The Time Nothing Went According to Plan

Written By Ana Chavarria, USA

“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”—Romans 8:28

This is a verse many Christians know by memory. I have known this verse since I was a little girl but never took it seriously. I just kept telling everyone that God had a purpose for everything. That was my way of comforting anybody who was worried or stressed. But the reality was they were empty words—I didn’t really live by them.

It was not until a month ago that I really understood that verse. “All things work together for good” didn’t mean that everything was going to be good. Some things that happen in life can be and will be bad. But ultimately, everything (both bad and good) will work out according to God’s purposes and for our good.

The day I learned that lesson started at 3 a.m.. My boyfriend Ramon and I were going to Puerto Rico to visit his family; we were really excited to escape the cold in USA and get some warm weather. We reached the airport on time and were waiting to board the plane when an announcement was made that the flight was delayed. After waiting for three hours, we knew we would miss our connecting flight to Puerto Rico.

Then it got worse. We were told that our flight was going to be delayed even more—till the next day. Now, we were very upset. We had been so focused on having things go a certain way that we didn’t know how to handle the change.

We complained to the airline and its staff took 40 minutes to find us another flight. This would arrive in Puerto Rico at 5 p.m., six hours past the original slated time. By then, we were tired and hungry, and just wanted to rest on a clean bed. So we decided to wait one more hour to board the next plane instead of flying the next day.

The flight took almost four hours. Thirty minutes before landing in Puerto Rico, Ramon suddenly told me that he felt pain on the left side of his face. Initially, I thought it was just a temporary thing. But the pain worsened and it reached a point where Ramon couldn’t even talk.

Fortunately, the flight attendant was sitting right in front of us. I quickly told her that we had an emergency. The crew made a call to the ground support staff, so that they would have an ambulance ready to take us to the nearest hospital when we landed.

As soon as we landed, I called Ramon’s parents and told them what had happened. They immediately rushed down and waited with us for the ambulance to arrive. My heart was racing, but I tried to remain calm and answer the questions by the paramedics about Ramon’s condition. I remember thinking to myself, “What a day! All is going wrong! Why did he end up in the hospital? Why is this happening, God?” Deep down, I knew that he was going to be fine, but I just wanted to hear it from the doctors.

After five long hours of waiting, we had a diagnosis from the doctors. Ramon had been sick for the last few days; he was doing better but was still very congested from the cold, which had turned infectious. Apparently, when we started to descend, the pressure in the airplane was too much for him to handle; the infection had caused the severe pain in his face. The doctors gave him some medicine and told us that it was nothing serious. That night, we arrived home really late, at almost 2 a.m.. I was exhausted but thankful and relieved that Ramon was okay.

The next morning, Ramon and I slowly recounted the previous night’s events over breakfast. We both realized that the pain on his face was going to happen at some point because of his infection. But because our flight got delayed, our seats were moved to the row right in front of the flight attendant, where we could get help right away. If we had been on our original flight, we would have been sitting in the very last row and wouldn’t have had been able to get help so quickly. We were amazed at how God had moved everything so that we could get help on time. We thanked God and told our family how He had taken control of every single detail.

Sure, it was a tough day. Nothing had gone according to plan. But I can say with full confidence that ultimately, everything worked together for good.

There are going to be times in our lives when everything seems perfect. But change happens; circumstances are going to shake us. That’s when we need to tell ourselves, “Yes, it’s a bad situation and it’s probably going to get worse. But it’s not the end.” God does not forget us. He uses the bad moments to shape us to be more like Christ and bring us to a place where we wouldn’t have been otherwise.

Through this experience, God put my faith to test, so that I could learn to trust and believe that He has control over everything. Now if something bad happens, I will immediately remember this moment—when God showed me that He always has a purpose with everything that happens.

So let’s trust Him wholeheartedly. He is a good Father in the midst of our pain.


My Quest for Love Nearly Destroyed Me

Written By Aphesis, Singapore 

I come from a family of six. I have an elder sister, a younger sister, and a younger brother. My parents were hawkers. To give my siblings and I a comfortable life, they worked long hours and would not rest unless they fell sick.

