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The Insanity of Faith

Written By Adelena Oh, Singapore

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. (Hebrews 11:1)

It seems crazy to believe in something that’s not there yet, to have complete certainty that something’s going to happen even though there is no physical evidence. Yet Hebrews 11:1 describes faith as exactly that.

Let me put things in context. Some months ago, I went to Japan for my first short missions trip that was part of the missions training programme I was attending, partly because I was hoping to determine whether Japan would be my first destination as a full-time missionary in the near future.

But challenges arose right from the start.

Expectation: I would purchase my air tickets at the same time as the others going on the trip, and have enough funds for accommodation and other costs by a certain point in time.

Reality: Less than three weeks before we were supposed to leave, I was still short of over a thousand dollars for both my ticket and expenses.

At first, I was confident that the Holy Spirit would deliver, as I drew on previous experiences when He had miraculously provided money for two overseas school trips. But as the trip grew closer without a change in my situation, anxiety began to creep in like a hum that gradually grew louder.

“I’m obeying Your call and doing all this for You, but why isn’t the road smooth?” I cried out to God. “Why is it still so hard?”

Eventually, the low hum of anxiety grew into a high-pitched shriek, and I just broke down late one night in my living room. I cried out to God—with real, big ugly sobs and snot. Every fear and doubt was laid bare before Jesus. I told Him there’s no way I could do anything without Him and thanked Him for all the countless incredible things He had already done in my life. And that’s when I experienced, more than ever before, the fact that God is close to the brokenhearted (Psalm 34:18).

 

Learning to let go

Sometimes, we mistakenly believe that just because we’re following God’s call, there won’t be obstacles along the way. One of the biggest struggles I have faced is finding the patience to trust and wait on God’s timing instead of imposing my plans on His.

As humans, we seem to love control. Control over our circumstances, our future, and maybe even the people around us. However, trying to control our lives can be a dangerous thing. Trying to govern our lives independently shows a lack of faith in God’s ability to govern our lives, and without faith, it is impossible to please Him, let alone accomplish His purpose in our lives (Hebrews 11:6).

While trusting in God’s plans—which are not always clear to our human minds—can feel incredibly scary, trying to control our lives on our own gives us nothing but a false sense of security. After all, our own plans are hardly bulletproof, and definitely not as good as God’s plans.

Of course, it was still a struggle to keep trusting God as the trip drew nearer. “He told you to go to Japan yet He’s still not moving now?” That thought surfaced in my mind two weeks before the trip. But two weeks are eternity to a God who can do anything in a heartbeat.

When we come to a tight spot in our faith, we will inevitably break down. But we may respond in two ways: We either end up accusing God of not being good, or we surrender all our worries, fears, and heartbrokenness to Him.

Only one outcome is favorable.

That moment of surrender, however, usually doesn’t happen overnight. I struggled for weeks as I maintained a happy, worry-free façade, even during my personal time with God. My pride didn’t want to admit that my faith in my Best Friend was not as strong as I’d thought it to be. So instead of immediately bringing my mounting fears to Jesus, I bottled them up, allowing them to fester.

 

When God delivers

To cut the long story short, everything did work out perfectly in the end. Funding came in from a myriad of sources: another church, my mentors, my brother, and some anonymous givers. The timely provision of sufficient funds—especially by the latter group—had God’s fingerprints all over it, dispelling any thoughts that it was merely due to chance.

I went to Japan, helped out at a church’s summer camp, and along with my best friend organized a craft activity for the kids. Although my interactions with some of the locals were hindered by my meager knowledge of Japanese, I got to spend a lot of time with the English-speaking pastors and missionaries stationed in Tokyo. I couldn’t have asked for a better experience.

From day one, the moment I touched down at Narita International Airport, I knew without a doubt that God had called me there and would be calling me back again. I felt the Holy Spirit’s presence and was moved to tears as my plane bounced along the landing strip.

