THIR.ST TALKS: Life as a Singaporean missionary
More than 200,000 Singaporeans will be celebrating National Day abroad this year.
Within that number, there’s a special group of people who have a job that’s beyond our imagination and much unlike the stereotypical overseas Singaporean image. This is the life of a Singaporean missionary overseas as told by Roy Tay, Janan Lim and Samantha Lim.
Tell us about yourself.
Roy: Hi guys, my name is Roy Tay and I’m 24 years old. I’m serving with the YWAM (Youth With A Mission) base in South Africa in a small little beach town called Muizenberg. I’ve been in YWAM for about 2 years now and it’s been awesome.
Janan: I’m Janan from Wesley Methodist Church. I’m a Year 4 graduating student from NUS and I study Mechanical Engineering. So currently I’m in Palestine right here as an exchange student in partnership under NUS Fellowship of Evangelical Students.
Samantha: My name is Samantha and I have been living here in Klang, Malaysia for four, going on five months now. I am working in a refugee organization called El-Shaddai Centre Berhad, and I am involved in their Refugee School where they have 700 students of 16 nationalities. These students comprise of Sri Lankans, Somalians, Sudanese, Cameroonians, Nigerians and some are even undocumented! So there’s just a whole mix of students in this school and I am a teacher to 22 of them.
… basically what we’re doing every day is just doing life together.
What’s a day in your life as a missionary like?
Roy: I’m part of the Backpackers Disciple Training School which is an entry-level school everyone has to go through in order to serve in YWAM, and what we do is travel. We’ve been to countries like Cambodia, Thailand and Malaysia. Basically what we’re doing every day is just doing life together. It’s kinda like having cell group 24/7: We eat together, have classes together, and do outreach together. We’re just sharing the gospel to people every day and growing in our personal discipleship together.
Janan: We interact with the Palestine students and ministries that are here to learn more about the conflict between Israel and Palestine, and how they approach this conflict. In my daily life, I also have to go through the checkpoints and live in the conditions that the Palestinian Christians go through.
Samantha: So, a typical day in my life revolves around waking up at 7 am to make my breakfast, getting out of the house by 7:50 am and reaching school by about 8.45 am or earlier. At school, I lead a devotion for the students and we start classes at 9 am. Starting classes means disciplining people for being late, for not doing their homework, for not having their hair cut, for having long nails, for not tucking in their shirts … And then I will teach until about 2 or 3 pm and then call it a day. That’s when the last bell rings and then I’ll have to settle paperwork, plan for lessons and then get out of the school to visit a student at his/her home.
What are some challenges you face as a missionary?
Roy: There have been a lot of challenges, especially with children all over the world. We have people from Canada, from the U.S, from South America, from South Africa – all over the world. Different cultures, different expectations. So sometimes shoulders can rub and things can get pretty uncomfortable when you’re living life together. But we know that in all of these things, we learn to grow and this is all part of discipleship as well.
Janan: It’s been very challenging as to how I reconcile my faith with the reality of the Israel-Palestine conflict here. I know God has definitely given a miracle to Israel by making them a nation, but at the same time the lives of the Palestinian Christians or even Palestinians, in general, have not been easy. It’s been utterly heartbreaking and eye-opening for me in some sense.
Samantha: The feeling of leaving home. Unlike other missionaries, I get to travel back home quite frequently because I just live next door (geographically). But while I get to see my friends and family, the whole process of saying goodbye really hits me over and over again every time I leave. I always carry a mixed bag of feelings when I come back here to Klang, and I guess that has slowed down my settling into Malaysia. But I wouldn’t trade it for anything else. It’s just part and parcel of the missionary life.
Different cultures, different expectations.
What do you miss most about Singapore?
Roy: I do miss home actually. I love Singapore with all my heart. Whenever I’m overseas, I do miss Singapore. I miss chicken rice, I miss bak chor mee, I miss rojak. I miss all of that food in Singapore. Having 5 meals a day … I love it. I think whenever I come back to Singapore, I feel at home definitely. If God ever calls me back to Singapore, I’d be there in a heartbeat.
Janan: Being able to use water freely. Palestine is a country where water is always limited and under occupation. So I’ll be relieved that I’ll be living in an environment with fewer tensions when I get back to Singapore.
