As early as 1982, Pastor Andrew Khoo was already juggling a leadership position in church and continuing with his regular job as a maritime engineering technician in the navy. Hence, his decision to become a full-time pastor didn’t come as a surprise to anyone.
Although quitting the navy meant that Pastor Andrew had to leave a job that had lasted him 13 years – it allowed him to focus on being a pastor while opening up opportunities for him to help others in the area of community work.
Currently, the 60-year-old pastor is dedicating his time as a founder/executive director in New Hope Community Services (NHCS). The team of thirty-five full-time staff in NHCS oversees the operations of the organization and its programmes that help the needy and ex-offenders. Their day-to-day work ranges from case management, counselling, life skills training, fundraising for collecting ration, such as bread, that is given as a form of donation.
NHCS has been a voluntary welfare organization since 2004. However, it was in 2003 that the only shelter for men in Singapore was started to allow ex-offenders and now the displaced families to seek refuge at its premises after they had exhausted all other avenues of assistance
Today, New Hope sheltered about 900++ residents of Shelter for Families, Shelter for Individual Men and Women and the Shelter for Men-in-Crisis.
According to Pastor Andrew, the decision to start a shelter for the benefit of ex-offenders and needy families was a spontaneous decision, and it was motivated by the teachings he received from church and a need in society more than anything else. In early 2003, a group of ex-offenders had approached him with the idea of starting a programme to help them re-integrate back into society. From what Pastor Andrew learned from such ex-offenders, most of them are sincere in turning over a new leaf but might have lost the support of their family along the way. Moreover, they are tired of returning to prison again.
Ex-offenders face numerous difficulties as the experience of re-integrating back into society is less than ideal because they are shunned by those who find out about their past. This also makes being gainfully employed more difficult. To help them overcome these issues, the shelter is not only to provide hope for these men but also as a place for them to learn practical skills so that finding a job would be easier.
It also serves as a temporary residence while they wait for their applications for rented housing to be approved. Although the duration of the stay is limited to six months, the shelter has since relaxed that rule by extending the duration of stay to a year. This is due to the increased waiting times for the rental housing applications to be approved.
Pastor Andrew emphasized that even though most of the men at the shelter might be regarded as hardcore ex-offenders, many are in fact regular Joes who long for a normal life. Unfortunately, they need to relearn how to fend for themselves in society before they can achieve any semblance of normality.
However, Pastor Andrew admitted that the initial decision to dedicate time and resources to help the ex-offenders was not received well by some family and friends. One of the major contentions they had was the perception that ex-offenders did not warrant help as they had brought their present state upon themselves. Pastor Andrew said that one friend even compared it to "throwing money into the pit." Predictably, times get tough during occasions when financial resources run low, as NHCS is dependent on public donations.
"Challenging as the job may be, Pastor Andrew said that the most rewarding aspect of what he does is to see ex-resident at the shelter become independent by maintaining a stable job and income."
On one occasion, an ex-resident even donated $1000 back to the shelter in gratitude, after holding on to a stable job as a security guard. This particular individual was initially diagnosed to be unable to function normally in jobs and was a referral by the Institute of Mental Health.
Disappointments do arise at times as well, partly due to the strict rules applied at the shelter. Residents are made to leave the shelter once they are found to have broken house rules, such as going back to taking drugs.
Having to constantly be in charge, Pastor Andrew reckons that his 12-hour workday isn’t tough because he is working with others who are compassionate and share the same drive as he does in wanting to serve others who need assistance.
Married for the last 34 years with a 29-year-old daughter and 27year-old son, Pastor Andrew proffers the advice that he would not allow his work commitments to affect his role as a family man.
Professing that he never thought he would work so closely with ex-offenders, Pastor Andrew attributes his decision to be in this line as a choice of wanting to contribute back to society. The greatest satisfaction, according to him, is in knowing that he has managed to touch and change lives, and meeting a need that would have otherwise been ignored. This to him is the best reminder and advice for members of the younger generation interested in joining this field that is always looking out for new blood and vibrant energy.
Most importantly, he feels that social work should not be viewed as a regular job that pays in terms of salary and other benefits as remuneration. Why? Simply because the rewards reaped cannot be bought with dollars and cents.
On September 22, 2009, Pastor Andrew received the Inspiration Award from the British Chamber of Commerce for his efforts. The award recognizes individuals who demonstrated Leadership and outstanding contributions to raising awareness of Corporate Social Responsibility issues in Singapore.