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A cut above the rest: The 26-year-old barber for the underprivileged

by | 9 February 2018, 1:09 PM

“Don’t come in first, it’s a mess!” yells Chu Yin, as she rushes into her little studio to clean up.

A Bangladeshi man follows her in. Wordlessly, he picks up a broom and begins to sweep the floor. He seems to know where things should go, deftly picking up random tools and arranging them in the shop.

After the dust settles, Chu Yin ushers me into her cosy workspace – it’s a one-chair concept barbershop. She sits the man down in front of a huge mirror, as she gently fastens the cutting cape over him. “The usual?”

His name is Mahmud. He nods to his friend Chu Yin, who has been giving him free haircuts here at Telja Studios for half a year now.



From dream to reality, it took Chu Yin 2 years to set up Telja Studios. "Nobody glorifies the job of a barber," she says, "But I feel like I will look back and regret not trying."

In December 2016, Chu Yin founded Telja Studios to positively impact people’s lives.

It started with picking up barbering as a hobby. “I used to have really short hair and so, I was able to appreciate a good short haircut,” she tells me. 

But she began to wonder how could she benefit the community through the skills she had acquired. Apprenticing under Lex Low – a Malaysian barber who gives free haircuts to refugees and the underprivileged – Chu Yin improved her skills and saw how barbering could help people.

“Basically Lex was doing everything I yearned to do. That gave me a lot of hope and encouragement.”

Despite family opposition and the risks behind starting a business, Chu Yin opened her barbershop as a tangible way to help others. While she is passionate about barbering, Chu Yin admits that the relational aspect of her job is what she enjoys most.

I’m not here to make a big impact at this point – but to transform the life of one person. When you’re transformed, you’ll live for something greater than yourself.

“To me, haircuts are almost secondary. If I’m just cutting hair without intentionally connecting to the person, it will get very boring after a while because how many variations can a guy’s hair have?”

“It’s the relationships that I value most.”

As a barber, Chu Yin has many opportunities to engage with her customers. And as Telja Studios is a one-chair barbershop concept, both parties can converse without worrying about being overheard.

“You don’t have a choice. You sit here, you’ve got to listen to me talk, or talk to me,” she laughs, “Over time you meet your barber more than you meet your friends. You have to come almost every month. With that, you get to know a person and you get to speak life over them.”



Chu Yin's barbershop only has one chair intentionally: So she can build friendships with her customers personally. "It's not just a personalised haircut – it's a personal get-to-know-you session too," she says.

It’s a business philosophy which is evident from her friendship with Mahmud. Their friendship started with a simple hello.

“I try to get to know people around here,” Chu Yin explains, “I literally say ‘Hi’, but that’s it. It was Mahmud who went beyond the ‘Hi’ and asked about the haircut.”

Because Mahmud only gets off work at 9pm, Chu Yin waited past her normal opening hours just to serve him. And at the end of the haircut, she didn’t take the money he offered because she just wanted to know Mahmud better.

That was how a friendship blossomed between the 26-year-old and 48-year-old. Today, they are even able to share their worries with each other.

Mahmud recounts one instance when he was deeply worried about a personal issue. He turned up at Telja Studios’ doorstep, distressed and dishevelled.

“She said: ‘Come in, and I shave for you.'”

It was an act of service which touched Mahmud greatly. Chu Yin also offered to keep his situation in her prayers, and texted him from time to time to make sure he was doing alright.

“Sister is very kind,” Mahmud tells me.

I see a genuine two-way friendship between Chu Yin and Mahmud: While he receives free haircuts, Mahmud occasionally brings sugarcane drinks to her studio.

Chu Yin nods, “That to me is a blessing. Because sometimes the distilled water tank outside is empty, and I can’t run down to get a drink even though it’s just one staircase away because I’m cutting hair back to back. He just magically appears at the right time.”

He laughs: “Sister shares many things with her customers. So sometimes I go down and buy sugarcane!”



Chu Yin gives Mahmud free haircuts regularly. Personal but professional, she styles Mahmud's hair meticulously in a 45-minute cut-and-conversation.

Chu Yin tells me she has bigger plans: To mentor youths-at-risk and equip them with her skillset.

