Before going for the camp, I feared I would not be able to take the physical exertion I would experience over the three days, especially if I do not get adequate sleep.

But 20 December 2019 arrived at last. We had a short briefing followed by a group discussion where we could share our thoughts and worries to the instructors about the camp ahead. It really helped me a lot as I shared about my fear of developing ill feelings towards the instructors, and uncertainty of making it through physically.

During the camp, we were also put in pairs/trios where we are made ‘buddies’ to each other. We needed to be accountable for each other and go everywhere together. Furthermore, we were assigned numbers to be referred to; I was ‘06’. Everyone had to address each recruit by his newly allocated number.

Thankfully as I had been in the National Cadet Corps in secondary school, I was mentally prepared for the ROP. In fact, I was not affected by the shouting and ‘tekans’ (penalties which involve physical exercises) meted out by the instructors. I was pretty ‘numb’ to all these already, so this aspect of ROP was not really an issue for me. I can say that my experience in a uniformed group helped me a lot emotionally throughout the camp.

Before this, I struggled to understand the rationale for ROP, but I’ve since learned why the NS Ministry started this initiative. There have been cases where young national servicemen became disheartened and left the faith while serving NS. Hence, learning how to deal with situations faced in NS from a Christian perspective is really important.

Our seniors shared a few Bible verses with us during a morning lesson on the second day. My favourite one was, “So we say with confidence, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?’” (Hebrews 13:6)

I knew that no matter what other human beings do to me, the person in greatest control of my life is myself. No one can break me unless I allow myself to be broken. This verse played in my head constantly, and that gave me more confidence to handle the difficult tasks in the camp.

During the lessons, we were also taught that hardship is a fuel for growth. Furthermore, many people could be seeking a purpose in life while serving NS. This gives us the opportunity to share the Word of God with them. In fact, many adults in our church started coming to church during their NS days.

For the rest of the camp, we went through difficult missions and we messed up quite a lot. This was largely caused by a lack of communication and teamwork. There were many instances where I exerted myself so much that I had to fall out a few times (my knees could not take it).

We were constantly reminded that communication and being certain of what one does is vital. There were times I had to guide my group during the activity, but I stumped because I did not clarify my own doubts before giving out instructions. This made things progress slowly.

A lot of you will probably agree that teamwork and communication are lessons we learn everywhere. One key aspect I was really glad to learn in this camp was that one should not leave any man behind – when at least one person is not doing anything, there’s something wrong. And when you are done with your part, you HAVE to help others too. This ensures everything progresses faster and no one ends up ‘saboing’ (colloquial term for “sabotaging”) the entire group.

Leadership may be scary, I am terrified of it, but there are times when you have no choice but to try. This is because volunteering to try is better than having no one take the leadership role at all, which inevitably lands the entire group in trouble. When everyone expects someone else to volunteer, no decisions get made, and nothing gets done. This further exemplifies the importance of a unit.

I believe these principles will be much appreciated during NS. Having these principles help us become role models for others in camp to emulate. This is especially so when we show the ability to handle tough situations well, constantly think of others, and are always there for them.

Finally, the camp ended off with an encouragement session by the instructors, where each recruit received words of encouragement from a few people. I was really touched and it made me proud of myself. I had achieved a difficult feat!

I did not believe I would have made it through, but I did to my biggest surprise. I wondered, if someone as unfit and scrawny as me could accomplish this, what more could I possibly achieve in NS?

I am much more confident now and feel that there are many more things I can accomplish. Furthermore, I got closer to my fellow Hotel batch mates, as I had hardly interacted with most of them before this. The few of us had a ‘celebratory meal’ together after church service that day and I really enjoyed it.

To those who have yet to enrol in ROP, just know that the instructors are doing this to help you make a positive impact on others in future. You WILL come out a better person. Each of you will gain in different ways, besides the points that I’ve raised above regarding attitude, communication, and responsibility towards others. For those of you who are looking for a reason to spend time with people whom you haven’t had a chance to talk to for a while, ROP is a good opportunity. You will have a lot of things to share to those after you!

Denzel Goh

At the time of writing, Denzel is an 18-year old who just completed his A-levels and graduated from junior college in 2019.

He will be enlisting in National Service in April 2020.

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