Samantha: Most Malaysians either drive or use their motorcycles – there is no such thing as walking. Even if it’s a 15-minute walk, people will drive. So I miss my walking on pavements in Singapore. And I miss home all the time. I never realised how homely I was until I came here. I always thought I was the travelling and adventurous kind and I could travel the whole year without coming back home. But I’ve realised that I really like to be at home in a stable environment where I have my comforts and the things that are familiar to me.
What is one takeaway you’ve learnt as a missionary?
Janan: I think I really treasure being a Singaporean because we do not carry political baggage. We are actually neutral to a lot of parties. My time here has made me realise that being neutral makes it easier to minister to either Israelis or Palestinians.
Samantha: What I’ve learnt being here is that when we can’t just come in with our Singaporean mindset, our Singaporean way of doing things and start making them conform to the way we do things. It can be of an impulse to fall back on methods that we are used to, so I always have to slow down and say: “There must be a reason why they do things the way they do.” And often, I find out the explanation is pretty legitimate. Ultimately, we don’t go out into the world to change the world to become more like Singapore – we go out into the world to teach and transform so they will see Jesus Christ revealed. And so whatever transformations that occur along the way, let them not happen just because of our skills and experience, but let these transformations come from the heart.
Ultimately, we don’t go out into the world to change the world to become more like Singapore – we go out into the world to teach and transform so they will see Jesus Christ revealed.
Given the challenges of being a missionary, why do you still choose this path?
Roy: Before being a missionary, one has to choose to be a disciple. The truth is, transformation does not happen in a comfortable life by the pool. Real discipleship happens when your faith is tested over and over through the challenges of life. The missionary life is really not an easy one but I firmly believe that there is no life more fulfilling than the one that God has prepared for every individual. This is the life God has called me to and it is in this life I find the greatest fulfilment. Yes, there are many challenges and sometimes those challenges can bring you excruciating pain beyond what you can imagine. But even though it might leave me battered and bruised, the fact that it has made me more like Jesus makes it all worth it. There really is no greater pleasure than being beaten back into who we were called to be – images of the one true and living God (Genesis 1:27).
Janan: It wasn’t only just a choice, I was led to walk on this path. A lot of what I have been through in life and in the dark times that I have struggled with God, has led me to the take the step of faith to go into the mission field. What helps me overcome the challenges is knowing that God is there with me as He has directed and guided me every step of the way, and He will continue to do it for the rest of my life because that is who He is. The challenges and disappointments might not disappear, but He is always with me. I have also come to love the community that I have worked with and ministered too. To see them as God sees them: that motivates me even more to come alongside their journey with God.
Samantha: I walk on because I see God moving in His people. It’s a front row seat to all His amazing work and I don’t want to miss out 🙂
How do you plan to celebrate National Day this year?
Roy: Usually I would watch the NDP on television or go on the Internet to try and stream it. I love NDP, I love the effort that they try to put in it. When I was in the army, I served in the Parade so I know how much effort actually goes into it. I love it. I wish I could be there this August to celebrate National Day, but I can’t be with you guys unfortunately. But I still want to wish Singapore a Happy National Day!
Janan: I’ll be back in Singapore for National Day so I think I’ll be spending it watching the parade with my extended family. I’ll be celebrating and praising God for the independence that we have as a nation. It’s something we shouldn’t take for granted.
Samantha: We are planning to have a mini Singaporean gathering at our home here. And I’m going to try to cook laksa. There’s this Prima Deli instant noodle thing with laksa paste. And we are hoping to watch the National Day Parade on a stream. That’s how we’re going to celebrate National Day here.
Any final words to our readers?
Samantha: Whatever we have been blessed with – the education we receive, the benefits we get from our citizenship or passports – these are resources within our disposal that we can truly go out to bless the world with. It doesn’t have to be traditional missions where you go door to door and knock on people’s houses, give them Bibles and share the gospel. It doesn’t have to be like that. You can use your skills and expertise to go out into the world to share this knowledge with people. And while you do that, carry with you a humble attitude with a heart wanting to bless and to give.
Janan: I pray that we would continue to grow as a global Church, that we will continue to pray and think about the blessings God has given to us. In the Bible it says that we are blessed to bless others, and that’s something I think we should reflect upon as our nation is truly blessed to be able to celebrate our independence and growth over more than 50 years. Have a great National Day!