The ABCs of why I thank God for you, my beloved homeland
By Dr Tan Ying Kheng
You've made me who I am today - multicultural world-native, ethno-tolerant.
Ang Mo Kio, Binjai Park, Clemenceau, Delta, Eng Kong Place. I love you Singapore – you’re these and more – let me count the ways.
You’ve made me who I am today – Multicultural world-native, ethno-tolerant. Let’s start with the food (which I forget are good Until whenever I travel).
Because of my upbringing, lunch could be Gyoza Or Hainanese chicken rice with achar; Tea at ION’s TWG Salon & Boutique? Aiyoh, boleh. Or dinner at Joo Chiat’s 328 Katong Laksa.
Muthu’s fish head curry – eyes, cheeks and all. Can! Or bring on the salad Nicoise olives, pan-seared foie-gras. Spicy, exotic, queer, hand or chopsticks? Can! Can! For I am Singaporean, hear me roar!
But seriously, what I’m grateful for are very simple things – Like trash being cleared every day, and kids going to bed each night Safe and fearless of waking up hopeless, Stripped of state, shelter, identity, dignity or rights.
Rights of going to school, rights to be protected by law, Rights to serve God and country whether born female, migrant or poor. Such we in Singapore already have – are spoiling us, I must add – That our tensions are still about Singlish and PSLE scores.
I shan’t go into university rankings or other very important issues – My aim today is to write a “An X-tra Happy Birthday” wish. Go ahead, continue to be the world’s number one this and that – But YK’s zealous prayer is you’ll be God’s anointed Antioch, for such a time as this.
I’ve always thought it cool when I hear of friends living overseas—gaining unique experiences, going to ever-so-interesting places, meeting people from different cultures. The grass always seems greener on the other side.
It was almost a dream come true when an opportunity arose for me to be sent to Mongolia to reach students on campus in 2017.
But having been on the other side for almost a year now, I have gotten accustomed to life in the ‘greener grass’. What used to be “exotic” and new is now everyday life.
The shine of living overseas has officially faded away.
A frustrating start
In my first three months here, feeling helpless was the norm. I couldn’t speak the language nor understand what was going on during staff meetings (thank God for Mongolian friends who kindly translated for me!), and always needed someone to speak on my behalf.
I found myself suddenly not being able to do the things that I used to do in Singapore––even though I knew how to do them cognitively. As somebody who values efficiency and effectiveness, coupled with a constant need to be doing something, it was frustrating.
Many times, I questioned God –
“Why did You bring me here?”
“How can I possibly be effective in a place where I am neither fluent in the language nor have a good understanding of the culture?”
“I’m sure I’m a hindrance to my team here. Do I actually have something to contribute here?”
“God, what exactly do You want to teach me?”
Depend on Me, God said, I know what I am doing. It became clear that God wanted me to learn how to depend on Him all over again.
It’s only when we are taken out of our comfort zone, will we be forced to completely trust in God. Because that’s all one can do. In the midst of my helplessness, I learnt to cling on to the Most Reliable Source.
During my third week of ministry, I remarked to a team-mate that I still had not met any students who could speak Chinese during campus outreach. Less than 5 minutes later, the girl whom I approached was an undergraduate majoring in Chinese Translation! God is so amazing!
Even though she did not receive Christ after I shared the gospel with her, she was willing to meet me again to learn more about Jesus. Since then, we have met up a few times to read the Chinese Bible together. It’s amazing to hear her share what she learns from the Word each time!
If you are wondering how to survive the start of serving overseas cross-culturally, here are some lessons from my own:
1. Be patient. Enjoy the process.
Learning the local language and understanding a new culture is easier said than done. I’ve lost count of the number of times I have wished that I had the gift of tongues. Oh, if only I could instantly speak the local language and connect with the students here!
My fellow local co-worker, had to sit me down to tell me, “Hey, you’ve only been here for a few months, give yourself time to improve! It’s ok to not be able to speak fluently.”
I have since learnt to enjoy the learning process, laugh at myself for the many mistakes I make and celebrate little successes such as having people understand my broken Mongolian.
2. Take a step back. Observe first.
Cross-cultural training has taught me to take time to observe first and understand how things work, before I say anything.
Having come from a Singaporean culture where things are structured and plans a necessity, it’s easy to want to put in place structures that I was used to. My brain goes into overdrive at almost every staff meeting. I am always bursting with questions I want to ask.
I have to always bear in mind that it’s not wrong, it’s just different.
Through months of observing my team-mates and slowly understanding the local culture, I have learnt how to complement them with the gifts and talents that God has blessed me with.
3. Decide from the onset to be faithful.
One of the lessons I’ve learnt in my years with Cru since student days, is the concept of a “lifelong labourer”. Be it your home country or overseas—wherever God places you—THAT is your mission field.
Serving God overseas does not mean that the work I do is better or more important. We are all part of the body of Christ, helping to fulfil the Great Commission together.
Where He brings me to is where He wants me to be faithful in doing what He has called me to do, no matter how big or small it is.
As I continue to serve His purposes over here, my prayer is that you will also be right at the centre of God’s will for wherever you are. That is indeed the best place to be found at.
Have you ever been called by God to minister in an overseas context but don’t know where to start? Connect with us at email@example.com to explore the various overseas opportunities with us!
Since her student days, Rachel had wanted to serve God in full-time ministry. However, due to parental objection and financial needs at home, she decided to work as a social worker after graduating from NUS in 2009. Rachel continued to pray and wait upon God’s timing as she honed her skills in people helping and gained working experience.
At a missions course conducted by Kairos International, Rachel was burdened to know that there are about 6900 people groups in the world who have not heard the gospel, “Jesus is coming back and there are still so many who have not heard about Him!”
In response, Rachel felt convicted to give of herself to God’s work, “I always remember this story about a girl who stood outside a church listening to the sermon. At the end of it, as an offering was collected for the church building fund, she gave all that she had. I want to be like her, giving all that I have to God.”
Last year, a friend invited Rachel to join her for a 1-year STINT program to East Asia with Cru Singapore. Her greatest concern then was her parents’ response. To her surprise, they said ‘yes’ this time! She shares, “I know it is a difficult decision for them as I am their only child. Yet, they love me enough to let me go.”
Feelings of inadequacy also plagued her, such as cultural adjustments and whether she will be able to share the gospel relevantly to the locals. But God assured her through Zephaniah 3:17, “The Lord your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will take delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing.”
“I know that I may face difficulties in the ministry as I serve in East Asia. But I can have hope and joy that He is with me in this journey. He also assured me that He delights in me as I step out in faith,” Rachel shares.
As Rachel prepares for her departure in a month’s time, there are still faith hurdles to cross. The biggest one at hand is support raising, “It is a huge amount compared to raising for short term mission trips. But I’m trusting God to provide.”