Full-time under 30: Solving the missing equation in missions
Kenneth Heng // October 7, 2019, 3:14 pm
On a random morning in 2017, I woke up with great conviction and said: “I’m going to sell toys as a missionary!”
Since 2009, at the age of 20, I knew I wanted to serve the Lord as a full-time missionary. The problem: I had zero clue on what that really meant.
I wouldn’t consider myself particularly talented or smart – I never excelled in school and scored a whopping 34 points for my O-Levels. I loved sports, but was never really good enough to get into the school team.
I was working by the time I was 16, and continued shuttling between working and studying for the next 10 years. By the Lord’s grace, I somehow always managed to have extra resources for me to go on mission trips, whether by my own savings or a miraculous providence.
I could go on with my list of unachievements, but I think you get the drift.
Being an enthusiastic youth, I had always been involved in church missions one way or another as a teenager.
My underwhelming track record meant that while many others were serving, teaching and planning on the trips that I was on, I would have nothing much to do. Instead, I would often sit with the locals, both the church leaders and their families.
These were the observations I made over the past decade of mission tripping:
- Most of our trips lasted a maximum of two weeks, but those leading initiatives on the ground would be there for a few years, or life.
- Mission trippers usually deliver programmes; on-the-ground leaders deliver companionship and love in action.
- Programmes often target “beneficiaries”, instead of equipping leaders to succeed in their God-given vision for the place and people.
- These leaders often struggle with emotional and even family issues, and don’t have many people to turn to.
Time spent sitting and listening with the leaders on the ground had unwittingly opened my eyes to the longer-term projects needed for the communities they served.
I remember meeting with a local leader who led a Myanmar missions organisation in 2016. It was quite awkward at first – we had no programme and no agenda. He simply introduced his ministries to me, and we ate together, drank coffee and sang some songs with his children.
We did this every time I visited Myanmar, and slowly we got to hear one another’s heart for the ministry. One day, he came to me and said: “I would love to invite you to visit my village in the northwest. There’s a hospital that has been turning away emergency delivery cases for the last two years. They lack the funds and equipment to address these issues.”
I did what I knew – connecting them with people who had relevant experience to tackle these problems, from doctors and lawyers to humanitarians. Together, we talked through possible solutions.
In one month, I raised enough money, took the doctor shopping for the necessary equipment, and had them shipped to that village. The local leader brought village chiefs and political figures together for a small conference to “launch” this new equipment in the hospital, and we monitored the doctor for the next three months.
In those three months, the hospital delivered 30 babies.
In the beginning, I had always thought that if I wanted to be a missionary, I needed to contribute a skill to serve the community. Some opened a cafe, others provided education… and that’s why I wanted to start a social enterprise selling toys to support communities.
But today, I run a social agency called Solve n+1, which facilitates projects for social good through consulting and hands-on management. While I’ve been taking on projects over the last three years, Solve n+1 was only officially incorporated in November 2018.
Inspired by the story of Nehemiah, Solve n+1 desires to partner the ones serving local communities to solve greater issues at hand: “n+1”. The goal: building resilient and thriving communities through micro-initiatives.
THE NEHEMIAH EQUATION
When Nehemiah first received news that his people, the Jews, who had returned to Jerusalem after decades of exile in Babylon, were living in great trouble and disgrace because the city’s walls lay in ruins, he wept, fasted and prayed (Nehemiah 1:1-4). He was serving in the Persian city of Susa when this happened.
He then received permission from the king to visit Jerusalem, begin the structuring of the project and later on facilitate the rebuilding of the walls. He also addressed the other concerns of the people, from cultural matters to even poverty.
Take a look at that process again: he visited the place, spoke to the locals and discovered multiple root causes to these issues. While he built the walls, he spent time sharing the vision of the Lord with the builders. More than working on infrastructure, he was discipling families.
Similarly, many of the issues I encounter today are unique and multifaceted. They require far more thought, prayer and collaboration not just for sustainability but deliberate efforts to ensure posterity and impact.
Professionally, others describe my work as a consultant. But organically, I support social initiatives as a coach and mentor, occasionally taking on the boring bits of completing a project, from report writing to managing cash flow and the works.
At this point of the Solve n+1 journey, I have had the privilege to work with partners from the international Houses of Prayer, and social enterprises like Migrant x Me, which has further facilitated conversations positioned for longer-term collaborations.
When Migrant x Me first started, Solve n+1 provided the necessary support, structuring their organisation by helping with sales processes and financial management. This provided us with the time to embark on the design of their flagship product: the Prejudice Trail. We spent approximately 40 hours worth of consultation hours with Migrant x Me to put all these together.
COORDINATING FOR CREATIVE ACCESS
There have been noticeable shifts within parachurch organisations in the way we are approaching problems, especially with regard to sending out missionaries or even solving social problems.
I hope that Solve n+1 becomes a platform that forges stronger collaborations with both businesses and those who wish to share their faith.
For people who desire to do social good, I want them to know that there are avenues of support they can access here – Solve n+1 can help by accelerating and building upon the dream that God has planted in their hearts. I also hope to connect with more professionals who wish to contribute their skills to the missions field.
My vision is to increasingly represent leaders and individuals from more invisible communities, to structure collaborations that can grow resilient and thriving communities. In time, I also hope that people will see Solve n+1 as a community of passionate individuals who will take on seemingly impossible problems with an innovative mind, transparency and lots of love.
THINK + TALK
- What does missions mean to you?
- What gaps have you observed in the way we are reaching out to communities, whether local or overseas?
- What are the skills and talents you could possibly use in the missions field?