Full-time under 30: I gave up a banking career to work with at-risk kids in Thailand
Daryl Tay, RADION International // March 24, 2017, 4:31 pm
Like many of my peers in university, I wanted to pursue a career in wealth management with one of Singapore’s top banks.
I remember writing out a progression plan for a career planning module, detailing how I would get there. The professor gave me an A+ for that assessment and I thought my life was set. That was my roadmap that would dictate which classes I took, what interests I chose to invest my time in, who I spent most of my time with.
In my third year of university, all this was turned upside down. It began when I had a free stretch after Christmas, following a very hectic semester. In order to graduate, I had to clear my requirement to meet a certain quota of community service hours, so I committed to a 12-day humanitarian trip with RADION International, a Christian not-for-profit serving neglected communities in Northern Thailand.
I imagined a peaceful getaway trip into the mountains, a time to relax and recharge. I was wrong.
The trip was an intense experience but it would also reshape my understanding of the Christian faith.
My team, which included eight other students, had to hit the ground running. We had to plan an outreach camp for village children. We had only two Thai speakers, no translators and 50 rowdy tribal kids exploding with excitement.
I came to know an 8-year-old girl whose biological father was killed in Laos when she was just 3. Her mother remarried another man, but this man would abuse this girl by placing her into a sack and hitting her with a stick repeatedly. Till today, because of this trauma, she has a nervous tic of sub-consciously biting the back of her hands.
This girl tore up my idea of who God was. Where was God when such immense suffering was happening to such a young life?
I struggled with this question for a long time. Finally, I heard my answer: God was here, in the form of His church – us. Yet so many times, we shirk this calling. We naively believe that the poor, broken and hungry will naturally flood our church halls, to be comforted and healed, when it should work the other way around.
We should be out there modelling Christ to those who most need to see His goodness and His grace in their lives.
I returned from this trip confused and with a lot to think about. I wanted to serve God, but I was unwilling to let go of my career ambitions.
By my final year in university, I hadn’t resolved this dilemma. I decided to invest three months to intern with RADION International, “challenging” God to speak to me about my post-graduation plans during this stint.
Three weeks into my internship, I was posted to RADION’s field office in the village. One day during work, a teenager – previously a child in RADION’s shelter – strolls into the office acting very peculiarly; it turned out he had been sniffing glue.
The field staff worked quickly to usher him out; in his semi-conscious state, he posed a danger to others. But this encounter left an impression on me. In his least mindful state, this teenager somehow chose to come back to RADION.
The next day, this boy returned to the office, clearly sober this time. Our staff asked him why he chose to waste his life away on glue. The boy responded: “If you have only 20baht and you had to choose between a bowl of rice that only kept you full for a few hours, and a bag of glue that could keep you ‘satisfied’ for a day, which would you choose?”
His reply shook me.
This taught me that nobody willingly chooses to be addicted to glue or drugs. In the same way, villagers are not always poor because they choose to or make wrong choices in life. But because these problems are so complex and intertwined, it takes a very long term and dedicated effort to change these lives.
During my final term in university, I was offered a job at a Singapore bank upon graduation. My parents were pleased, and initially I saw myself working full-time for the bank and part-time for RADION.
But deep inside, I knew that I could not serve God part-time.
I halfheartedly challenged God. If He could change my parents’ hearts, helping them to understand the importance of RADION’s work and give me their blessing, I would pack my bags.
As I expected, when I first brought the topic up with my father, he was upset and disappointed. He told me it was a highly risky career path and that I should think over my options very carefully. The atmosphere in the family became tense.
A month passed and the situation had not improved. I began to consider the possibility that my parents would never be supportive of such a career. But little did I know that God was silently working behind the scenes in my father’s heart.
Two weeks before my graduation, my father told me that if I was indeed sure that this was God’s calling upon my life, I should go work with RADION.
I was without words. After my graduation ceremony, I turned down the bank’s offer and packed my bags for Thailand.
In my first few months, facing my peers and relatives was my greatest struggle. When I spoke to them, many of them would share about their lucrative starting jobs in the corporate world. I found myself keeping quiet or desperately trying to change the subject. Over Chinese New Year, one of my relatives even asked me upfront when I was going to stop volunteering for charity and start doing some “legitimate work”.
It took me some time to find security in God’s approval, rather than the world’s idea of success.
Living in Thailand was also a reminder that despite having attended university, I still knew so little. This gave me the humility to keep learning from others.
I would spend some of my mornings at a pig farm cleaning up pig dung with the locals. I learnt that while these daily tasks seemed trivial, they were actually critical to the health and lifespan of the pig, which in turn determined the income of the average villager.
What has kept me going has been seeing the lives that are being changed. I’m now in my third year with RADION. I host and lead all mission teams and volunteer efforts with RADION International. I also oversee the STREETKIDS! 1 Programme, a rehabilitation shelter for children-at-risk in the village.
Children that were once drug addicts and school dropouts – abused and abandoned — are now topping their classes, serving in church and giving back to their community. Seeing these children fight so hard for their futures makes me also want to fight on, despite all the challenges in this line of work.
The second thing that keeps me going is knowing that if not for God’s grace, I would not be where I am today. I owe Him a debt that cannot be repaid and the little I can do in gratitude is to serve Him wholeheartedly, wherever He calls me.
My biggest takeaway from this work is realising that the greatest fulfilment in life comes not from material comforts or pursuits, but from living a life bigger than yourself. The paradox is that in giving ourselves to others, we find our greatest purpose.
My most joyful moments in these three years have not been the times when I have succeeded. Rather, they are the moments when I witnessed broken lives defying all odds and finally, after a long, difficult road, encountering their own self-deserved success.
I wonder what would happen if, one day, the entire church resonated with this heartbeat, dedicating our entire lives to God’s call. This is the reason why I would encourage other young Christians to honour God’s call upon their lives.
If He calls you on the road less trodden, take heart because it is a privilege to serve Him there.
RADION International is a Christian relief and development agency dedicated to serving the most vulnerable and marginalised communities, empowering them to overcome poverty and oppression. To extend your support, in whatever form, please drop Daryl an email at email@example.com.