Serving the water

“I know I’ve said this already, but can I just say again what a beautiful way with words you now have?” An old teammate from our early Thir.st days texted me after my recent piece on the death of Pastor Jarrid Wilson was published.

“I don’t know exactly how God has refined you through the last three years, but one thing I know I have seen is the way He has refined your writing, your voice and your missional message.

“Mindblown, really.”

And so was I. Because three years on, I don’t even need to look at the numbers or names we have worked with to see what God has done with Thir.st – I just need to behold what He has done with me.

This is my In-dependence Day

Over the years, people, us included, have found all sorts of ways to describe the work we do. We’re a faith-based website for Singaporean young adults. We glorify God in the digital space through articles, videos and anything that can carry His voice into the online world. We produce, aggregate and amplify faith stories that spark honest conversations.

Yes, we set out to do all that back in 2016, and by the power and grace of God, I think we have become all that. Today, we have published over 1,700 stories, written by our contributors, partners, interns and ourselves. We are read by tens of thousands in our tiny nation. Our names sometimes get recognised by those who take notice of our bylines.

But this is not the full story of Thir.st; this is just what the eye can see.

As it is written in my one of my favourite books, Hinds’ Feet on High Places: “All the fairest beauties in the human soul, its greatest victories, and its most splendid achievements are always those which no one else knows anything about, or can only dimly guess at.”

And I could say the same for Thir.st, as one of its three remaining pioneer members in the team.

The story I will carry forever of Thir.st is not one of numbers or names, but a great conquest not dissimilar to those seen of God in the Bible. Because three years ago, that same God called us to a battle we could not see, to stand at the frontlines of a war we could never win – not on our own strength that is.

This is that unseen story.

WAYMAKER

We were as clueless as any of you might have been, bringing a project like Thir.st to life. Not too unlike Jesus’ 12 disciples, who were likely to be mostly teenagers, we were mostly in our 20s, with neither experience or know-how for the job at hand.

To start us off, we were only given a few goalposts to aim for – two stories a day, ranging largely from topics on culture, relationships, work and faith. As Creative Producer, I remember frantically calculating our expected output: that was 14 stories a week and roughly 56 a month.

There were fewer than five of us writing, and logically the more we wrote, the less we had left to write. We didn’t need the math to prove we were never going to make it on our own.

But I remember this encounter from our early days so clearly. Sometime in 2016, I was sitting alone in our office one Friday evening trying to finish up some work when my editor texted me to say he really needed more new content.

I could feel the panic rising. It was already too late to start on a new story now, and even if I managed to squeeze one out, what lasting difference would that make?

God, please help me. I was so tired of trying to keep this boat from sinking. I contemplated my next move as I began composing a reply to say it was not possible at this point in time. Suddenly, a text came in from a good friend, telling me to check my inbox.

I felt really strongly that I had to write this piece for you guys, so I finished it up this afternoon, his message read. 

Stunned, I clicked open my email – only to find not one but two emails with stories for me. Another friend, a pastor, had quietly sent over the entire transcript for his book, saying I could use it however I wanted for Thir.st.

God had known what I needed even before I knew I needed it, and He would continue making ways in the wilderness for us to bring living water to Singapore’s digital generation. Today, more than half our stories are from contributors and collaborating sites – a testament to the Kingdom project Thir.st was always meant to be.

MIRACLE WORKER

Like a river in its early stages of formation, keeping content flowing from our site to our social media platforms while dealing with the spiritual refining and attack that came with standing at a new frontier was an emotionally abrasive journey to say the least.

From rumbling through difficult team dynamics to personal grief on the relationship front, the first year of Thir.st was marked by great resistance and little strength. I wasn’t going to give up and walk away, not when I had put my hand to the plough, but it did feel like I would soon have nothing left to give of myself.

“I know it feels like you have no more wine left… But you just have to be faithful in serving the water.”

One late night in June 2017, I was heading to a prayer meeting hosted by one of the ministries we were working with. Part of the work was getting connected with as many initiatives, movements and ministry partners as we could in order to unite the multiple efforts across the Body through our feature stories and event coverage.

I loved getting to do this, extroverted as I am, but when life was this heavy and for so long, it required every ounce of strength in me to show up. I vaguely remember thinking that day, save me, Lord. The weariness had made its way into every crevice of my being. I knew I had nothing to give the people I was going to meet.