As a result, my siblings and I rarely spent time together with our parents. My mother would squeeze some time out, at least once a week, to bring us out for a swim or a meal. But my father became a stranger to me.

It was at the age of 10 when I became aware that my parents’ relationship was strained. Family reunions were hardly a cause for celebration because of their constant bickering. Whenever that happened, I would not know what to do. Helpless, I would camp outside their room and desperately beg them to stop quarrelling.

As my mother spent more time with me, I sided her more as she fed me her side of the story. Caught in the crossfire of words and violence, I didn’t know how to make sense of it. My father would hurt my mother verbally and emotionally. This would result in heated arguments between the both of them, usually ending with my mother giving my father the cold shoulder. Without a father figure to guide me through my teenage years, I started looking for love and affirmation through relationships. At the age of 17, I had my first boyfriend. However, my young puppy love didn’t last and in my quest to seek “perfect” love, I moved from guy to guy. But with every guy I dated, the pain of break-up got deeper and deeper. It was also during that time that I started mixing with bad company and picked up smoking and partying.

Although I was baptized at the age of 14, I fell away from the faith for more than 10 years. Ironically, I was brought back to church by my most recent ex-boyfriend, a believer. He would take me to church every week, and I would obediently follow. I’d listen to the sermons, but never take them to heart.

Back then, I believed I was fine just the way I was and I didn’t have to change. In any case, the thought of being a religious Christian did not sound cool. The only reason I attended church was to spend time with my boyfriend—not God. As long as my boyfriend loved me, I was happy. If attending church was the best way to gain his affection, I figured, it was a reasonable sacrifice on my part.

But whenever I felt that he wasn’t showing me enough attention, I’d throw tantrums. I also manipulated him emotionally by guilt-tripping him over very minor issues, knowing full well that he would eventually soften. But over time, his patience wore thin. After being together for two years, he ended the relationship.

I was devastated. I felt like I had been abandoned. Worn down by all my negative thoughts and feelings, I slipped into depression.

Visiting the psychiatrist and taking medicine didn’t help. I blamed myself for the break-up. I blamed myself for allowing my insecurities to lead me to suspect and accuse him. I blamed myself for wrecking yet another relationship. Thinking I was shallow and useless, I believed the lies I weaved and drowned myself in self-pity.

One day, two peers from church asked me out for dinner. They knew about my love for reading and shared with me Joshua Harris’ book, I Kissed Dating Goodbye. As I flipped through the pages, I learned, for the first time, that lust and love were completely different things. Among other things, Harris wrote that love is about expressing self-control and is not manipulative. I realized that in all my past relationships, what I had experienced was lust, and not love.

I thought I knew what love was. In fact, I thought I was skilled in the game of love. I had read about love in 1 Corinthians 13 but, in reality, love was a foreign concept to me. All along, I had been pursuing the wrong idea of love. I broke my partners’ hearts, and in that process, I broke my own too.

Reading the book that night, I experienced a wave of emotions and instantly knew that it was God working in me. He opened my eyes to recognize real love. Overwhelmed with regret, I wept. I could feel Jesus’ presence and sense Him telling me, “My child, it’s okay, I’m here. Don’t be afraid, just come to Me.”

For the first time in my life, I felt true love. Jesus’ heart had been broken for me. I felt so unworthy—that a holy God could be right beside me, an unholy being. I went down on my knees, thanking Him. I was still crying, but it was tears of joy, because I finally understood a very simple fact: I needed Jesus and His love. In fact, that’s all I need and will ever need—a relationship with Him.

With God’s love in my heart, I turned over a new leaf. By God’s strength, I quit smoking. I threw away my revealing clothes, stopped partying, and started serving in church.

I became a better daughter to my parents and a better sister to my siblings. My younger sister—whom I used to bully the most—was the first person to witness the change in me. She started attending church with me, and got baptized after a few months. Today, both of us serve in the worship team together.

