New Danish Chaplain in Singapore Seamen’s Church: “I wish for all families to try something like this”

chaplain danish seamen's church singapore

A dull, grey December-day in 2018, 43-year-old Sussie Nygaard Foged sat at home when she stumbled upon a teaser for a job. ‘Chaplain for the Danish Seamen’s Church in Singapore’, it read. Looking outside at the Danish weather, she felt tempted by a change in climate and she slid the advert across the table to her husband and high school sweetheart, Jan.

He took a glance at it, laughed and shook his head.

Then came Christmas and New Year which occupied Sussie’s mind.

2019 started and it was still cold outside, so when January brought along the final job advert for a Chaplain under the tropical sun, she once again passed it to her husband.

This time, he took a better look at it. The couple talked about it, and found it difficult to come up with a good answer to the question: Why not?

“We were at a point in our life where it just made sense in every way,” says Sussie Nygaard Foged.

Convincing the kids

Before moving to Singapore, so Sussie could start her new job on 1 August 2019, it had to be cleared with the children.

For a while Sussie and Jan had joked, that it was time for the oldest daughter, 20-year-old Mathilde, to move out. The family had lived in Sussie’s official residence as pastor of the churches in Sønderholm and Frejlev near Aalborg in Northern Jutland in Denmark for 14 years. By deciding to move to the other side of the world and thus having to leave the family home, Mathilde did not have much of a choice anymore.

“We all laughed about the fact, that we moved out before she did,” says Sussie about her oldest child, who’s on a gap year after high school and decided to stay in Denmark.

Their second child, Amalie who’s 17 years old, turned out to be thrilled about moving to South-East Asia.

“She loves Manga, K-Pop and all that stuff. Everything about Asia is apparently great. Except sushi,” Sussie says about her daughter.

Now, they only needed to tell their youngest, 12-year-old Emil.

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chaplain seamen's church singapore

Sussie Foged Nygaard and her husband, Jan.

The couple decided to wait until they had visited the church in Singapore and both parties had decided whether it was the right match.

“We told our colleagues and Emil that we were going to Barcelona for a romantic couple’s holiday.”

It turned out to be the right match, so it was time to tell their youngest son what was going on.

“He got so mad at us, went to his room and slammed the door. It left us feeling, that we were the worst parents in the entire world,” says Sussie.

But 45 minutes later, the door opened, and Emil came out.

“‘Is there a swimming pool'”, Sussie recalls him asking and adds:

“We could see on his computer, that he had googled earthquakes in Singapore. Once we had assured him, that it’s a safe country, there are swimming pools and that they also play computer in Singapore, everything was fine.”

Now, they are all doing their best to adapt to their new way of living.

“Not everything is rosy, when you change your lifestyle. But we’re growing with it every day.”

Amalie has already started an International Baccalaureate (IB) in Singapore. A system, the family is quite familiar with, as Jan was an IB teacher before leaving Denmark behind.

Being a teacher allows him to home school Emil, until the boy feels ready to attend school in Singapore, and Jan can start looking for a job.

“We would like to change how we live as a family. So, the two gentlemen are at home and it really creates a special relationship for father and son. I wish for all families to try something like this. To be able to pull a few months out of the calendar and do something good for the family,” says Sussie.

Language matters

While Sussie’s family is adapting to life in Singapore, the new Chaplain is gaining her own foothold in her church work.

While she has been a pastor for 14 years now and is confident with services, confirmation classes as well as other church actions, the role of a seamen’s Chaplain and representative for Denmark is new to her.

“The church is not just a church, it is also a culture house and a culture bearer. It is a new way to think church in which you constantly have to be in dialogue with the users,” Sussie, who refers to the church as “the official Denmark”, says.

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Sussie and Jan’s children: Mathilde, Emil and Amalie.

“It’s interesting to work with different people. I have to talk to people in hospital and prison. And I have to talk to seamen. I experience the importance of having coffee with a Danish person and of speaking Danish for people who are far from home,” the new Chaplain says.

“Our language is essential. You lose a bit of yourself speaking another language. It gives a closeness and intimacy when you can speak to people in your native tongue.”

Therefore, Sussie plans for the church to be as visible as possible with both traditional church actions and social events embracing as many as possible. From children to parents and elderly, women and men.

“Traditionally, a lot of women have moved here with their men, so many events are aimed at women. But I already got some phone calls from men who had moved here with their wives. So, it seems there is a new demand. Perhaps they aren’t so interested in coffee-mornings (a regular event in the church), but they might need other events. I want to show, that the Danish church is also for men.”

Furthermore, Sussie also has to take on the role as leader of the church.

“I have a diploma degree in leadership, and I think it is very exciting to combine the work as a pastor with that of management,” says Sussie whose job now includes fundraising and economic management.

Fortunately, the Danish church in Singapore, is lucky enough to have a lot of volunteers. So, in the same breath that Sussie says she has to provide a confidential space, host social events, visit people in need as well as seamen, manage the church and at the same time carry out regular church duties, she also expresses her gratitude for the volunteers.

“Without them, there would be no church.”

From punk to priest

When Sussie was a stubborn teenager, who only attended confirmation classes so she could see what she was missing out on and eventually decided in favour of her confirmation, albeit in an orange skirt and a matching turban, she never imagined she would become a pastor.

Neither did her mother or husband who first went quiet, then burst out laughing because the punk-styled girl, whose hair had been through a varied colour scheme including green and blue, wanted to study theology.

“Nobody imagined that the Aarhus-girl would study something as complicated as theology, having to study Greek, Latin etc. But when I decide on doing something, I do it.”

So Sussie finished her studies and she has been happy about her decision ever since.

“It has met all my expectations.”

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She has always enjoyed the variety in and importance of her work. That she never feels a day of work is wasted or trivial because it matters to someone.

“Pastors are shown great trust. I take my duty of confidentiality very seriously. When people tell me something, I hear it, but I don’t hear it. I always say that I am the last one to hear something. Even if in fact, I was the first,” says Sussie.

Beautiful, yet ugly

The food, the nature but not so much cockroaches, large buildings and artificial trees lighting up in different colours. Sussie is already starting to find her favourite and least favourite parts of Singapore.

“It is incredibly beautiful and incredibly ugly. It’s amazing how the untamed nature and the, at times too tamed, culture meet each other.”

She is not too amazed with the “Asian bling bling”, but she can’t get enough of the food.

“You can get everything here. It is like walking around in a kitchen of the world.”

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But most of all, Sussie enjoys the weather, because as she says:

“I never have to check the forecast or look outside, I already know what to wear: Sandals and a dress.”

Sussie Nygaard Foged will be inaugurated on Sunday 8 September 2018 at the Danish Seamen’s Church, Singapore.

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