If only I had more money, I’d be more willing to bless others. If only I were rich, I’d be more generous.
That was what I used to think. But here’s a sobering realisation from the Bible: It is the generous who will prosper (Proverbs 11:25) – not the prosperous who will be generous!
It’s true. Status or wealth does not guarantee that one will exhibit generosity. I’ve known wealthy people who are selfish, but at the same time, I’ve witnessed those who have little give unreservedly. The story of the poor widow always humbles me.
“As Jesus looked up, he saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury. He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins. “Truly I tell you,” he said, “this poor widow has put in more than all the others. All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.”” (Luke 21:1-4)
God specialises in using “little.”
Generosity is more about posture than it is about value. In other words, it’s not about the amount you can offer, but the spirit and heart behind it. The poor widow out-gave all the rich folk despite putting in only two very small copper coins.
I used to be stumbled over the little I was able to give or sow into anything – it felt negligible. Until I realised God specialises in using “little.” Had a young boy not offered up his seemingly insignificant 5 loaves and 2 fish into Jesus’ hands – 5000 would not have had their fill that day and experienced one of the greatest demonstrations of divine provision.
God is not in need of resources – He owns the universe. What He wants from our giving, is for us to cultivate a spirit of generosity and selflessness. What He seeks are sons and daughters who would partner with Him in releasing Heaven’s resources by sowing the first seeds.
Generosity is not even an issue of personality, it is actually an issue of identity. My problem was not that I was naturally thrifty or prudent, my problem was that I had not yet fully understood sonship.
The orphan spirit hoards for fear of lack, but the renewed mind gives from a place of security. If I truly believed He owns all of Heaven and Earth, and that He calls me son – it means I have access to unlimited resources in Heaven and on Earth. Would I not be compelled and provoked to live generously? To be a conduit of His blessings and resources?
God wants us to be generous because it models His heart. We ought to be generous not just financially, but also with our time, words and deeds. I believe the level of our generosity partly determines how much resources, influence and authority God will put in our hands.
Ever since stepping into ministry, I’ve had the wonderful privilege of being friends with many who exemplify radical generosity. More often than not, they carry great influence and are impacting our world profoundly. After all, God shows He readily adds to those who have been faithful with little (Luke 16:10).
Let us therefore endeavour to walk in radical generosity, demonstrating the Kingdom wherever we go.
This article was first published on Awaken Generation’s blog, and is republished with permission.
Last month, I boarded a bus not knowing where exactly it was going to take me, or what to expect over the next 3 days. I had signed up for a church camp in China almost 4,000km away from home.
I second-guessed my decision a lot, and would probably have backed out if my air tickets hadn’t already been booked. Then I remembered an old, bookmarked, back-of-mind thought that I’d once entertained: “What if my faith didn’t work overseas?”
Surely God is not limited by neither geographical boundaries nor language – but what if I was? What if my faith and my understanding existed in a bubble that would not survive outside of the Church community I was comfortable with?
Years ago, I met a lecturer who wrote a paper about how music and a carefully-engineered atmosphere combined to manipulate converts to join the Christian faith – it’s all in the emotion.
He was the same lecturer who first taught me that correlation does not always mean causality – emotional music and a great atmosphere are not the enemy – but I think if I’m not careful, I can limit my faith to emotion and familiarity.
On the bus journey to the campsite, I began to feel the gap in our cultures through the conversations taking place around me. And it took much mental effort to bridge that gap to process words, humour and slang from a culture I was not used to and a language I had not mastered.
But I figured I would just try: Cultures can be bridged, seas can be crossed and differences can be worked out with willingness. I would learn it’s not impossible, the man seated behind me demonstrated that to me.
Fred praying over one of the China church brothers at the water baptism.
Fred* is a Singaporean who, for many years, has taken up the task of loving the people of China and building the Church there for the last 8 years. I didn’t envy his task, imagining that it must have often felt lonely and trying.
The next day, I was around the meeting hall when I saw a crowd gathered outside the building, around a very small inflatable pool.
They were getting baptised! In Christianity, water baptism symbolises the believer’s acknowledgment and total trust in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Saviour. As the believer goes in and comes out of the water, it is a symbolism of their identification with Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection.