It’s why she started a barber academy at Telja Studios.

“Young people are very vain. They love to know how the hair works, how they can ask their barber to cut,” Chu Yin laughs.

Chu Yin has been volunteering at New Hope Community Services (NHCS), a charity centre for displaced families in Singapore. Beyond volunteering, she reaches out to the youths she meets at NHCS by offering them free haircuts.

“They will be like, ‘You’re a barber? Don’t bluff – show me!’ and I would be like, ‘Ya, I’ll show you. It’s so near anyway,” she says.

“Helping them find satisfaction through what they can do in the future is my way of reaching out. We believe in the potential of young people.”

It’s why she named her barbershop “Telja” – the Icelandic word for “belief”.

When asked why she doesn’t simply work with NGOs (non-governmental organisations), Chu Yin tells me that while NGOs meet the basic needs of underprivileged families – there’s still more to do. 

“It’s not just about giving them the job. It’s helping them pull out all their other roots first. This is why I want to take my time to get to know these people personally. I’m not here to make a big impact at this point – but to transform the life of one person.”

“When you’re transformed, you’ll live for something greater than yourself.”



"I’m not just a charity organisation," Chu Yin explains, "Just like any other enterprise, I have to make money, lah. But this business will always have a heart for the community. If my business exists but people are not impacted – my KPIs are not met."

That afternoon, I left Chu Yin’s little barbershop in wide-eyed wonder.

Here is a woman, not much older than I am, who refuses to conform to societal standards – forging a more meaningful path instead. And all it took was deep passion and purpose.

Chu Yin’s friendship with Mahmud made me see that you can bless anyone anytime and anywhere. It doesn’t need to be at a volunteering organisation – it could even be in my workspace or neighbourhood!

“I hope people will realise there’s more they can do with their time. Go and do that which will bless the community and find satisfaction through it,” she told me.

The world really becomes our mission field when our heart is touched for God’s people.

Let’s ask Him to help us care like He does. Then let’s start with what we have.

Telja Studios is a barbershop with a heart for communities. If you would like to be involved in what they do – consider joining the team.

You can also sponsor someone to take up barbering course under Chu Yin. He/she will eventually be given a job at Telja Studios. For more information, write to


Siqi often loses her footwear in the office. She is also known for her loud sneezes, huge appetite, and weird sound effects. Happens to be a writer too.


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Do Good

Some save Batam: Taking the heart of Singapore beyond our shores

by | 8 August 2018, 4:58 PM

It’s barely 8AM and Tanah Merah Ferry Terminal is already swarming with people. We’re there to catch the second earliest boat to Sekupang, Batam, where we’ll be visiting a community house in the slums called Noah’s Ark.

Taking us to Noah’s Ark is Isaac Ong, whose involvement in Channel 5‘s The Final 1 and The Voice (SG/MY) has increasingly put him in the spotlight over the years.

The youth director of Emmanuel AOG, who recently sang with S.H.E’s Hebe Tien on China’s Come Sing With Me, is no stranger to social media influence – he often speaks in various church circles and leads the FOPx worship team.

Isaac leading worship at FOPx Worship Night 2018

Isaac also happens to have bought the community house – which he refers to as an eco-learning shelter for the children who live in the slum – as part of his humanitarian work through Colours Global, a company he set up at just 23 years of age.

“I was in Batam with Habitat for Humanity, and one day when we were driving around we passed by all these schools that were not painted, and I thought to myself, it’ll be so easy to paint them – I could do that!” he tells this story with trademark candour.

“And I felt God speak to me then from The Message version of Matthew 5:14, that I was going to start a company to bring out the God-colours in the world.

“Here’s another way to put it: You’re here to be light, bringing out the God-colours in the world. God is not a secret to be kept. We’re going public with this, as public as a city on a hill.” (Matthew 5:14)

“The second thing He told me was: ‘You’re going to buy a house’ – which I definitely didn’t have money for!

“So I asked for a sign if any of this was really from Him, and when I got into a cab on the way home a few days later, the song on the radio was ‘True Colours’! And that’s how I started Colours Global.”

Although there was no sign of “the house” for the next 5 years, Isaac wasted no time furthering his love for helping the less fortunate, partnering organisations such as the Singapore Girls’ Home and a non-profit in Batam that serves the children in over 40 slums.

