“Go, get out,” my Thai language teacher ordered, with indifference in her voice. Humiliated, I was told to leave her language class because I could not pronounce the tonal, tongue-twisting Thai words accurately and clearly.
My British classmate widened his eyes, and gave me the most sympathetic look as he turned to me. I stood up slowly, not knowing how else to react and left the classroom. I got onto a tuk-tuk to go back to the education centre. My tears came and were relentless. I kept sobbing uncontrollably.
My British classmate, who was a missionary there, caught up with me afterwards to find out how I was doing. In his attempt to console me, he shed some light and hope. He said each time we go through a refinement, God makes our heart tender.
Thereafter, the Holy Spirit helped me to make sense of the stinging incident. Through the incident, God had moulded my heart to have deeper compassion towards the Thai students at our centre who were similarly struggling to speak English well.
I was on assignment in Hatyai, South Thailand, as a missionary. I was 12 years old when God planted the seed of missions in me. He fascinated me to no end with stories of missionaries persevering in a culture different from theirs, in order to bring His message of love to the lost. I found myself aspiring to be like them. This aspiration became a reality when I spent two years in Hatyai. Living among a people group, loving them, sharing God’s love with them and witnessing them give their lives to the true and living God was an awesome dream God drew me to pursue.
I inducted myself to the Thai language and culture before embarking on the work among the locals. My main focus was on the young adults and part of my time was on spent on the university campus.
I then proceeded to set up an education centre offering conversational English classes to the undergraduates. In the course of my work I built meaningful and lasting relationships with the Thais, and that was how they got to know Jesus.
By this time, I had already been on several mission trips organised by my local church. I handled evangelistic rallies, shared testimonies and even helped out at the Himalayas Social Services. I also gained more mission experience when I went to Thailand on two other occasions. To equip myself for my mission work in Thailand, I resigned from the teaching service and enrolled in the School of Biblical Studies (SBS) with Youths With A Mission (YWAM).
One precious thing I took from SBS was that God values everyone and pursues our hearts – He desires a relationship with us. I also enjoyed the intimacy with Jesus at His feet as I soaked in His love and allowed Him to correct my many wrong attitudes. After SBS, I went on to the School of Frontier Missions where I got a realistic picture of what missions was about – a big God with a big heart for the unreached.
As for going to Thailand, I saw it as God’s way to start me on the ground; the cultural barriers there were not insurmountable. The location was secondary because my passion remained in teaching. And I had God to thank for my parents’ support: I used to face much persecution for my faith, but God had softened my parents’ hearts greatly.
It was all due to prayer. I used two years to prepare them for my mission work overseas. My mission pastors then were also instrumental in shepherding me and preparing me to live overseas.
And above all, God’s whispers to me were a great encouragement for the times ahead: “You will experience loneliness, but turn your loneliness to times of solitude with Me.”
For a long time, I questioned God about why I had to go through that humiliating experience in the classroom.
I got my answer in my own classroom. Whenever a student expressed gratitude at my patience in the classroom, I knew God’s grace was at work in me. And whenever I witnessed a student confidently speaking English, my heart would rejoice, for the high school students who came to learn English often exhibited low self-esteem – I knew God was using me to build them up.
Having been through that stinging incident of being asked to leave the classroom, I knew how failure and humiliation felt like, so I was always tender and gentle towards the slow-learners. They kept coming back to learn with us, from the elementary classes to the intermediate. What joy! I even kept in contact with one of them, who recently came to Singapore for training.
When the centre was finally established, I worshipped the promise-keeping God, who had told me from the beginning not to be afraid or discouraged by the size of the task, for He was with me. I knew God would not fail or forsake me – He would see to it that all the work would be finished correctly” (1 Chronicles 28:20).
The university students benefited from the language classes as they prepared to move north to Bangkok to seek employment. While they were with us, we impacted their lives through teaching and learning conversational English with fun.
One of our students was so impacted by the course, that he recommended we help to organise a vacation camp for a primary school. God had set this up!
A team from Singapore came up to us, and we spent hours praying and planning for the camp. We prayer-walked the ground. We delivered our well-planned lessons, and on the final night, I had the honour of witnessing 186 kids raise their hands to indicate they wanted Jesus to be their Lord and Saviour. Praise the Lord!
During my stay in Thailand, I was so thankful for the short-term mission trippers who came to teach English.
They made me laugh as they brought me back into familiar Singlish jokes. They were like a breath of fresh air which instilled in me a new sense of motivation to touch lives for Jesus. I was often refreshed by their fervency and zeal in serving Him. These were also times of rest and restoration that our faithful God provided through the visits of good friends and family members who brought goodies after goodies.
My journey in Hatyai was often filled with challenging times, but God had already spoken to me through Jeremiah 12:5a: “If racing against mere men makes you tired, how will you race against horses?”