A young boy who was in his early teens had just stepped out of the pool that was a tad too small for him, and Fred prayed over him in Mandarin: “Help this boy to escape from the selfish desires that so often traps our youth.” He was praying from 2 Timothy 2:22 where the original Greek word for desires (epithumia) means a great desire to do something – a strong longing directed at an object. These desires can run along the fault lines of impatience, love of arguing and/or unrestrained lust for anything the soul craves.
… emotional music and a great atmosphere are not the enemy, but I think if I’m not careful, I can limit my faith to emotion and familiarity.
“The heart wants what it wants” is an anthem for young people who have yet to be acquainted with the dangers of these desires. Such selfish wants wage war against a person’s soul, and that’s why it was such a beautiful sight to see Fred pray that prayer of freedom over that young boy.
And as Fred prayed, his words stirred something in my own heart. I saw his task in a new light: What a privilege it is to be able to pray for others – the next generation especially – to live life knowing that they are loved by God and to pray that they come increasingly free from the trappings of selfish desires that sink them into conflict.
When I deemed Fred’s task unenviable, it revealed my heart’s reluctance to be committed to such a task. And in that moment, I found myself a little more free from the trappings of what I thought a good life looked like.
The China church gathered around to pray and worship together after the water baptism.
As I left my bubble of familiarity, I found God and His people in places I had never been before. There is a fullness – and I’m only just scratching the surface – in walking together with God, no matter where it is, as long as it is where He is.
When I worried that my faith would not work, I forgot that God is infinitely greater than what I can comprehend. But more importantly: God is good to His people. And because of that, my faith and confidence in God can stand.
If you’ve wondered if you should go on a trip somewhere to contribute to church-planting efforts or just to tell someone about the love of God, you might find that the trip will do more for you than what you think you can do for others. I found it helps not to limit what God can do.
I was reading Jemima’s article when I was struck by a line in it.
‘Then it dawned on me. I hadn’t fled for my life, lost everything I owned, hidden in jungles for days, watched people I love die in front of me, starved in refugee camps, endured squalid conditions with little hope for survival … “
Stopped dead in my tracks, a singular thought came to mind: Have I become too comfortable?
While God doesn’t necessarily call us to live in dangerous places, He has called us to die to ourselves so that He can use us wherever He has positioned us.
So my true fear is being too comfortable in full-time ministry. And I never thought I would ever start feeling comfortable.
There are a number of reasons why I thought I would never be comfortable in full-time ministry.
For starters, I don’t have a regular income. Many of us working in mission organisations have to raise our own funds, and few are able to consistently hit their needed income for a stable salary. Few of us have adequate CPF contributions, taking a salary way below market rate. But God is faithful to provide.
Next, Interserve Singapore for a very long time did not have an office space. To save money on rent, we worked from our own homes or anywhere with WiFi. So I regularly did my work from coffee shops or on the train. Only recently were we blessed with office space by Geylang Church of Christ.
My prayer is that no matter where the currents of life bring me, I will never grow too comfortable, to die to self and follow Him into the field.
Third, for a very long time, my only other colleague was Christy, my director. The working relationship between Christy and I is precious, as we can share vulnerably and openly, but it was still strange to a fresh graduate. I can’t complain about my director to my director, can I? Though honestly, there isn’t much to complain about – it’s been my privilege to work with such a visionary, energetic and earnest leader.
Also, for most of the questions I did not know (I was doing graphic design when I was trained in political science) I had no one to ask but Google and YouTube. So in a sense, if I were ever to ask someone how to do something, I would be inquiring from other agencies like YWAM or OM.
In short, agency work broke all my stereotypes and mindsets about a fixed office, fixed working hours, colleagues to have lunch with, and most crucially – a fixed salary.
Yet after one year plus in ministry, I still caught myself getting comfortable.
During team prayer one week, we received news from a friend serving in Central Asia that there were 15 impending bomb threats to be carried out at any time.
I just sat there shaking my head. 15 bomb threats at the same time? I couldn’t imagine how the security forces were rushing to track the bombs and diffuse each one. How did their wives and children feel when they watching them leave to work against time-bombs?
And how about this missionary’s family here in Singapore? What would they think if they knew they might lose their daughter serving in Central Asia to one of these bombs?