Looking back, I’m grateful for the many lessons I’ve learned. We can experience real joy and real peace only when our lives and hearts revolve around Christ. Nothing other than the love of Christ can fill the cavity in our hearts; Jesus is irreplaceable. Of course, there have been times when I still felt lousy about myself. However, in these times, I have learned to praise and thank Him. By God’s grace, the relationship between my parents has improved tremendously and they are very loving now. My dad has also become a very caring father and would even say grace before our meals together as a family.

Although my past relationships brought me a lot of pain, I’m thankful that God allowed me to go through the same issues that many young teenagers and adults face today. With my personal experience, I can help others who are still lost and searching for the answer.

Being single for the past four years has given me more time to spend with my friends and to care for other brothers and sisters who might be in need. I have more time to go the extra mile for them.

Over the past years, one of the verses that encouraged me tremendously was Proverbs 4:23. I pray that God will continue to guard my heart, so that I will never go astray again.

“Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it” (Proverbs 4:23).

Why Short-term Missions May Not Always be a Good Idea (2)

Why Short-term Mission Trips May Not Always Be A Good Idea

Illustration By Marie Toh, Singapore
Written By Adriel Yeo, Singapore

Have you been on a short-term mission trip before? If you haven’t, picture these three scenarios:

1) You and your church mates are planning a cross-cultural mission trip overseas. You’re excited and raring to go. In fact, you’ve already found the church you want to work with, identified what is lacking in that church, and intend to start a new ministry for the church once you’re there.

2) You’ve heard about this place where the houses are in poor condition and they don’t have a local school. So, together with your friends, you make plans to support their cause by providing funds.

3) You’re a youth leader and want to bring your youths for an overseas cross-cultural mission trip in order to expose them to missions.

Been on such trips, or know of others who have gone for similar trips? I have.

While I do not doubt the good intentions behind such trips, I’ve found that they’re not always as effective and beneficial as we might think they are. In the above three scenarios, I can see where some short-term mission can potentially do as much harm as good.


1) When we create unsustainable work

In running a short-term mission, I believe we can sometimes end up creating unsustainable work unknowingly. Think about the first scenario. A new ministry needs not only money, but also manpower. After our short-term mission of two weeks or so ends, the local church will need to keep the ministry going on its own. But very often, the pastors of these churches already have their plates full. So who is going to run that ministry? Would we have given the church more work to do—without providing the necessary manpower to do it?

We can also make the mistake of failing to contextualize. This happens when we organize ministries or events based on what works in our own church, country, or culture. However, what works in one place may not work in another, simply because we are talking about different people in a different culture.

For example, a church staff in a northern Thailand village who used to work for a church in Bangkok once told me that the evangelistic rallies often held in villages would probably not work as well in a city. City folk, she explained, were more likely to ask questions that were apologetic in nature—for example, about the existence of God. Villagers, on the other hand, usually believed in some sort of a deity or worshipped such gods, and would not question the existence of God.

Likewise, when we plan an event or ministry without taking into consideration the differences in culture, we may end up doing work that is ineffective.


2) When we create a spirit of dependency

In addition, the way money is given or spent in funding ministries may create a spirit of dependency among the locals in the long run.

Once, my church provided some funding to help build a church building in a particular village. It was meant as a one-off gift for the construction of the church. However, we subsequently received requests for better guitars and sound equipment. It seemed as though it had become natural for the villagers to turn to us for help rather than to raise funds themselves.

Father Vincent J. Donovan, a Roman Catholic priest who served as a missionary in East Africa, also shared a similar account. He recalled that 100 years after missionaries entered East Africa, no single parish or diocese had actually become self-sustaining. What started out as a funding for the church in East Africa grew to become continual support and funding because the East Africans witnessed just how much the church could provide for them without them having to raise any money themselves.

I must clarify that I am not suggesting that we should never provide funding for the building of churches and schools or the support of local staff. But perhaps we need to give thought to the potential consequences that we may unintentionally cause. For example, instead of providing the full funding for a project, some churches pledge to match the amount raised by the local church. Adopting the right methods can help the local church in the long run, and is just as important as having the right intentions.


