Full-time under 30: From academia to the heart of Africa
Jemima Ooi, Justice Rising // June 4, 2018, 2:14 pm
Before I was called into missions in my early twenties, I remember chatting with a close friend who was feeling the nudge towards full-time ministry. She asked me what I thought, and with gutsy conviction, I replied, “Being called out by God is the most humbling privilege anyone can ever receive.”
I still feel the same way now, after seven years in the field, and perhaps all the more convinced – although I have to admit my convictions waned a little when I was first called into the fray!
Truth is, I’ve caught whispers of my calling since I was a young girl. Since God lives outside of time, I believe He peppers glimpses of our callings throughout our lives. I recall having visions of working in refugee camps at the age of 14, and having recurring dreams about being amongst the poor as a child.
Sometimes the knowing was so deep, I would tell my mum as a little girl that I didn’t think my life would be very ordinary.
The faith journey that led me into full-time missions started while I was in university. At that time, I saw my contemporaries fizzle out in the faith, pursuing lifestyles that weren’t healthy for them.
I was deeply saddened in my spirit – some of my closest friends left God, and I couldn’t convince them to stay.
It occurred to me then that it wasn’t just about good deeds or character; it wasn’t about knowing right and wrong – these things alone didn’t go down deep enough into the heart of a person to establish them, anchor them in God.
Something was missing and I needed to find God for myself. I needed Him to be so real that nothing on earth could tear me away from our relationship. I needed to live in intimacy, in oneness with Him.
This was where my deep and personal relationship with God took off. I began to seek Him out. I would take walks alone with Him late at night for over two hours almost every day. I talked to Him about everything on my heart, and He listened.
He encouraged me, taught me how to study, how to write my essays. I felt deeply at peace and known by my Creator. Soon God began to speak to me about “going places with Him”. I heartily agreed but didn’t exactly know how it would unfold.
Being called out by God is the most humbling privilege anyone can ever receive.
As I walked and talked with Him, God helped me to excel in university. Some people described me as a “late bloomer”, but I know it was nothing apart from God.
My professors talked to me about scholarships and asked if I would consider a career in academia.
Coming from my bumbling academic background growing up, this was by far the most prestigious offer I’d ever received in my life. I had also received several tempting job offers, but my heart was hesitant.
So I sat to pray in earnest; I remember telling God, “I can’t do any of this without You. If I stay in academia or take these other jobs, but You’re not with me, everyone will know I’m a hoax.”
“What do You desire for my life?”
He replied by telling me to serve my parents for a year, after which He would tell me then what He wanted me to do.
My parents run a restaurant called “Penang Place”, and I worked there for two years as a server, helping to manage the operations and communications of our little family business.
It was a humbling place where God was sifting my affections – whether it lay in the things of this world, the honour and prestige, or whether I was loyal to the things on His heart. At the end of one year, God spoke so clearly to me about becoming a missionary.
He spoke about giving off my first fruits to Him, not just my money, but my strength and youth –things that could not be bought or regained.
During this season when God was speaking, several visiting speakers actually approached me and told me that God had marked me “for the nations”. These people didn’t even know me! The confirmations just kept coming and I knew that it was time to leave.
From there, I signed up to train with an international missions organisation, Youth With A Mission (YWAM), gave up my right to material security as the world would understand it, said goodbye to my family … And followed the call of God on my life.
Of course, going full-time wasn’t without its intense challenges. The biggest was this: I had to give up all self-sufficiency and control.
I joke that my initial fail-safe plan was to work hard, put aside savings, find a husband with a similar call, and one day move our whole family to the mission field. It was an absurd plan, but it felt so logical in my mind.
Over the years I’ve learnt that I have to surrender full control to God, from trusting Him to provide for me and my heart, to protecting me in dangerous war zones. I also have to depend on God to send others to support God’s work through me. I am completely dependent.
Sometimes to live in His peace, one has to sacrifice understanding.
There were many sacrifices in the initial years, chief of all being “understanding”. I didn’t understand where provision would come from, what my three to five year plan was … When I first started out, I had many well-meaning people concerned that I was “throwing away my future”, others thought I was being too lofty and idealistic, impractical.
I had no answers for them; I really had nothing to show for myself – I didn’t even know where I was going for a while! All I had was the firm belief that God had placed a dream in my heart for the poor and broken, and I had to follow Him.
In the Bible it talks about there being a “peace that surpasses understanding” (Philippians 4:7): Sometimes to live in His peace, one has to sacrifice understanding.
The peace I’ve found is that God is most acquainted with the future, that when He calls, He provides. He always has an employment plan for those who work for Him. My dad used to tell me, “God gives His best to those who leave the choice to Him.” I’ve found this to be true – my life is so fulfilling and genuinely happy.
It seems paradoxical for someone living in a war zone to feel this way, but there really is nothing else I want to do. Living by faith with no steady stream of income is baffling even to me, yet God has provided for my every need. What a wonderful thought, that God has made it His responsibility to watch over us!
Today, I work for a missionary organisation called Justice Rising. I work alongside a team of missionaries who are sold-out lovers of God. They leave everything behind to risk their lives in a war zone – and most don’t even get paid for it!
One of the key ways we help to benefit these poor and broken communities is through education.
We build all kind of schools – preschools, primary and secondary schools, carpentry and sewing schools. We also run discipleship training schools where locals from 16 to 60 years of age and every livelihood – farmers, mamas, pastors – come to be trained up as missionaries for their country.
There are many benefits to having a school. As the community learns good hygiene practices, plagues decrease and sanitation improves. Children are able to get help for the trauma issues they face.
Most importantly, we are able to disciple future generations in the things of God. Our students leave school not just knowing about God, but with a deep and personal walk with Him. They are the Daniels-in-training that will bring the wisdom of God before kings and leaders to shape their nation in the years to come.
Besides her primary work in the Congo with Justice Rising, 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. If you’d like to support the work, please visit Justice Rising’s donation page to make a contribution.