That was when I asked myself: If God called me to drop everything, to go live and serve in hard places, amidst danger and suffering – would I go?
While God doesn’t necessarily call us to live in dangerous places, He has called us to die to ourselves so that He can use us wherever He has positioned us.
I didn’t dare to answer because I knew my answer. That was when I knew I got comfortable. That I had not died to my own desires, crafting up excuses to avoid God calling me to hard places.
I am working in a mission agency and I dare not go?
What then do I believe in? Do I even believe in what I am mobilising people towards? These workers we’re talking about are single ladies who face death threats, rape threats, lack of electricity, no WiFi, no hot water, no air con, not even a fan … How dare I quietly tell myself my life is more valuable than those serving and suffering in these hard places?
It’s not about chasing after adventure and danger, it’s about choosing to die to self and go to places to live amongst people who God loves dearly.
In Christy’s words, “Do not be afraid to come close to suffering. Jesus came close to our suffering.” And truly, we often read about the co-suffering with Christ in the Bible.
The call to serve overseas in hard and painful places isn’t the easiest decision to make admittedly. Like the rich man (Matthew 19:16-28), we have great possessions. We serve Jesus faithfully but dare not sell all that we possess, to give to the poor and follow Him. The rich man couldn’t, even after Jesus promised him that he would have treasure in Heaven.
At this juncture, I myself am transiting to a slightly more marketplace setting in the community services. Here I have fixed income, a sizeable team of colleagues, career progression to speak of.
I took some time to share with Joseph Chean about this transition I was about to make. “Go in with your eyes wide open,” were the words spoken straight into my spirit.
“Go in with your eyes wide open, knowing that when the day comes for you to make the jump into the mission field, and you can’t – don’t regret.
“By that time, you would have got a wife and children, a house, a much higher salary, most probably in management level. And at that moment, if you can’t make the jump, don’t regret. But go in with your eyes wide open, knowing that today, you have considered the choice you are making.”
His words echoed deep within the recesses of my heart. Upon surveying all I have ten years from now, will I – out of fear – conjure up excuses to avoid the honour and privilege to partner with Christ in hard places where great suffering abounds?
“Do many not make the jump in the end?” I asked. “Yes. Many,” was his reply.
My prayer is that no matter where the currents of life bring me, I will never grow too comfortable. I will die to self and follow Him into the field. After all, He jumped.
I’ll jump too.
With an expected one billion people in Asia moving from rural to urban areas by the year 2030, the number of world city dwellers is expected to rise to 70% by 2050. There is an urgent call to the Church, especially as the majority of new urban dwellers will be young (under 25 years old) and live below the poverty line ($2 a day).
The GoForth National Missions Conference, happening June 21-23, 2018, will look at an array of diverse strategies to empower individuals and churches to reach and transform cities with the love of Christ. Visit their website to find out out more.
When I was in secondary school, my number one ambition was to become a cell leader.
The thought of being able to change people’s lives was something I desperately wanted. Unfortunately, this led me to suck up to my leaders in the hopes of getting on their good side.
Around that time, I responded to a challenge by my cell leader to pray for a friend and invite him to youth camp that year. Joshua, a childhood friend, came to mind. I secretly thought: “Why not? Maybe if I integrate him into the cell, I could get more credibility from the leaders!”
To my surprise, not only did he accept the invitation to attend camp that year – he became really well integrated into the community within a short span of time. Almost too well …
When it was time to pick a new leader, within the short span of a year, they chose Joshua to step up instead of me. I felt betrayed.
How could they! After all I’ve done for the cell, all the contributions I’ve made, how could they deny me the one thing I wanted the most! I have my rights too!
Looking back on those days, I realise that I behaved like the older brother in the parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32).
He had seen his young brother essentially ask his father to die, run away to spend his money on parties, luxurious food and prostitutes – only to come crawling back into the house begging to be taken back as a slave.
But instead of sending him back to the depravity he had left them both for, the father welcomed the younger son home with open arms – even throwing him a big party. I knew well how the older brother felt.
Where is justice? Where is the reward I deserved? What about my rights too?
Because I felt the same: What gave Joshua the right to inherit what I believed was mine? But rereading that parable, I saw something I hadn’t seen before. Just as much as the younger son was lost – so was the older brother.