Isaac spending time with little children in Batam (Photo credit: Isaac Ong)

From the outside, Isaac, who turns 30 this year, is easily a wonder boy of sorts with an unattainable track record for the regular Singaporean. But this assumption is quickly fading just an hour into our trip.

“When I say we, I often mean me!” Isaac confesses with a laugh when I ask him who’s the ‘we’ he keeps referring to with regards to all the work he’s been involved with.

“I went on a mission trip to the borders of Thailand and Myanmar at 17 years old and that’s where my eyes were opened and my love for the poor started.”

And it’s been one person’s show of love and kindness ever since. Mission trips across the poorest parts of Asia in between school terms, self-funded social movements to care for the marginalised in Singapore … Nothing extravagant – just simple acts of seeing beyond oneself.

Isaac on one of his mission trips overseas (Photo credit: Isaac Ong)

When we arrive at the port, he suddenly slips out of sight and returns with Rotiboy buns for all of us.

That’s where I realise that Colours Global is Isaac Ong.

Just one boy who’s made caring his career, be it caring for those in the media space where he’s also called to, caring for the hundreds of young people under his care in church, or caring for the child who runs up to him in a slum.

The good news is: Anybody can care. And for Singaporeans, all it might take is a 45-minute ferry ride.

A bird’s eye view of the slums on the outskirts of Batam

Noah’s Ark is just a small part of a bigger project to bring education to the slum children in Batam,” Isaac explains as we travel to the slum district. “The organisation Colours Global partners with has efforts in over 40 slums, where volunteer teachers get on bikes and ride into these villages to give tuition to the kids there.

“Most of the children who are born in these conditions don’t usually go to school – their parents expect them to help support the family. So they’ll grow up fishing, farming … But in more dire circumstances it’ll be illegal activities such as prostitution.”

It was 2 years ago, during one of his trips to Batam that Isaac was invited to view a slum house that his friends from the partner organisation were interested in buying.

One of the slum districts in Batam

“They didn’t know what God had told me about buying a house 5 years before that,” he recounts. “And they weren’t trying to get me to invest in it either, because they knew I barely had any money!”

Buying the house would have given them space to set up a permanent learning space in that slum, where children from that community and neighbouring ones could gather daily for enrichment lessons.

But for Isaac, this stirred something in him from the first time God had spoken about Colours Global: “You’re going to buy a house.”

The slum house, barely the size of a studio apartment, cost about SGD$3,500. That would mean sacrificing a majority of Colours Global’s funds – that is, Isaac’s main livelihood.

Noah’s Ark, the community house that sits by the river at the edge of the slum

“But I knew in my heart that it was the house,” Isaac says, conviction in his voice. “So when I got back to Singapore I immediately called them to say I was going to write a cheque to buy it – because if I took any longer, I might’ve changed my mind!”

So at the age of 28, just as God had said, Isaac Ong bought a house.

The moment we arrive at Noah’s Ark, the children start to trickle in. It’s Saturday morning, so there aren’t any programmes on, but they’re clearly used to gathering there with Rudy, one of the two Bible school students who lives there to serve the community full-time.

“We call it Noah’s Ark because it’s the last house on the edge of the slum that’s by the water,” Isaac shares as we toured the little house that had been thoughtfully painted with animals walking two-by-two.

The little community house that is Noah’s Ark

“It’s also a place where the children can find refuge when they are in trouble.”

Setting up Noah’s Ark is just a start on taking the education initiative in the slums to the next level. Since late last year, Isaac has been assembling teams from Singapore to come over to Batam to hold 2-3 hour children’s programmes – also called Noah’s Ark – at the 40 other villages.

“It’s like a travelling circus where the kids can come down and learn music, drama, arts and craft, play games, which exposes them to English and math … And the parents get to see how their children respond to learning.”

Isaac hanging out with the community children at Noah’s Ark

“Many used to be quite unwilling to send their children to school, so in turn the children think that school is boring and go out to work instead.

“But with this Noah’s Ark programme that we bring into their community, the children have so much fun and when their parents see that, they realise that education is important and good for their kids.”