Quietly sitting in the corner of a room with just over 10 people, I was hoping to slip out as unnoticed as possible when the meeting drew to a close uneventfully. That was until I heard my name being called, and the pastor-in-charge asking everyone, most of whom didn’t know me personally, to surround me in prayer for my work at Thir.st

When it was the pastor’s wife’s turn to pray, she said something I would hold in my heart for a long time: “I know it feels like you’ve been pouring and pouring, and it feels like you have no more wine left. But I’m reminded of the Wedding of Cana, where Jesus turned water to wine.

“You just have to be faithful in serving the water.”

Water. Everyday, simple, plain living water. Stories that didn’t feel like they had come from the wine cellar of our souls but from a daily, running source. Even if I had no wine left, even if the stories coming out of us no longer felt as powerful or deeply brewed, the power never lay in us anyway. The water turned to wine in the guests’ mouths by the power of the Holy Spirit, not in the servants’ hands.

All they had to do was serve it.

Two stories a day. 14 a week. 56 a month. I’m believing that somewhere within the 3 million pageviews from the three years since Thir.st was launched, water has turned to wine for many.

PROMISE KEEPER

For the longest time, even after I had said yes to Him, I couldn’t understand why God had called me to Thir.st

I knew He had called me specifically, that it wasn’t an arrow I could outrun but an arrow with my name on it. I knew that although I felt like I didn’t have what it took for the job, God had assured me that He had put everything I needed for it in me.

But why Thir.st? Why make me leave the creative industry when I was serving Him well there as a copywriter with a heartfelt desire to spend the rest of my life working on great campaigns and changing the world with Jesus?

About a month after I joined Thir.st, I was slated to go for a large international Christian conference in Jakarta called the Lausanne Younger Leaders’ Gathering. I had been invited after previously attending a related conference back in 2013.

The year I said yes to Jesus

Three significant things happened at that gathering. First, I met with one of the co-founders for Jews for Jesus, Susan Perlman, as part of the mentoring sessions that took place. I had only signed up for her slot because I recognised no one else on the list, and my parents receive regular letters from the organisation.

But after I had introduced myself to Susan and told her briefly about how I had just left copywriting for full-time ministry, she looked at me and shared that when she was around my age, many years ago, she too had been a copywriter, working at an agency in New York – but a few years in, the Lord had called her to move to the West Coast to write for Jews for Jesus.

“It’ll be very difficult, but it’ll be worth it,” she said.

I was in tears by the time she finished that story.

Where the eye sees only sifting, God sees refining.

Second, when I met up with my second mentor the next day, a Nigerian pastor, he held my hands and prayed at the end of our conversation. “I see rivers of living waters flowing from your belly,” he said, referencing John 7:37, the verse Thir.st is named after. I had not mentioned the name of our ministry.

Third, I received a word directly from God, that Thir.st would not be my position, but my positioning – my springboard, my training ground. It was so strong and clear in my spirit that if I trusted Him with this, Thir.st would be the place I would become even more of who I was meant to be.

By the end of 2018, with three unconventional mission trips to nations prophesied over my life, He had proven Himself entirely right.

LIGHT IN THE DARKNESS

Full-time ministry was as grievous as those who have walked its path would say. But where the eye sees only sifting, God sees refining – beauty in ashes, gold in the fire.

For every setback, He put a new sword in my hands, new words, new language for the next message I would write. Rivers of living waters flowing from my belly. It was grievous, but it was glorious.

My friend may not have known what God had done with me for the past three years, but I did. I was not this writer then, and I’m not this writer now because of anything I have done.

Full-time under 30: Becoming who I was made to be

Thir.st was really never about us doing something for God. It was always God’s fight for a generation – with us and for us.

Thir.st was always going to be His victory story. I know I am. I too have been transformed, one story at a time.

God has made new wine out of me.

For everyone who has been part of this journey, thank you for making memories with us. And for those who would like to contribute your stories and talents, we’d love to hear from you! Connect with us or submit an article at hello@thir.st.

THINK + TALK

  1. Where do you see God working around you and how have you been partnering with Him?
  2. How do you cope when you feel weary?
  3. What miracles have you seen, or how have you grown, while remaining faithful to your personal assignment? 
About the author

Joanne Kwok

Joanne is a bundle of creative energy commonly heard before she is seen. She believes in the triune power of good conversation, brilliant writing and bold ideas. She also likes milo.