In The Prodigal God, Timothy Keller writes that both sons wanted the father’s possessions rather than the person. Both were far from their father, but while one ran away from the father’s love by being extremely bad – the other did so by being extremely good.
I, too, was undeserving of God’s grace. When all I deserved was death, He ran to me and welcomed me with grace.
The cell leader position was just a symbol. Like the fattened calf at the feast, it masked an underlying issue: My devotion to God wasn’t founded on delight in Him but on trying to curry favours out of Him.
I have done so much in Your name. You owe me.
That was what my bitter heart was actually saying. But regardless of which son we resemble, God’s response to us is still the same. Like the father in the story, God runs to welcome wayward children back into His arms and joy. He desires his children to lay down their pride and reenter his joy.
The older son couldn’t do so because he held on to his rights – what he felt he rightfully deserved. And just like him, by clinging onto what I thought I deserved, I denied myself the joy of seeing one of his sons come home again – of witnessing a warrior of faith rise up to expand God’s kingdom.
The solution was ultimately simple but painful: I had to lay down my rights and all the things I thought I deserved to reenter God’s joy. But I couldn’t do it. I felt God had been unjust and that his mercy to one person had come at my expense.
How is it that when God is unjust I was the one to pay the price for it?
That was what I actually thought! Eventually I gave up my rights not because I had to – but because I finally realised that I had been the younger son many times as well. I’m all too guilty of running away from God and laying waste to my life.
I, too, was undeserving of God’s grace. When all I deserved was death, He ran to me and welcomed me with grace.
The one who paid the price for my redemption was Jesus. He was what an elder brother should be. My redemption came at His expense, but he never once complained. He simply and completely obeyed his Father and took on the expense so I could be restored to the family.
A Chinese girl in the Congo: Working in war zones 5,000 miles from home
by Jemima Ooi, Justice Rising | 16 May 2018, 7:02 PM
Sleeping in mud huts on hard-packed earth. Rats crawling all over you. Making fires every night because there is no electricity to speak of. Pulling worms out from the feet of children. Running for your life from rebel armies.
These are experiences that will make good stories for the grandchildren, I always think. But as of now I’ve only just turned 30, with a long way to go till then.
At 23, I finally answered God’s call to “go places with Him”. I didn’t know how or where, but I packed my bags, signed up to train with international missions organisation Youth With a Mission (YWAM), and left my family, first class honours and first-world living behind.
My beginning years in the mission field were spent in Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, after which I served with Iris Global in Mozambique, under Heidi Baker. It was here that I encountered one of the hardest seasons of mission work – enduring a drought. Water was so scarce that a friend of mine didn’t shower for six weeks!
From there, God moved me to the Democratic Republic of Congo, where I have been working for the past five years with Justice Rising, a missionary organisation serving war-affected countries including Syria and Iraq.
Infographic courtesy of Justice Rising
A quick search on Google will show you how many times the Congo has been officially renamed, which is telling of the number of hands it has passed through over the decades of its troubled history. The amount of bloodshed and brutality in the land is an even darker story.
Mostly unknown to the rest of the world outside of Africa, the war in the Congo has been one of the worst since World War II, spanning more than 20 years with a death toll of almost six million and many, many more displaced. The United Nation’s largest peacekeeping base is there, officials naming it “the rape capital of the world“.
Much of the work at Justice Rising stems from a God-given directive that if we wanted to get to the people of the war-torn republic, we needed to start building schools in the poorest and most broken communities.
It is through the many kinds of schools we’ve set up – schools for all ages, vocational schools – that we get to dig deep into communities in hope of sustainable change. These schools target people in different age groups and contexts to help make them viable for life.
Infographic courtesy of Justice Rising
With our sewing schools, many women no longer have to prostitute themselves to soldiers just so they can feed their children. With our primary and secondary schools, we can offer children a future apart from killing or slavery. A school in a broken community can stop many young boys from becoming child soldiers; it can keep many young girls from being sold as child brides or slaves.
In my few years here, I have witnessed the rehabilitation of child-soldiers and trauma work with rape victims and refugees. And such social ills are just one of the many faces of mission work in Africa’s “heart of darkness“.