One of the things that gripped my heart during this trip was the reality that less than 2 percent of the people in the country are Christians, which means more than 120 million people heading to an eternity of suffering if nothing is done. God showed me His heart, sorrow and longing for those people, and there’s no way I can turn my back on that.

That said, I have no clear idea of what I’ll be doing six months from now; but I know God does. I don’t think we will ever stop being pestered by doubts, but over time, instead of allowing ourselves to be swayed, we can learn to give them over to God and simply have faith in His promises.

Following God’s unknown plan can be nerve-wrecking because we’ll never know all the details. His words are a lamp that guides us to our next step, not a floodlight that reveals the entire journey. But we don’t need to be afraid of not knowing everything as long we’re walking in line with the One who does know everything.

 

Adelena is part of the YouTube duo klēsis, where they share stories on life with Jesus.

When God Chose to Disrupt My Plans

Written By Ng Jing Zhi, Singapore

The last thing anyone would want when travelling overseas would be unexpected changes to the itinerary. I guess God didn’t get the memo when I embarked on my very first mission trip a few months ago to Tokyo, Japan, as part of a Bible school programme I was attending at my church.

To be honest, there weren’t any prophetic dreams or visions from God telling me that I had to go there. In fact, my interest in Japan only started growing earlier this year after I watched the popular anime movie, Your Name (Kimi no Na wa).

When I found myself taking in more Japanese culture in the form of anime and music (as well as sushi), I asked God if that was His way of pointing me towards Japan. He confirmed it by miraculously providing just enough funding via leftover money from previous school trips overseas.

It was a timely reminder that when God speaks to us, it doesn’t come as a booming voice from heaven. Rather, it’s more like the gentle whisper Elijah heard on the mountain (1 Kings 19:11-13).

The plan for the trip was to serve at a Japanese church we were connected to and help out at its annual youth summer camp. However, even before the trip began, uncertainty was already lurking along the sidelines, waiting for the right moment to pounce.

 

The Perfect Storm

Two days before my friends and I were due to leave for Japan, news reports of Typhoon Noru surfaced. It had already made landfall near Osaka and was expected to head east—right through Tokyo.

Naturally, my parents were worried. While they voiced concerns over whether it was safe to travel, I held fast to my belief that God was in complete control over the situation. After all, I reasoned, what were a couple of unhappy rain clouds and some wind to Him?

I prayed that God would work supernaturally through the storm. The next day, I woke to wonderful news: Typhoon Noru had simply “brushed past” Tokyo, so there was only heavy rain in the area. I couldn’t help but break into a knowing smile; God’s fingerprints were all over the situation.

We made our way to Japan in one piece and were greeted by moody skies and light misty rain. Not that I was complaining—it was lovely compared to the sweltering heat I was told to expect.

But God wasn’t done with shaking things up.

 

A Last Minute Request

Before the trip, we were told to prepare testimonies to share at the youth summer camp. Easy, I thought. I’ll talk about how God provided for the trip.

 But on our first night in Tokyo, the pastor of the Japanese church told us to prepare testimonies based on our salvation instead. We were bound for Tochigi (a two-hour drive from Tokyo) the next morning, where the camp would be held.

I immediately panicked. I barely had a few hours to condense the story of how I met Jesus into a three-minute elevator pitch. Against my brain’s loud cries of “Oh no”, I smiled and nodded.

After fervent prayers of “Jesus, please, You’ve got to help me with this”, I got down to work. It took some time to adapt and simplify phrases and expressions that could not be easily translated into Japanese, but I managed to pull together a coherent testimony in the nick of time.

On the first night of the camp, I shared my testimony about how Jesus took my broken, hardened heart and made it whole with His love. I was pleasantly surprised when the pastor mentioned that it tied in perfectly with the camp’s theme of healing. Unbeknownst to me, she had prepared a message on seeking Jesus in repentance and being forgiven for our past mistakes, which she shared right after my testimony.