3) When we mix up God’s mission with our own agenda

Often, the purpose of our short-term missions is to give exposure or disciple youths. It is certainly true that short-term mission can produce our own growth as a by-product; in fact, I know of many who have grown in their faith through such trips.

But if we start to put our own exposure and discipleship as the goal of short-term missions, we will be placing the cart before the horse. Instead, we need to recognize that the purpose of short-term missions is to take part in God’s mission—not ours.

There are many different forms of short-term missions, such as those doing direct evangelism, medical missions, leadership training, or running camps. Regardless of their activities, all of them have the same end objective: to see the good news of Jesus being shared, and to help those who received the good news serve and grow in their faith. This stems from our biblical understanding that Christians are baptized into the body of Christ where they serve, learn the word of God, and build one another up (1 Cor 12:13, 27; 1 Tim 4:13; 1 Thess 5:11). As such, short-term missions should seek to contribute to local churches either directly or indirectly.

But sometimes, we get the order mixed up. Often, I have heard youths share about how much they’ve learned or how much they’ve been blessed. What I don’t hear enough of is how the church or Christian organization there has actually benefited from the mission team. I know this because I was one of those completely oblivious to what was going on in the mission field, and focused only on my own learning experience. If we want to do short-term mission right, I believe we need to prioritize the mission of God over our own agenda.


So Are Short-Term Missions Ever Good?

Well, the answer is yes! I believe that short-term missions, if done right, can be truly meaningful.

One way for this to be done is to put aside any desire to start something new and instead think of how we can assist pastors in their ongoing work. We can establish lasting partnerships with local churches, have regular dialogues with local pastors to hear about what the ground needs are and make frequent visits to follow-up on individuals who have heard the gospel. Such efforts will build upon ongoing work rather than create additional work.

On one of my trips a few years back, a lady from a local tribe accepted Christ as her Lord and Saviour. Because we were partnering a local church, we were able to tell the pastor about her so that he could invite her to his church. When we visited that village again the next year, we were overjoyed to find out that she had been attending church regularly.

Short-term missions can also be a great source of encouragement and a form of pastoral care to local pastors. Mission teams can help them reconnect with the larger church outside their country. They can also help to relieve the work of local pastors by taking over Sunday School programmes or perhaps even preaching. This can help free up the pastors’ time so that they can look into other matters—or perhaps just get a well-deserved break. On other occasions, short-term mission teams with a particular skill set like medical training may also help the church to meet the needs of the locals by providing health care services to them.

A biblical model for short-term missions that we can imitate is that of the church in Philippi which ministered to Paul’s need by sending Epaphroditus (Phil 2:25). His role was not so much as a standalone missionary, but rather that of supporting and assisting long-term missionaries. Epaphroditus was so helpful that Paul described him as a “co-worker”.

In a similar manner, let’s see our teams as co-workers of the local church we have partnered with. In practical terms, this means putting the needs of the church or missionary above our own and seeking to help in ongoing work. In the mission field, this would mean that we need to be flexible in our own plans.

While we may not be able to stay long term in the field, we can make repeated trips over a period of time to build relations and support local churches. In that sense, short-term missions are short-term only in terms of the duration; when done right, they can provide effective and beneficial long-term help.


13 Words that Changed My Life

Written By Stacy Joy, USA

There are certain moments in life we will never forget. We remember these times vividly because they have a profound impact on the way we view the world, ourselves, and how we approach life.

I can point back to a few key people and events that have influenced me significantly, but one moment in particular sticks out. At the age of 14, my parents handed me a book list to complete before the new school term started. I initially thought my life was over—what 14-year-old wants to do that during a break from school?

The torture of this assignment subsided though when I read the book Don’t Waste Your Life by the great preacher John Piper. A single line in it changed my understanding of God, myself, and the world around me: God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.

These 13 words answered life’s biggest question: what is life all about? I knew that I loved God and needed to tell others about Him, but I hadn’t realized that every single part of my life, not just attending church or reading Scripture, is to be directed towards one goal: glorifying my Creator (1 Cor 10:31, Isa 43:6-7). This includes the movies I watch, the way I talk to others, what I allow my mind to dwell on, the way I approach relationships, and even the way I spend money. I had to stop and ask myself, am I making God’s name famous through all these?

