When I responded to God’s call into full-time Christian service in the late 1980s, I knew He had called me to be a cross-cultural missionary, working among street children. After five years of waiting, I went to Singapore Bible College (SBC) in 1993 for my training. While at SBC, God confirmed to me that the field was to be Cambodia, after I had made two mission trips with a few other students during our term break.
In 1996, when I was about to graduate, I applied to a mission organization and was granted an interview. At the end of the interview, my application was rejected. The reason given was that I was already 38 and single. I was told it would be difficult for me to learn a new language and adapt to a new culture at this age. But it was also because they did not run a street children’s ministry. Instead, I was offered a role serving migrant workers from China. At SBC, I served in the Students Mission Fellowship, and once a week, we reached out to international students from China; hence this offer came. I politely turned down the offer. I was disappointed, yes; but I was not discouraged, because I knew it was God who called me to serve the Cambodians.
Every year, SBC runs a Mission Emphasis Week, when mission agencies were invited to set up booths to introduce their ministries and mobilize students to missions. I was assigned to host WEC’s booth and got to speak to their candidate director. I found out that WEC did minister to street children. I also got an opportunity to speak to their regional director about my desire to serve in Cambodia. I asked him if they would consider me, being already 38. His reply was very encouraging, welcoming me to write to them. So I did, and was given an interview. I was accepted to attend the residential candidate orientation lasting over two months, and was subsequently accepted to be a missionary. I left for Cambodia in August 1997, after five months of waiting for the airport to reopen after civil unrest.
When I left, I had only a verse which God gave to me when I responded to His call: “The One who calls you is faithful and He will do it” (1 Thessalonians 5:24); a prayer: “Lord, grant me joy in all that I do and face because you told me the joy of the Lord is my strength;” and of course, many prayer warriors – my church, my family and friends and the leaders and staff at WEC.
As I look back on all that happened in my twelve years in Cambodia, I am totally amazed at how God empowered me. I realize His empowerment did not come as I initially thought it would, by God granting me success in ministry. God did not turn me into a superwoman, nor did He give me a staff like He gave to Moses, that I could use to meet my needs or solve my problems. Instead, He empowered me by transforming my life, changing my attitudes, to see things from His perspective, not mine, and to look at others with His eyes. This was how God equipped me for ministry – to love the people He called me to serve, to trust and obey Him when my will was against His, and to acknowledge His sovereignty over all situations.
God also empowered me to let go of the people I loved, to trust that the same God would also empower our local brothers and sisters to take ownership in running the school and church in the village. He also answered my prayer by granting me joy in all that I do and face, from learning a new language to adapt and appreciate the host culture and serving on an international team with diverse cultures. This is one precious lesson that I have learnt about God’s empowerment – not just about granting a successful ministry, but about shaping me to be more and more like Christ.
Note: We started an informal school providing two years of kindergarten and six years of primary education to the children in a poor, unregistered village in a province outside the city. We worked there from 2000 to 2009. The school was handed over to the church in 2008. By God’s grace and provision, the school is still running to this day. We praise God for a team of committed teachers whose sacrifices and love for the children deeply encourage us. Praise and glory to our only almighty and faithful God, Amen.