Last year, I contracted both malaria and typhoid at the same time. It was the weakest I’d ever been, and I was suffering away from home. Still, there was so much grace, my local families treated me with such love and care.
In times like this it is obvious that I’m no expert on the different fields I serve, most times I feel like a clueless child. I’m dependent on the locals to guide me, interpret for me, shelter me – dependent on God to instruct me, to heal broken lives through me.
Like a little child, I potter to the marketplaces, point to different vegetables and ask the mamas – their version of our aunties – in stilted Swahili: “What is this called?”
Congolese mama chopping wood
Honestly, transiting from Singapore to India, then across different African nations was not as difficult as people might think. Transition is easy when we enter the foreign field as a child, acquainted with our limitations and ready to learn. It endears us to the locals and empowers them to rise up. It takes away the pressure to have it all together.
I must say, transiting into the field is arguably easier than transiting out of the field and into first-world settings! I’ve learnt that when I exit a war zone, it’s so important that I have some time off with God to process my thoughts and emotions before I continue ministering in another country.
Sometimes, it even requires some trauma-counselling to process all the hardships we see, hear and experience.
No one can choose where they’re born, whether it’s in a first-world nation or a war zone – but we are our brother’s keeper.
I remember the very first time I exited the Congolese war zones to take a break. For the first time in a long while, I lay down on a comfortable mattress, had a hot shower with running water, a toilet that flushed, electricity … And I wept.
I was no different from my people in the Congo; who was I that I could leave the scene any time I wished – while they spent their entire lives amidst destruction and unrest?
I wrestled and came to the conclusion that no one can choose where they’re born, whether it’s in a first-world nation or a war zone. But we are our brother’s keeper; and “to whom much is given, much is required” (Luke 12:48).
One of the children I work with, who is also called Jemima!
There are many challenges we face on the field, both physical and psychological – droughts, bullets, threats of rape, kidnappings … But the greatest challenge for me is to truly see the suffering of the people God leads me to. To embrace their brokenness, identify with their suffering, and treat them with the love of the Father.
Many times we are tempted to gloss over the appalling reality of their struggles, not because we’re apathetic, but because the enormity of what they face can make us feel so small, inadequate and overwhelmed.
While I must always be careful not to take on false responsibility, daring to see the depths of brokenness and allowing God to break my heart for what breaks His has enabled me time and time again to draw on His plans and resources for the people He loves.
Sounds abstract, but let me illustrate this for you.
Two years ago, I started a housing initiative in Kenya for a starving family with six children. It all started with me sitting in their tent on a visit, aghast as the father sadly recounted how they had witnessed two of their children die as they fled for their lives.
They were living in a refugee tent that was caving in, and I was greatly moved in my spirit to help them, although I also remember thinking, “Building a house is quite an undertaking!”
Refugee camp in the Congo
When I left their tent, I found myself scratching my legs with increasing intensity. To my horror, I looked down to see that I’d been bitten all over by fleas while sitting with the family. I had more than 100 flea bites on both legs.
It was excruciating, and for the next few days I couldn’t sleep – painfully falling asleep but waking up soon after, scratching furiously. One night, in my frustration, I prayed, “Jesus, I thought you were interceding for me, did You forget the fleas?”
In that moment I could almost hear Him chuckle, and one word emerged in my heart: Identification.
Then it dawned on me. I hadn’t fled for my life, lost everything I owned, hidden in jungles for days, watched people I love die in front of me, starved in refugee camps, endured squalid conditions with little hope for survival … I’d just experienced the tiniest fraction of what these people had gone through; I’d just been bitten by the same fleas this family couldn’t escape from.
That was how I ended up building my first refugee house, built from the funds I had saved. Soon after, God prompted my local pastor and I to budget a simple house-build prototype that cost USD$1,000. He then sent individuals, families and intercessors our way, some sowing into the building of one house, others, five houses, and more.
To date, this housing initiative has seen the construction of more than 100 houses. That’s shelter provided for hundreds of lives.
Little children in the Congo
Every bit of the work I’ve done as a missionary is purely God’s doing. I feel so small and incredulous in the midst of it; more and more convinced that God just needs us to have willing hearts and to dare to share in the suffering of our brothers and sisters in the faith.
