Lenten Series: Migrant Faith Stories – Ellen

  • Mar 22, 2024

Life in the Philippines wasn’t easy for Ellen. Abandoned by her mother when she was young, she was left to be raised by her grandmother. In adulthood, she was separated from her husband, with whom she had four children with – two daughters and two sons.

She decided to come to Singapore when she was 32 years old, seeking to earn money to support her children’s education – an opportunity she herself did not have when she was their age.

Her first employer did not treat her very well, and to make matters worse, the other helper she was working with did not treat her nicely too.

This made her feel especially hurt and betrayed as out of all people, Ellen expected her to be more understanding of her situation since they were both in the same boat. “It was more painful knowing that my kababayan (Tagalog word meaning friend from the same country or town) would bully me too,” she said.

Though her patience was pushed to the limit at times, she decided to be the bigger person, and made the decision to look for another employer.

However, things only got worse at this new household.   

She recalls being given just a slice of bread and a chicken wing with ketchup for one of her meals. According to the Ministry of Manpower’s suggested food portions for MDWs on their employer’s guide, an adequate meal for lunch or dinner includes a bowl of rice, three-quarter cup of cooked vegetables, a palm-sized amount of meat, and fruit.[1]

Later on, she suspected that the father of her employer gave her food scraps left by customers at the hawker centre he works at.

“They would give me food in a small bowl just like for cats. I felt like they were feeding me scraps from their plates,” she shared. She then turned to eating biscuits for meals just to satisfy her hunger.

Due to all these negative experiences, Ellen started to feel miserable and started having suicidal thoughts.

In these difficult moments, Ellen could not share her struggles with anyone – not even her family back home. Beyond the pressure to provide for her family’s needs, she also did not want them to worry about her while she was far away from home.

She then turned to prayer for comfort and solace. Overtime, by God’s grace, she learnt to let go and let God give her the strength to slowly forgive the people who have caused her so much suffering.

Prayer also invited her to heal old wounds from the past, such as her relationship with her husband. She chose to forgive him out of love for her children, who were affected by their hostile relationship.

“Even if I still feel the pain and anger, I try to go beyond what I feel. I don’t want to serve in the Church with this hatred in my heart, and so I just keep praying to God to help me forgive,” she said.

This journey of forgiveness does not happen overnight. While she feels like she is making good progress, she admits that she still stumbles at times, especially when she continues to get hurt by the same people over and over again.

However, she reminds herself to still choose forgiveness and not fall into the temptation of holding grudges. She holds close a particular Filipino teaching – “If someone throws stones at you, you should throw back bread.” – to encourage her to act with kindness at all times.

“You can always be in church, but if you have a grudge in your heart, all your efforts will be in vain because your heart will be heavy. My life is lighter when I choose forgiveness,” she said.

Now, she makes it a habit to go to church to pray, amidst her busy work schedule. Even though she may struggle with various issues – be it emotional or physical – she continues to hold on to the Lord and the peace that He brings. She also currently serves as a minister of hospitality at Church of St Mary of the Angels.She urges everyone to keep faith in the Lord even in suffering, saying, “

Tell God all your troubles because only God can help us, I am witness to this. God helped me through all my difficulties, so hold on and trust in God.”

Migrants in Singapore can experience hurt and can be faced with the difficulty of forgiving – be it with their difficult pasts, through cultural misunderstandings with people they encounter in this foreign land, or by not having their dignity respected by those around them. This Lent, we’re invited to act with compassion towards the last, lost and the least.

Through Ellen’s story, we also see that many of our migrant brothers and sisters sometimes go through the day with not enough to eat ­– not by choice, but by circumstance. Let us also pray for the grace to be transformed from within by the self-emptying love of Christ this Holy Week!

If you are moved by love for God and your fellow brothers and sisters in His kingdom, please consider donating to ACMI here. By giving regularly, you can help us continue supporting vulnerable migrants through our various initiatives.

[1] Information taken from the Ministry of Manpower’s Website (As of 22 Mar 2024): https://www.mom.gov.sg/passes-and-permits/work-permit-for-foreign-domestic-worker/employers-guide/rest-days-and-well-being

Find out more about the Migrant Faith Stories for Lent here