That’s how he hopes to be part of a larger move of God to save these children off the streets, and one day out of the slums – into a greater hope and future.

It’s an invitation open to all Singaporeans, Isaac tells us. And as usual, he’s keeping it simple: Follow him on Instagram (@isaacong) and he’ll be posting details on participating in the Noah’s Ark tour very soon.

“What’s one ferry ticket and 45 minutes to come to Batam, right?”

Saying goodbye to the Noah’s Ark kids

As we say goodbye, the children take our hands in theirs, placing the back of our hands on their foreheads as a sign of respect.

Moved by all that I’ve heard from him today, I find myself returning the action, which startles the little girl who’s greeting me. “This is usually done to someone senior,” Rudy explains. Someone of a higher status. But that’s not who I am, or what I want to be seen as: In God’s Kingdom, I am no higher than anyone.

And this is the spirit Isaac walks in, whether he’s on stage or in the slums, which makes him the true voice of a generation: He’s always serving, always loving.

Always bringing out the God-colours in the world.


Joanne is a bundle of creative energy commonly heard before she is seen. She believes in the triune power of good conversation, brilliant writing and bold ideas. She also likes milo.


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by | 1 August 2018, 1:44 PM



Love Then we want you to:

So if you’re in the business of writing, video production, photography, animation, coding, preaching, composing, acting – and more – say hello and GET IN with us.


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Do Good

What’s my role in the fivefold ministry?

by | 26 July 2018, 2:36 PM

So you’ve been going to church for sometime now and wondering where you fit into the greater story of God’s Kingdom. After all, we are part of the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 4:12) and as part of the Great Commission, we are each entrusted with growing the Church (Matthew 28:19).

Where it gets confusing is how am I, as one person, supposed to? Where do I start?

Having mentored others for several years, I try to give people some starting tools to discover who they are and how they’ve been made to serve the Kingdom in broad strokes. One of these tools is knowing which part of God’s ministry you are strongest at, based on Jesus’ fivefold ministry mentioned in Ephesians 4:8-13.

When (Jesus) ascended on high he led a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men … And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God …” (Ephesians 4:8-13)

If you play role-playing computer games, this is easy to understand. When Jesus returned to heaven, He had promised to build His Church, His ekklesia, which wasn’t a building for people to hold services but a “faithful body of people”. As the head of the Church (Colossians 1:18), He passed us His ministry in five key parts or roles: Apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds (pastors) and teachers.

Each one of us has a role – not picked by us but by God – to play as we participate in His work. Each of us is also given different spiritual gifts and natural talents to enable us to play this role uniquely and well – but that’s a story for another day.

Before you take a simple quiz to discover what your role might be, here’s a short description of each of the Five – sometimes explained using a hand diagram.


1. Apostles: The thumb

We know Jesus started His ministry with 12 Apostles who were later tasked with continuing the work and raising up churches across the rest of the world long after He’d ascended to heaven.

The word apostle means “messenger” or “one sent forth”, which gives us a clue to what an apostolic calling entails. Like the thumb, the finger that allows us to grasp things, apostles are pioneers and builders who are gifted in establishing and upholding churches, ministries and movements.

2. Prophets: The index finger

Although we tend to think of prophets as those who can foretell the future, an wider understanding of prophetic ministry would be those who are gifted in carrying words of God for His people. In 1 Corinthians 14, the gift of prophecy is for upbuilding, encouragement and consolation.

Like the forefinger that points the way, prophetic ministry involves giving direction and correction. Besides being able to sense God’s word for particular seasons or situations, such as the prophets in the Old Testament, prophets may also be able to recognise His gifts and callings on individuals, giving them guidance too.

3. Evangelists: The third finger*

One of the better known roles of ministry would be the evangelist – the messenger who proclaims the good news and welcomes people to join the flock. Represented by the finger that extends furthest, evangelists are gifted in outreach ministry.

Everyone is tasked with evangelising to those not yet in the family of God, but evangelists are particularly strong in the area of preaching and witnessing – with a passion for winning others over to become followers of Jesus Christ.

* Yes, we know it’s commonly referred to as the middle finger.