At that moment, I knew that God had definitely played a part in orchestrating the abrupt changes. I see what You did there, I thought, as I gave a mental nod to Jesus.

Later that night, as I shared about the unexpected but wonderful change that God had used for His purposes during the debrief and reflection before bed, I was reminded of Proverbs 16:9, “In their hearts humans plan their course, but the Lord establishes their steps.”

But He wasn’t done with us just yet. Over the course of the camp, He continued disrupting our plans (in the best way possible).

 

Rain, Rain (Don’t) Go Away

As it was a summer camp, many of the activities planned were meant to be held outdoors. There were games giving the youths a chance to play with water guns and water balloons, as well as sparklers and fire crackers for the last night of the camp. However, the unrelenting rain forced the pastors to cancel all outdoor activities.

Naturally, everyone felt a little disappointed. But no one got really hung up over the modified schedule. In fact, the youths reacted in a surprising manner. Instead of griping about not being able to play outdoors, they quickly adapted and found other forms of entertainment. The younger ones engaged in table tennis matches while the older youths, most of them girls, headed off to their rooms to hang out.

That left my friends and I plenty of time to get to know the full-time missionaries, who were also at the camp, better. We discovered that the church had started out with just a handful of people in the congregation. Services were held in a quaint three-storey building which was home to the pastors and their children.

During the four to six years the two missionary couples had spent serving, they had helped start English classes for children, which brought forth opportunities to spread the word about Jesus. More and more people began filling up the main hall on the second storey, and eventually, a live stream was started for additional members on the first floor. There was even a live translation service in Tagalog for Filipino church members.

With some knowledge of Japanese and the help of Google Translate, one of my friends who had served at previous youth summer camps even managed to connect with a youth of the same age as him. He had been trying to reach out to that particular youth but was hindered by his then shaky grasp of Japanese. Incidentally, they were assigned to the same room this year, which opened more doors for interaction and conversation.

We continued hoping that the rain would stop so that we could still play outdoors, but the rain only decided to let up when we were leaving the campsite. It was only on hindsight that I realized that I would never have been able to get to know the various members of the Japanese church if not for the rain.

A mentor from my church once told me this: Make your plans in pencil and carry a huge eraser with you. As someone who enjoys planning and having things laid out in an organized manner, it’s difficult when hiccups occur. Having to adapt and accommodate constant changes is a challenging experience for me.

But ever since Japan, I’ve learned and understood very clearly that you can’t put God in a box. When He moves, He’s going to do it however He pleases, but it’s always for our good. It’s up to us to choose whether to be flexible and flow with His changes to our (very flawed, loophole-riddled) plans, or to be left on the wrong side of the path.

I choose His ways.

 

Jing Zhi is part of the YouTube duo klēsis, where they share stories on life with Jesus.

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.

Amy Peterson: The Banished Missionary

Ministering in a country where Christians are a minority can sound daunting even for an experienced missionary. However, for Amy Peterson—a 22-year-old fresh graduate at the time—the thought itself was exciting. “Going to a place unreached with the Gospel was exactly what I wanted to do,” she says. The young hopeful did not expect that one day, she would be banished from the country she ministered in, unable to return.

Now 35, Amy is a writer, assistant director of honors programming at Taylor University in Indiana, USA, and mother of two children. She documented her experiences as a missionary in her first book, Dangerous Territory: My Misguided Quest to Save the World, which was published in February. “As I reflected on my experiences, I wanted to make sure that I had learned all God wanted me to learn from them,” she says. “I wanted to make sure I was listening to my life.”

Amy, who was raised in a Christian family, was drawn to the life of a missionary after reading biographies of famous missionaries like Amy Carmichael and Gladys Aylward as a child. “I wanted to serve God in the greatest way possible, and so I felt drawn to overseas missions,” she tells YMI in an e-mail interview.