I may not always have the resources or solutions on hand, but He does, and truly seeing His people as He sees them has helped me connect with them at a deeper, more profound level. I have also been blessed with the best local men and women of peace, the real heroes that make such extensive work possible.
As missionaries, I believe we are sent to come alongside locals to serve and to bless the community. But by the power and grace of God, it will be the Congolese themselves who will change their country and bring healing to their land.
Besides her primary work in the Congo, Jemima currently oversees two slum schools in India, is helping to develop a large refugee settlement in the central Kenyan desert while working with survivors from the genocide in Rwanda, and is supporting a Burundian refugee community.
She will be speaking at Kallos Missions Morning next Saturday, May 26, 2018, along with fellow missionaries Jea Ng and Jiamin Choo-Fong. Register for the talk here.
“Did you sew this?” is a question I’ve been constantly asked when people learn that I sometimes sew my own clothes and crafts around the house. Compelled by an interest in anything related to yarn, thread and fabric, I taught myself over the years to cross-stitch, knit, crochet and embroider as a hobby.
Requests to sew and customise handmade items for family and friends grew more frequent, and I wondered whether I should turn my hobby into a business.
And when the relationship I was in ended with my ex-boyfriend cheating on me, I spent even more time sewing. The long insomniac nights that followed were painful, and sewing was an outlet to process the tumult of thoughts and emotions.
I considered starting a local non-profit initiative like Tiyamike Sewing in Africa, a charity started by Australian missionary Jo Ong. By teaching women from low income families how to sew, the organisation has helped increased their capacity to provide for their households.
But as a speech therapist by profession, I already had my hands full. Perhaps something later in life when I’d have more time and resources, I thought.
Until one day, as I was reading through Matthew 25:14-28, my perspective shifted when I was meditating on the Parable of the Talents. The Master had distributed talents – what their coins were also known as – among his three servants before he left on a long journey.
While he was away, two of the servants invested their talents and doubled their wealth. Well done, he told each of them upon his return. But the third played it safe, earning nothing but his Master’s scorn. Maybe it was time for me to be a better steward of the gifts the Lord has blessed me with.
I was initially apprehensive about taking Ally Crafts Co into a social media space, not knowing where it would lead me, or if it would take off at all. But there was a calm assurance and deep confidence within, knowing that I had God on board with me on this. He the captain, and I, the servant.
As I started with baby steps, I continuously prayed for every decision made to be in line with God’s. Some of them were unconventional and counterintuitive to growing a business, but I did what I could to honour Him.
Over the months, I saw how God indeed used my gifts to reach out to His people, and to use it to honour and glorify Him. Orders for customised embroidery hoops grew, requests for workshops poured in, and opportunities for collaboration came my way.
I’ve partnered with Kins, a social skills and training programme by Hello Flowers! to empower local women from disadvantaged backgrounds by equipping them with crafting and simple entrepreneurial skills. And last year, my work was featured on YMI and in an art exhibit at Kallos Conference 2017.
What I embroider are usually a result of my thoughts, faith and reflection. Knowing that many ladies have been encouraged through my embroidery hoops and hand embroidery workshops, the grief and sorrows I felt earlier on in this journey have also gradually turned into joy. I’ve seen firsthand how God has been with me every step of the way.
When the hustle and bustle of each day winds down and the quiet and stillness of the night creeps in, I pick up my needle and thread to embroider. The repetitiveness of the stitching always brings me much solace and peace. These moments are when I have my long conversations with God.
Like the intricate stitches in my embroidery, where every stitch matters, God too doesn’t skimp on the tiniest of details; I can trust Him and the grand tapestry He is weaving with my life. I take comfort in letting go and resting in Him to provide the help, strength and guidance I need.
While the work of Ally Crafts Co isn’t done and hasn’t been entirely fulfilled yet, I look back at how far and wide God has lovingly brought me, and am truly excited for the beautiful things He has in store.
Want to pick up embroidery? Ally is collaborating with Kallosto conduct an embroidery workshop, “Stitched with Joy!” on Saturday, May 19, 2018, for young women aged 13-25 years old. Register your attendance here.
Kallos is a ministry that helps young women discover their God-planned design and is excited to share what it means to have joy in a world full of worries.