4. Shepherds: The ring finger

The ring finger symbolises commitment to marriage, similar to a pastor’s commitment to those in his care. The word “pastor” literally means “shepherd”, and like people who rear and watch sheep, pastoral ministry involves protecting, leading, nurturing and feeding the flock (John 21:17).

Those with a pastoral inclination are faithful caregivers and parental figures, consistently guiding those under their ministry to places of sustenance, growth, safety and rest.

5. Teachers: The little finger

Last but not least, teaching is the gift of passing on knowledge and training others to apply their gifts well. Teachers, trainers and mentors do a lot of unseen work, but like the little finger, their job is critical to the flourishing of disciples of Jesus Christ, Himself referred to as rabbi, or teacher (John 3:2).

Teachers are not just well-versed in know-how or information, but gifted educators who are able to clearly and effectively express this for another’s benefit through writing, curriculum and lecturing.

 The fivefold ministry is just a starting point for understanding our divine DNA and destiny. And rather than something we volunteer for, such as the ministries in church (e.g. ushering, worship, fellowship etc), these roles are appointed by God that can be confirmed by other believers in time.

Each of us is gifted to a different degree in all five areas, which means everyone is able to operate in the entire fivefold regardless of our primary strength. The fivefold quiz itself simply gives us an idea of what we may be better suited for in the process of advancing the Kingdom of God.

Visit the Fivefold Ministry Test page to find out what yours is!


Joanne is a bundle of creative energy commonly heard before she is seen. She believes in the triune power of good conversation, brilliant writing and bold ideas. She also likes milo.


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“The Greek word for go, means go”: Canon J John on evangelism, hope and lifting roofs

by | 24 July 2018, 6:52 PM

“None of us have got it together, but together, we’ve got it,” Canon J John declared with a smile as he took the stage. Sensing the crowd’s amusement at the witty line, he then proceeded to have everyone repeat it after him.

The international evangelist, whose real name is John Ioannou, was preaching on unity and evangelism at the Celebration of Hope (COH) Pastors and Leaders Gathering on July 24, 2018.

In commemoration of 40 years since the Billy Graham Crusade in 1978 and Singapore’s 200th year since our founding, COH culminates in 3 days of rallies at the National Stadium next year.

“One of the great things about this vision and initiative is that it brings us together,” said the 60-year-old Canon, who brought well-known preacher Christine Caine to Christ in her younger years.

“No one monopolises God’s truth. Now we think we do, but there is no one church here that monopolises God’s truth. For the sake of the lost and for evangelism, we are happy to work together.

“We’re not focusing on our differences, we’re focusing on what we have in common, and what we have in common is good news – the Lord Jesus Christ who offers us our hope for the future.”

Canon J John at the National Stadium, where Celebration of Hope will be held

He then posed a question to the few hundred Singaporean pastors and church leaders seated in Saint Andrew Cathedral‘s New Sanctuary: What are we?

Then came the answer: “We are global Christians with a global mission, because we have a global God.” Canon John then turned to Matthew 28 and read out the Great Commission. In particular, he zoomed in on the word “go”.

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” (Matthew 28:19)

“I’m Greek, I’m bilingual — I read the Bible in Greek. And lots of people like to get up and say, ‘In its original Greek, (this verse) means this’ — and it usually doesn’t,” he said to a burst of laughter from the audience.

Then, serious again: “The Greek word for go, means go. We need to go!

“Many of our churches encourage people to go on a missions trip. I do too: I say walk next door – it’s cheaper. You don’t have to spend a year fund raising. Walk. Next. Door. That’s the best mission trip any of us can go on. Why? Because people are lost.”

Young people praying for each other

Canon John then recounted a story about his son: “Killy and I, we have 3 sons. When our eldest son was just 2, we lost him in a department store. We looked everywhere for him, but he had disappeared!

“What a terrible feeling to lose your child. And we’d only just seen him 30 seconds ago.”

In his story, Canon John explained that he’d rushed to the reception to ask for the shopping centre’s microphone, and when the lady in charge hesitated on letting him use it, he’d jumped over the counter to get to it.

When we’ve seen the Cross, the love of Christ compels us.

“I couldn’t care less what people thought of me,” he remarked. “My son was lost! Did it matter to me what they thought? No! My son was lost and I would do whatever I could to find him.

