Coronavirus Updates

We shouldn’t be back here, say missionaries whose ministries were disrupted by COVID-19

by Gracia Chiang // March 26, 2020, 8:56 pm

MISSIONARIES WHO RETURNED FEATURE IMAGE 3

All images courtesy of interviewees

Whether they returned because of family or ministry leaders, these 3 young missionaries have something in common. Something greater than the fear of COVID-19 brought them home.

However, the decision was a tough one to make – all of them struggled with leaving behind their mission field and ministry opportunities. It almost seemed like they had fled the frontline. 

Seeing hope even in the midst of uncertainty, these are their stories of love, honour and sacrifice.

ISSAC ER*, 35 (4 years in Australia) 

I flew back from Perth because my dad started having insomnia when the situation in Australia got worse. Furthermore, my campus ministry was affected because of the restrictions of gathering in groups.

Before the coronavirus outbreak happened, I was also planning to do business as missions in China, bringing over sustainable technology such as bio water filters and bio gas tanks.

I was in China over Chinese New Year and, by God’s grace, I managed to get out.

The idea is not just to bring God’s love by sharing the gospel, but also show God’s love by letting them know that He is taking care of their physical needs.

I go to China two to three times a year for ministry. However, everything is up in the air now.

I was in China for a scouting trip over Chinese New Year and, by God’s grace, I managed to get out while they were locking down the mountainous region I was staying in.

People outside of China think that the lockdown only affected Wuhan and Hubei, but many other places were also swiftly locked down. 

A baptism ceremony in China

Bus services were stopped and highways were closed off. Other than private vehicles, the only means of transport were trains and airplanes.

Thankfully, I hitched a ride from someone to his village which was right next to a railway station. But due to many cancellations, getting to the international airport took me a few days.

I finally managed to get back to Singapore and stayed here for awhile before flying to Perth where I’m based. However, I came back last week just before Australia closed its borders.

When I returned to Singapore, I was actually feeling depressed because I left all my friends and ministries behind. It’s like the Chinese saying 临阵脱逃, meaning you’ve run away from the frontline when a war is being fought. 

What it takes to build a bio gas tank

But when I was praying about my decision, I felt that it would be really hard on my parents, who are not believers, if I was kept out of Singapore for a long time due to Australia’s lockdown. I was struggling quite a bit, but I’m feeling better now.

I believe God is teaching me to be patient and how to lean upon Him. I really don’t know what I’m going to do here.

I will be praying and waiting on God’s guidance for what to do next – whether to help out in church or in my para-church organisation. A lot of things are out of my control at this point.

I don’t know how long I will be here for, but one of the things that I intend to do is cover-to-cover Bible reading. I hope that I will be able to get closer to God during this time of absence from my ministry in Perth.

JOVIAN LEONG, 25 (10 months in Moldova) 

I was a church planter in Moldova and was only scheduled to return to Singapore at the end of March, but our church leadership team called us back early. Truth be told, I was prepared to stay even if the country was locked down.

Jovian and his Youth Connect Group

Moldova is not prepared for a pandemic like this because it doesn’t have the necessary facilities. For awhile, public transport was stopped and massive sanitisation was carried out in the heart of the city. Like many countries across Europe, Moldova has also shut its borders.

I was ready to stay because I know my life is in the hands of God. Regardless of the outcome, there’s no loss.

My family is delighted that I’m back safely, but I’m grieving.

COVID-19 (or any other illness) can only cause the first death, which is physical death. But sin produces the second death, which is eternal death. I fear what is far greater (Luke 12:4-5). And in light of that, the urgency of the gospel needs to be proclaimed.

By God’s mercy and grace, I was born in Singapore, so I can’t help but make His mercy and grace known. I’ve been able to hear about and know Jesus for pretty much my whole life, so I feel obligated to share the good news.

Fellowship at a service in Moldova (left); Jovian shared about Singapore culture at a school presentation (right)

My family is delighted that I’m back safely, but I’m grieving. There’s such a burden in my heart. I feel like I shouldn’t be here – I should be out there especially because of what’s happening right now.

