Work

Full-time under 30: I begged God not to call me to suffer

Joey Lam // July 27, 2018, 3:15 pm

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I may have worked in a missions agency for two years, but the truth is, I never considered missions before that. In fact, I actively avoided full-time ministry as well – because I’m a pastor’s kid.

Growing up in a Christian minister’s household, I’ve seen and experienced the effects of full-time ministry. It is very real – carrying the weight of all the moral expectations placed on you just because you are the pastor’s kid. By God’s grace, I turned out okay.

Many of the rebellious thoughts that I had as a child went like this: “I am a sinner, and I want to live like a sinner too. So stop expecting me to behave like Jesus 24/7, because even pastors are human in their own homes.”

Okay, I digress. But that’s where my full-time story starts.

It was about 4 or 5 years ago; I’d just come back from my overseas exchange. I was making a list of what I wanted to do in life, and the first thing that popped up was “refugee camp volunteer”. I’d always been intrigued by the concept of refugees, having studied migration movements as a political science major.

At that point, I was considering finishing up university before my grades dropped any further. I mentally prepared myself to write a hundred emails to a hundred organisations, hoping at least one would reply.

Two weeks later, volunteers from Open Doors, an organisation that works with the persecuted church, came and shared at my youth ministry. I asked if they had any positions for refugee camp volunteer. They said no, but they knew someone who did.

On the following Thursday, I received an email from the personnel director of Interserve Singapore.

It was too late for an internship elsewhere, and I didn’t want to waste my last summer. After some discussion with the director, I found myself serving in Indonesia for two months as a media relations person. Thankfully, I’d learnt how to film and edit videos just a few months before – God’s timing is surely perfect!

After two months, I came back and was asked by a staff volunteer to do some video recordings of various testimonies. I said okay, as long as he was willing to wait one year. I should have known one year wasn’t too long to wait for a 66-year-old man.

I pleaded with God: “God, You’ve called others to go full time. To suffer for You. We’ll bless them. Just don’t call me.”

After I completing my honours year in the end, I thought to myself – what is the rush to go work? I decided to take a 6-month break. In the meantime, I would honour that promise and volunteer with Interserve to make some videos before I entered the marketplace.

During my time at Interserve, the team would meet once a week for prayer to intercede for the field workers in our ministry. At some point, I thought to myself, “If I’m going to be spending three hours a week praying for these workers, I might as well get to really know them.”

That was when God opened up my heart – He even knows the little things we’re thinking!

A few months down the road, the personnel director spoke with me again. Having seen my enthusiasm for the work, she shared with me, “I have thoughts of making you a local staff.”

The immediate response in my head was “No! Don’t call me to suffer! There is no money working in a missions agency!”

I pleaded with God: “God, You’ve called others to go full time. To suffer for You. We’ll bless them. Just don’t call me.” You must remember that I’d spent my life hearing stories of suffering in full-time ministry from my own father.

In hindsight, this was the real conflict: I was passionate about the work, but I detested the pay. To be fair, ministry work oftentimes feels like free labour, to the point that I might as well get paid to do all that work. But at the same time, the pay was so measly in my eyes.

One night, I lay in bed praying. My heart was racing as I said to God, “Okay God … Your work is honourable work, so I believe You’ll give me honourable pay. How about the market rate?”

His response was simple and immediate: “So you want to surrender conditionally?

Then, “It’s okay, Joey. Whether you choose to surrender or not, I’ve surrendered My Son for you unconditionally.”

When He said that, it was like knife piercing through my heart; and I could do nothing but concede: “Okay lah, You win.”

I woke up in the morning, thinking I had to be crazy for committing myself to full-time ministry and a life of irregular income. Because there I was: Chinese, male, upper middle-class family, fresh graduate from a local university. Everyone else like me would have been looking for an office job with good pay and fixed working hours.

And this was also my worry – which girl would want to marry me at this rate? What if I never got married because of this? 
Then there was the biggest hurdle to cross: I couldn’t wrap my head around how I could one day buy a house with such a low and irregular income. At that point, I would be receiving a monthly pay of less than $1,000, something that eroded my sense of worth and stability.

But it also showed where I had always placed my trust.

He has given me His only Son – precious collateral for His promise to always provide for me.

So I said to God, “God, I know You are a loving and caring Father. But help me make the jump. I can’t add up the numbers … How will I ever earn enough to buy a house? Please send aid. Thanks.”

As I was walking home that day, He suddenly spoke. “Why must you buy a house?”

I was stunned. Before I could recover from the shock, He followed up with the next question: “Where did you get this idea?”

I sheepishly replied, “Social Studies textbook?”

His firm but loving reply came again, this time from Luke 9:58: “The Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.”

I wanted to stop being Christian for all of five seconds then, just so I wouldn’t have to acknowledge that verse.

But deep inside, I knew. I knew that He is indeed a loving and caring Father who will provide for all my needs – whether I could see it now or not. He has given me His only Son – precious collateral for His promise to me. To us. There is no reason not to trust Him.

In writing this, I have experienced His grace and provision so many times over the past few years. But that’s a whole other story.

But here’s a few spoilers: My girlfriend – yes, I’m now attached! – told me it was exactly because I was working in a missions agency that she agreed to go out with me. I also recently got ballot number 44 for my BTO on first try.

God provides differently for each of His children, but He is a caring Father who is sure to provide. He has already provided His only Son; there is nothing else He can give that will surpass that.

Jesus is indeed our greatest inheritance, as we are His. (Ephesians 1:18)