Every machine is made for a specific reason; to accomplish the purpose of its maker. Similarly, God created us for a purpose, and that is to bring Him glory. A machine that is not doing what it was created to do is broken. When we start living for the glory of ourselves, seeking our own praise and recognition above the Lord’s, we become like a broken machine—not accomplishing the purpose we were made for. As a result, we feel empty, lack purpose, and anxiously pursue a meaning to our lives.

The truth is that God created us in His absolute wisdom and grace to not only accomplish a purpose but to be ultimately satisfied as we are accomplishing it. This reality makes life fully satisfying. Satisfying, but not easy. Living for God’s glory above all else is truly the most difficult thing we will ever be called to do, yet it is the most rewarding task to faithfully fulfill (Psa 16:11).

Sometimes in ministry and in life, the discomfort of not meeting the expectations of those around us in our quest for God’s glory is overwhelming and burdensome. As a new, young pastor’s wife, I have to regularly choose between glorifying Him and seeking my own glory in the choices I make.

I also faced this battle growing up as a pastor’s kid, especially on an occasion in my early 20s when I was faced with a difficult decision. After getting out of a destructive relationship, God grabbed my attention like never before and my need for Him became insatiable. Such a radical change happened in my heart and soul during this period of time that it made me wonder if I had been converted earlier in life as I had previously thought; a question that I still do not have a definitive answer to.

I decided to get baptized again, knowing that if I had only just become a believer, getting baptized post-conversion was walking in faithful obedience to God (Matt 28:18-20, Acts 2:38a, 1 John 2:4-5). So, in front of a 1,500-strong congregation who had watched me grow up, teach their children, speak into their lives, and be their pastor’s daughter, I got baptized once again—thus admitting to everyone that I may have only just recently been saved. From a human standpoint, this was absolutely humiliating. But I was able to boldly and joyfully do so knowing that my goal was not to win their approval; it was to be faithful to my God in Heaven.

I want to share two of the most powerful ways I believe this concept of glorifying God can and should shape our everyday lives.


We can have peace amid an ever-changing world

If nothing matters more than glorifying God with our lives, things become pretty clear. In a world where black and white has been turned to gray and the existence of absolute truth itself is being attacked, Christians can have peace. We rest assured knowing that we glorify God by studying, understanding, and affirming His Word and truth above all other religious beliefs, scientific claims, or cultural trends.

To keep these truths forefront in my life, I have found that I must spend time immersing myself in Scripture, reading books written by Biblically-grounded solid evangelicals, and listening to those whom I trust as I desire to remain teachable and pursue being conformed into the image of Christ. If God is glorified most when we are most satisfied in Him, studying Him and drawing closer to Him is the most valuable thing any of us can do with our time. Our minds so quickly become sponges for the deception peddled by our culture (Prov 4:23), so our time with God must be prioritized, guarded, and treasured. The beautiful part is that the more we seek God, the more our desire to seek Him intensifies. This, coupled with the daily crucifying of indwelling sin guarantees that peace before a holy God is attainable.


We can find our full satisfaction, worth, and pleasure in glorifying and knowing Christ

It doesn’t matter what others’ opinion of us is as long as we can answer the following two questions with a “yes”. One, does the way I am living please and glorify God Biblically, and two, am I finding my value and contentment in Christ alone? If we can answer these questions with a “yes” and are truly seeking to surrender ourselves to the daily call of glorifying God above all else, then our satisfaction will not be rooted in the fleeting opinions of man, but in knowing that God alone is pleased (Gal 1:10).

May we be reminded today to joyfully and unashamedly ground ourselves in truth and pursue Christ for our very sanity because we were created to find rest and satisfaction in Him alone (Ps 62:1).

God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him. I pray that God uses these 13 words to continually have a great impact in every area of our lives, leading us to better glorify Him with this one life we have been given.