All I can do is simply trust in Him. 

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:8-9)

The best response that I can have is to simply pray and align myself with the will of God.

Though everything in this world is constantly changing, we can trust in the One who remains seated on heaven’s throne (Revelation 4:9-11). If we understand the sovereignty of God, we will begin to see things differently because we know that He is above all – even sickness.

For me, this brings real peace.

JOY CHEN, 35 (8 years in Cambodia)

Despite the coronavirus that was starting to spread from China to other parts of Asia in January, my husband and I chose to fly back to Cambodia after our Chinese New Year break in Singapore because we didn’t want the locals to think that we were abandoning them or our work there.

But when the spread became more serious and the Cambodian government announced that it would be closing schools, my husband and I had to make plans for our family. 

My husband is the principal of a missions school in Cambodia, and he needed to stay behind to provide leadership for his staff as they worked out the details for online home-based learning.

Joy with her family in Cambodia.

I struggled with having to fly back alone with my four-year-old son and the solo parenting that I would have to do. However, the main concern was for his health and safety. Coming back to Singapore meant that we would have access to better healthcare facilities if we caught the virus.

I also felt that we had to prioritise our family first as we were not only responsible for our own lives, but had to be accountable to our parents back home. Because my son is young, our families were supportive of our decision to fly home as a precautionary measure.

Personally, it has been difficult because I’ve also had to put on hold a new job opportunity just to fly home and be with my son. 

We are to live our lives with palms open wide.

After being a stay-home mum for three years, the Lord opened a door for me to continue developing my nursing skills at a new international hospital in Cambodia (I’m a registered nurse). However, due to a delay in renovations, I’ve had to wait one year for the official opening, which was scheduled for the end of this month.

I had already gotten everything prepared to begin work, but this COVID-19 situation has changed everything.

Having to return to Singapore, I had thoughts like: “God, why did you give me a job that I’ve waited one year for, only to have to now wait again?”

Assisting in a cataract surgery for the underprivileged

But the Lord brought comfort to me through Psalm 23.

As I meditated on it and spoke it out as a prayer back to Him, He flooded my heart with a deep reassurance that no matter how I feel, He is there to hold me no matter where I am and how hard the situation becomes. 

Our life is really in the hands of the Lord – He gives and takes away, so we are to live our lives with palms open wide.

We were initially booked to return on March 18, but when the advisory came from the Singapore government that those flying in from ASEAN countries after March 17 would have to fulfil a 14-day stay-home notice (SHN), we went back to the airline to try and change our tickets.

We managed to get seats to fly out on March 16, but many of our friends who later tried to book a flight out could not. Now that we’re back in Singapore, we’re going to stay in just to be safe and ensure that we didn’t catch anything on the flight back.

Know a Singaporean missionary or seminary student overseas? Connect them to the Singapore Global Network

As all flights out from Cambodia to Singapore will be grounded over the next few weeks, my husband also decided to fly home on Sunday (March 22) to be with the family after making sure that the school’s home-based learning programme is up and running.

He is still in contact with his staff while serving his SHN in Singapore, and he plans to return to Cambodia once the schools reopen after the two-week Khmer New Year break in April.

Through all of this, we’ve seen His faithfulness in how He provided a way back home. Thankfully, God has also given us a lot of encouragement through friends and family who are willing to be our hands and legs while we choose to stay home during this period.

COVID-19 might have disrupted ministries abroad. But the mission doesn’t end.

We ask that you pray for these missionaries and others whom you know. Pray that they will have wisdom to know how to continue serving in this season – whether in their mission fields or back home in Singapore.

*The missionary’s name has been changed for confidentiality.

THINK + TALK

  1. What can you be thankful for despite all that’s happening?
  2. How can you continue reaching out and ministering to others during this time of COVID-19?
  3. Do you have true peace?
About the author

Gracia Chiang

Gracia used to chase bad news. Now she shares Good News. A journalist by training, Gracia is thankful that she gets to use her gift of writing as the managing editor of Thir.st. Married to a husband who is also in full-time ministry, they are always amazed at how God provides for their family of four.