That’s the analogy we find in Scripture that encourages us to seek and save the lost,” he said.

Once again with a twinkle in his eye, he continued with a play on words: “A missionary is not someone who crosses the sea, a missionary is someone who sees the Cross.

“When we’ve seen the Cross, the love of Christ compels us.”

Canon J John preaching at the COH Pastors and Leaders Gathering

Turning to Acts 1:8, Canon John explained that when we receive Jesus, we receive His Holy Spirit which empowers us to be witnesses.

“The Greek word for witness is marturia, from which we get the word ‘martyr’,” he said solemnly. “Many of our brothers and sisters have been martyred, so it’s not going to be easy to witness – you’re giving your life.”

In underlining the need to do whatever it takes to get people to Jesus, Canon John then referred to Mark 2:1-12: “I love the story of the four men who took their friend on a stretcher to see Jesus Christ.”

Let’s lift the roof of our thinking to get people to Jesus.

In the well-known account, the house was so full that the men couldn’t get in through the door. Canon John pointed out how incredible it really was the cripple’s friends to then climb the roof, open a hole large enough in that roof, and lower a full-grown man on a stretcher down to Jesus.

“How did they do that?” he exclaimed. “Listen: Let’s lift the roof of our thinking to get people to Jesus.”

“God uses every way —prophecy, prayer, praise, proclamation — to reach the lost. So we too must do everything that we possibly can to get people to Jesus.”

Youth gathering to worship

Canon John then spoke on the importance of having evangelism as a mindset, quoting 2 Timothy 4:5: “But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.”

“Do the work of an evangelist,” he repeated. “He didn’t say stop doing the work of a church leader and become an evangelist.

“What he said in the original Greek is to lead the church as if you are an evangelist.

He didn’t say stop doing the work of a church leader and become an evangelist – lead the church as if you are an evangelist.

“We’ve got to think like an evangelist. So that your whole DNA and your church’s DNA is all about the people who don’t come – as well as the people who do come.”

Canon John continued, “I’ve been in the ministry for 39 years and my conclusion is this: Evangelism is the practice of praying, caring and sharing. These are things we need to do anyway. We are a church who prays, cares and shares!

Praying together at a worship event

“I want you to start in the place of your greatest failure. Where is that for you? For your congregations?

Then, he said, “Cultivate your web of relationships. To reach the world, you have to first reach your world.

“I know some people have been called to bypass ‘Samaria’ and ‘Judea’,” he qualified. “But these are the 2%.”

98% of us have been called to reach the world by reaching our world. That’s what we need to do as leaders and encourage the congregation to do!”

To reach the world, you have to first reach your world.

“You know, 500 years ago a theologian called Erasmus translated John’s gospel,” he shared.

“This is how he translated John 1:1: ‘In the beginning, was the conversation.’ I really like that. All we are doing, is keeping the conversation going.

“We’re praying that God will help us to share the good news, to articulate it — to keep the conversation going.”

In closing, Canon John addressed the heart behind the coming year of evangelism. “Before somebody becomes a Christian, they’re in negative territory. The negative territory goes all the way back to -100.”

Canon John said that as we pray for them, care for them and meet felt needs, that number changes for the better: “I know God can take a -100, and take them like that. But he often doesn’t. He woos them.

“And we each have a part to play in helping people on their journey to faith.”

One National Stadium, 50,000 in seating, 3 nights of proclaiming the Good News.

“That’s 27,500 Christians every night,” Canon John said knowingly. “Each one bringing one friend.”

Canon J John will share the Gospel at the Celebration of Hope on 17 to 19 May 2019, National Stadium. COH is a united initiative by the National Council of Churches of Singapore, Evangelical Fellowship of Singapore and LoveSingapore. Visit for updates.

Photos of youth were taken at FOPx Worship Night 2018.


Gabriel isn't a hipster, but he loves his beard and coffee. In his spare time, he'd rather be on a mountain.


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I was 4,000km out of my comfort zone

by | 3 July 2018, 11:27 AM

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.

Faith dies without action: What’s your next step?


Fiona is secretly hilarious, deeply devoted to her dogs, and loves a good chat with strangers. She believes everyone needs to know that they are worthy of love – you are!


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