When Stasia Kwa got married at 23, she thought that would be her “happily ever after”. This despite the fact that she and her husband were “very different and both had very strong characters”.
There were fights from the start. But there were happy moments, too. They had five children together. In 2000, they moved to Japan when her husband, a Japanese national, was posted to his home country by his company. Kwa gave up her job in the financial sector and settled in as a homemaker.
While in Japan, her husband had an affair. “It was very tough. That was when I sought God.”
Though a Christian from the age of nine, Kwa admitted her faith had not played a big part in her life till then. But as she read the Bible more, “God’s word started to transform me”.
“I calmed down quite a fair bit. I dealt with things differently. (My husband) saw that, too, and remarked about it,” said the 57-year-old.
The usually tough Kwa who previously would have initiated a divorce because she was “independent and wouldn’t have stood for his nonsense” chose to fight for her marriage instead.
“I asked myself, ‘Is this what I want to give the kids? Can I not sacrifice myself for their sake?’.”
She and the children became actively involved in church and their church friends prayed with them. Within six months, her husband broke off the affair. But the reconciliation was short-lived.
“God’s word started to transform me.”
In the year that her husband returned to Singapore to work while Kwa and the children remained in Japan for the children’s education, he strayed again. When the family returned to Singapore, he walked out on them, choosing not to return home after a business trip. He asked Kwa for a separation via email.
“I was devastated. I wasn’t prepared to raise five kids as a single mum. But I had to be a pillar for the family.”
For two years, Kwa fought to save her marriage because she believed that “divorce is not of God”.
She prayed, attended conferences and sought spiritual healing “hoping that God would intervene, reconcile us and restore the brokenness in the family”.
Summing up that season of her life, Kwa said simply: “I was chasing God like crazy”.
After three years with no results, Kwa became “so angry to the point I couldn’t open the Bible”.
She recounted: “I had been obedient, seeking the word of God and doing what I thought was right. Yet those who were evil got off scot-free to continue to do evil.”
But she kept the bitterness to herself. That was why what happened next totally surprised her. Within two weeks, her second brother called to check up on her.
He told her that he had been driving when he felt such a strong desire to pray for her that he had to stop his car by the side to pray. “God gave him a vision of a candle that was flickering. So, he called to ask me what happened.”
“After I said that prayer, I had total peace.”
As Kwa shared her emotions, she “suddenly realised that God was with me and He saw my state of mind”.
“God didn’t leave me.”
That realisation prompted her to surrender her situation. “I said a simple prayer. I told Him, ‘If you are my almighty God in control of everything, You will be the Father to the fatherless. If You allowed this, then You will be in charge. I submit and surrender everything to You’.
“After I said that prayer, I had total peace. I made a decision to live purposefully and to have a well-balanced life. It was the first concrete decision to change my life.”
It was then that Kwa realised that she had no friends of her own. “I had given my all to the family. I had become empty.”
So, for the first time, she signed up for a church camp, never having gone before because her husband had not been supportive. That decision became pivotal in opening doors for her.
At the camp, Kwa was invited to join a mother’s prayer group where she found the support and friendship she had missed out on for many years. “I have been with the group now for 11 years.”
The group was also instrumental in helping her find a job two years later.
“I was ready to go back to work because the kids were at that age where they could be independent. One woman from the group knew there was an opening at Dayspring and told me about it.”
HCSA Dayspring Residential Treatment Centre is a safe haven for teen girls who are victims of abuse. Though Kwa had no experience being a mentor, she “went by faith” and was hired right after the interview. In October 2011, after over a decade away from the marketplace, she went back to work.
Said Kwa: “The job was a perfect fit. I may not have a degree in social work or psychology but I know how to deal with kids because I have five kids of my own. What they needed was a mother.”
Kwa saw the job as God’s way of honouring her desire to live a purposeful life. But it proved to be more than that. Just months after she got employed, her husband lost his job and stopped supporting the family.
Having lived in Japan for so long, the children had been placed in international schools when they returned to Singapore. When her husband stopped supporting them financially, Kwa struggled to pay the school fees.
“My youngest daughter was the most affected. She felt that, as the last one, she would be easily sacrificed.”
It was only when she broke down and confided in her mother that Kwa realised the extent of her fears. “But being in Dayspring gave me more awareness of how to help because we were trained.
“I believe God planted me there so I could (learn and) help her. So, even in a bad situation, I can find something good.”
