03 August 2021

You Can Call Me Al

This article is a response to Pope Francis’ World Communications Day 2021 Message, “come and see”, to meet people where they are at, listen to their stories, and to simply be present with them in their lives


By Noel L.


“Good afternoon sir. I am here to fix your blinds!” he said with a strong Indian accent. 

I was working from home that afternoon and was glad to see the slight build person at the door as he arrived as scheduled to fix my window blinds. My house renovations weren’t going too well due to the COVID-19 situation.

As he started on his work, I decided to hang around for a bit to have a chat with him. 

“Can I get you a drink? Something cold?” I asked.  “No thank you sir” he replied cheerfully through his mask. “Maybe later, after you’re done?” I insisted, to which he replied rather quickly “Ok sir, ok. Thank you.” 

Aged 27, Albert (but you can call him Al) hails from Chennai India. He has been working in Singapore for about eight years and claims to be doing well. “I am very happy and truly blessed,” he said. 

He then shared that he lived his life based on faith, believing that whatever the world has in store for him, God will take care of him and his loved ones. I thought it was quite extraordinary that he was sharing this with me. Perhaps God is inviting me to be present to this stranger? So I encouraged him to speak more and engaged him further.

Al reminisced about the past, about how he pretty much kept to himself when he was young and rarely hung out with his friends, but instead focussed on passing his school exams and getting work – he started work when he was just 16 years old as a construction labourer. 

Humble Beginnings 

Coming from a humble background; his father (a painter by trade) and mother (a cook for a school) brought him up to love and respect God. This God-fearing family can trace back five generations of Christians in their family. Without any prompting from me, he rattled off the names of all the Christian matriarchs in his family – which amazingly all had “Mary” in their names. 

Fun fact: By tradition, Christianity was introduced in Chennai by the apostle St. Thomas, one of the twelve apostles! (a.k.a. Doubting Thomas).

Missing Loved Ones at Home

Then Al shared about how much he misses his family and talked about some of his dreams.  He’s already bought a plot of land and built a house, and hopes to save enough to start a small fresh foods distribution business back home. Marriage is also on the cards in a few years’ time when he returns for good, but he’s leaving that to his parents. “Because they know best!” he declared. 

I then found out how much his parents have influenced their young son in matters of faith. They’ve encouraged him to pray daily and to read scripture which he still continues faithfully – they’ve left an indelible conviction in this heart to nurture a relationship with God, and to trust Him in all things. 

Witnessing his Faith

So when he came to Singapore eight years ago, he brought those same beliefs and faith into the dormitories where he stayed in the early years. He spoke to his dorm-mates about God, well anyone who would listen anyway. He was chastised and even beaten for his efforts, but he remained resolute and soldiered on. 

Undeterred, he tried a different tact and bought drinks, ingredients, and cooked meals once a week on Saturdays for those who wanted to listen about Christ. 

I thought it was all very inspiring and wanted to hear more, but our time was almost up as he was very quick in completing his tasks. So, I asked a final question – Did he find it weird that I was asking him questions about his life? And how did it make him feel?

Al replied that he was surprised that I was interested in him and his story, and he was only too happy to share. It was a new and positive experience for him because in all the years he worked in Singapore, not one customer has ever spoken with him in such a manner, and he was very grateful that I did.

He went on to add that he felt happy talking about his past, his beliefs and about the people he loved, and it brought back wonderful memories for him. It also made him feel good that he mattered to someone.

However, Al lamented that it is unfortunate that in busy Singapore there aren’t many people who would take the time to be kind to workers like him.  In fact, he remembers occasions where people would look down on him when he was on a bus or MRT just because he looks like a labourer. Even though his faith pulls him through many challenges in life, he is as vulnerable as all of us when we feel hurt by others. Maybe we all can do a little better for our foreign friends who are away from their loved ones? 

Then quite abruptly, he was done. We said our good-byes and well-wishes as I helped him gather his tools. And before I knew it, he was out of the door and with a quick wave he rushed off to his next appointment. 

“That was quite extraordinary!” I thought to myself. In more ways than one, Al helped fix my “blinds” – I can “see” better now. God gives us opportunities to connect with others so that He becomes real in our lives, but we often miss out on them because we are “blind” to these moments. So as I write this, I hope that this short reflection will inspire you to open your heart and be present to those around you. 

Maybe there’s an Al just waiting for you to ask him how his day was? Just remember to get him a drink, because I forgot to give one to Al…