by Jiamin Choo-Fong
“Lord, please don’t ever call me to be a missionary!”
This was my plea after my first mission trip as an 18-year-old onboard Operation Mobilisation’s (OM) ship Doulos. It had been an amazing two months serving alongside 350 Christian volunteer crew members. We sailed on a ship that was only two years younger than the Titanic – the Doulos was a floating book fair bringing literature to people around the world.
We had sailed to the Philippines, where God opened my eyes to see a world beyond my safe harbour in Singapore. I was put in new situations where I learned to befriend children on the streets, offer a listening ear to ladies of the night, and pray for those behind bars. God broke my heart to care for those who were different, forgotten and marginalised. People just like me.
For the first time, I realised my faith in Christ isn’t just about my personal salvation, but a message to be rung out far and wide.
So impactful was this experience, that I’d already promised God to sign up for more mission trips. But there was a lurking fear that God would one day call me to full-time missions, and I resisted that thought. Being a missionary meant no financial security and separation from home. Not for weeks but years. Who would take care of my family if I were gone?
Papa passed away when I was 13. As the eldest child, I felt responsible to protect and provide for Mummy and my siblings.
I often wished to grow up quickly and land a well-paying job in order to give them a better life. So I pushed myself to study hard and got into top schools. I wanted to make Mummy proud and prove that our single-parent family wasn’t to be looked down upon.
Over the course of my Psychology studies at National University of Singapore, I kept my promise to God, going on a mission trip every year with Cru – sharing Christ with university students in Japan during my school holidays. What I didn’t expect was that with every trip, God was actually revealing His plan for me to serve Him in full-time missions.
I realised there was nothing I desired more than to share God’s love with those who did not know Him. So, instead of fearing God’s call to be a missionary, I decided to offer my first-fruits to Him by rejoining Doulos after graduation – to bring His message of hope wherever the ship would sail to.
In my final semester, while my peers were sending in their CVs to prospective employers, I was sending in my missions application form to the OM office in Singapore. When people asked, “What will you do after graduation?” I shared about my decision to join Doulos. One exclaimed, “Are you mad? You’re throwing your degree down the drain. Let others do the job!” Some thought I was brave to go alone. Others were worried I wouldn’t be receiving a salary, and advised me to get a regular job first, to save some money before joining the ship. A few were genuinely happy for me.
But an auntie commented one day, “You’re the eldest child. If you go on Doulos, what’ll happen to your aging mother? You’re supposed to take care of the family!” Her words left a deep cut. The accusation of being an unfilial daughter kept playing in my mind as I studied for my final exams. Haunted by guilt, the tears didn’t stop coming.
What proof did I have that it was God’s will for me to become a missionary? I saw neither visions nor burning bushes. I didn’t possess theological degrees or have seminary training. But what I did have was the best time of my youth, which I offered to God for His purpose.
I remember how Mummy responded to me, after I shared about my desire to serve as a full-time missionary.
That evening, she was preparing dinner, frying noodles in the big black wok. I asked, “Mummy, if God is calling me to serve Him on Doulos, what do you think?” In a carefree tone, she said, “If God tells you to go, just go lor.”
Why wasn’t she stopping me from leaving? Didn’t she want me by her side? I thought she loved me! I got upset, “But Mummy, I’m not going for a short-term trip this time. It’s not two months – but two years! You won’t get to see me for two whole years!”
Mummy stopped cooking and looked into my eyes. She said, “Jiamin, since your father died, all I wanted was to bring up the three of you to walk in God’s way. Now that you’ve grown up and have come to know God personally, if He’s calling you to leave home and serve in a foreign land, I will not stop you. God has put you in this family for me to take care of you. You do not belong to me, but to Him. The important thing is for you to do what God is calling you to do.”
When I saw the tears trickling down her face, I could no longer put on a brave front. I cried along with her.
Some time later, my church pastor – Pastor Paul – met up with me to discuss my preparation for missions, he said, “The best gift you can ever give to others is the Gospel.”
He reminded me to love God first, and not be distracted by the needs of the ministry. When I shared my concern about not being around to look after my family, Pastor Paul said, “Let the church fulfil its role to take care of the missionaries and their families. When you’re sent out as a missionary, others, including the family and the church, will be blessed because God will channel His favour to those who have let you go to serve Him.”
His words brought so much comfort. He added, “You have my full support! And you’ve got a wonderful mother.”
As the day of departure for Doulos drew near, the process of uprooting hurt more and more.
But as I turned my eyes upon Jesus – His greatness, His perfect goodness, His loving-kindness – my worries and even the pain started to fade away.
Off I went with my packed bags, following my Heavenly Captain out of the harbour and onboard His ship Doulos, where I sailed for 4 years to 31 countries in the Middle East, Africa, Asia and Pacific – witnessing His glory and learning to love His world, one port at a time.
This article originally appeared on Thir.st on March 19, 2018.