There was the option of putting the children in less expensive local schools. But Kwa also considered how disruptive that would have been to their studies and the friendships they had formed.
“I faced a lot of criticism for that. People questioned my decision. Some asked me to sue my husband but I wanted to settle things amicably.
“I went to God in prayer and said, ‘If you allow this, then just provide (for us). I used to chase God. But as I realised that He was in control, my prayers became simpler.”
“I believe God planted me there so I could (learn and) help her.”
She moved in with her mother to save on rent and managed to make the money stretch. “There should have been no way I could sustain things and yet I did. Even if you asked me how, I don’t know but I managed it. It just didn’t make sense.”
After a year, when her husband found another job, he resumed financial support, agreeing to pay for his children to complete their diplomas. But he would renege on his promise again in 2015.
Things got so bad that at one point she was short of S$10,000 to put down as a deposit for a place in a Melbourne university for her youngest child. At another time, she needed S$5,000, which she did not have, to pay for semester fees.
She had to resort to borrowing from her mother and even a close friend. “I had to swallow my pride. I felt so looked down upon.”
Friends who found out questioned her. “They asked me for a plan. They said I couldn’t continue borrowing and that I was selfish and manipulative.
“I didn’t know how to answer them. When you have no money to plan, how can you have a plan?”
But God made a way for her again and again.
Her second son, an army scholar, got a big bonus and offered to help. Her youngest daughter earned an internship. The pause in her university education gave Kwa some reprieve and allowed her to pay off her debt to her friend within a year just as she had promised.
“I had to swallow my pride. I felt so looked down upon.”
A member of the church Kwa was in found out about her plight and gave her a love gift. “I didn’t even know her. When I tried to return the money to her, she wouldn’t take it back.”
Then, Kwa decided to hold her husband to his promise to provide for the children.
“He was in Japan. So, if he doesn’t come back, there was no point. And he only comes back once a year, at the very most,” explained Kwa.
Just as she filed for the maintenance order to be enforced, her ex-husband returned to Singapore unexpectedly. He was compelled to pay the alimony.
“In the last year of my youngest child’s university, I turned 55 and cash from my CPF covered (her fees). I didn’t have a plan but God planned it. I was able to be debt-free and never borrow again.”
While she was managing all this, Kwa encountered yet another setback. At the end of 2013, she developed a bad rash.
“I went to see the doctor. I did blood tests. Everything was fine.”
By the next year, she was experiencing abdominal pains and her stomach had swollen so much that she “had a baby bump”. In August 2014, after seeing a few doctors, she was finally diagnosed. It was Stage 3C ovarian cancer.
The news was bad but “the timing was so right”. In June that year, Kwa had tendered her resignation at Dayspring to spend more time with her children. But her boss persuaded her stay and even gave her a pay raise.
Because of that, when she had to be hospitalised for eight months for treatment, she was still paid.
“I didn’t plan it. When I took back my job, I didn’t know I was ill.”
Despite surgery and chemotherapy, Kwa still has “active cancer cells in me”. But she is well enough to work and has even been promoted.
“God sustained my life. I can still function and even when I go for chemo, I can still go back to work. My work is never affected.”
Doctors told her that only 20% of patients with her condition survive past five years. Kwa is into her sixth year.
“Every moment is precious. There is purpose and meaning in life.”
“Even though I have cancer, good things have come out of it. I became very intentional in how I live my life. The cancer years were the best five years I have ever lived.
“I started to plan. I created memories with my family rather than take them for granted.”
There have been other blessings.
“My chemotherapy drug is not supposed to be a long-term solution. Usually after the first two years, you will be allergic to the drug. I have been on the same drug from 2014.”
In 2019, though her cancer markers kept increasing, requiring her to undergo chemotherapy, she was still well enough to live a normal life. With her financial difficulties behind her, that was also the year she managed to travel.
Last year, just as it looked like the drug she had been on was losing its efficacy and a Plan B was necessary, her cancer markers miraculously fell.
“I can’t explain it. I just live for the moment. Every moment is precious. There is purpose and meaning in life.”
Kwa freely shares her story with others.
“When I share my testimony, I tell them, ‘No one wants a divorce. Divorce is not a good thing. But good things can come out of it’.
“If I wasn’t divorced, I wouldn’t have gone to the church camp. If I hadn’t gone, I wouldn’t have joined the women’s group. If I hadn’t joined, I wouldn’t have known about the job at Dayspring.
“All this came after I surrendered my life to God and determined to live a purposeful life.”