She took the unconventional route after graduating from University to explore what being a cross-cultural missionary was like. Although Amy’s parents were nervous about her 10-month stint, they were supportive. Amy, on the other hand, “had no doubts” about her decision.

To prepare for her trip—which was organized by a Christian organization she was attached to—Amy attended two classes on intercultural studies from Wheaton College in Illinois and received another three weeks of specialized training from the organization.

Amy Peterson (3)The training was especially crucial for Amy as she was not allowed to directly evangelize in the country. Due to the Southeast Asian country’s political situation and cultural dynamics, she was only able to enter the country as an English teacher. Amy says: “I was simply living my life as a Christian in a foreign country.”

Amy’s efforts paid off when one of her students, *Veronica, started to visit her apartment with questions about Christianity. “I think she guessed I might be a Christian because I was American,” Amy says. The 19-year-old had become interested in Christianity because one of her favorite American pop stars was a Christian.

Veronica’s quest for more answers kept her visiting Amy. In the end, they started reading the Bible together and studying the book of Luke every Sunday night. They also watched Jesus, a 1979 film adapted from the Gospel of Luke, together with two of Veronica’s friends. Veronica later borrowed it over the Lunar New Year break so that she could watch it again with her family members.

After several months of Bible study with Amy, Veronica started to understand how Jesus sacrificed Himself on the cross for sinners. She subsequently prayed to receive Christ.

Amy recalls receiving a letter from Veronica, in which she wrote: “The Bible let me understand that the Father comes to us not because we are good enough, but because we are forgiven.” Reading the letter, Amy was astounded that Veronica could already recognize this truth, which Amy took years to grasp.

Over time, Amy witnessed how Veronica would eagerly share about her newfound faith with those around her, including her family members, classmates, and even friends studying at different colleges around the country. She even finished reading the whole of the New Testament by herself and did Bible study with her friends. By the end of the school year, four other friends of Veronica had come to know the Lord.

At one particular dinner with Amy’s Christian friend and Veronica, Amy recalls how Veronica boldly declared: “If I have to choose between my country and God, I choose God.” She also went on to talk about the power of the Word of God fearlessly, saying: “I have a more powerful weapon than my government does. I’m not afraid.”

Unfortunately, after Amy returned to the United States for her summer break, the local police found the students having Bible study. They were repeatedly interrogated and threatened by the authorities, had their Bibles confiscated, and forbidden to talk about Jesus.

Cracking under pressure, one of the students revealed that they had received their Bibles from Amy. The police ordered the university to sack Amy. She was also not allowed to enter the country again. “I had no idea that I would never come back,” she says. “The experience shook my faith.” Although Amy kept in touch with Veronica for three years after she left, she soon realized that the police were still monitoring and checking on Veronica. Hence, for Veronica’s safety, Amy decided to stop contacting her. (Because Amy’s students are still being monitored by the police, Amy can’t reveal which country she went to for their safety.)

The series of events made Amy feel guilty. “There were so many things I didn’t know, so many things I took for granted, so many ways I wasn’t cautious,” she wrote in her book. Some of the things Amy wished she had not done include allowing Veronica to keep the Jesus film over the mid-semester break, conducting a Bible study session with her students in public, and not warning Veronica to be careful.

It took a year of struggling with the guilt before she was finally able to forgive herself. “I made mistakes. But obsessing over my mistakes elevates them as more powerful than the sovereignty of God.” When asked if she regrets going to there, she answers with a firm “Never”.

To the current writer and teacher in Indiana, her mission with God has not ended. Her role as a mother and a teacher gives her the opportunity to share about God with her children and help her students navigate their relationships and life circumstances. Amy says, “I think all of us are called to be on mission with God, putting love where love is not. I seek to use my words in ways that help make the deep, deep love of God clear to those around me. I believe that we can do small things with great love.”

Ultimately, Amy hopes to encourage fellow Christians to keep serving God. “I believe firmly that God is working in exciting and meaningful ways through people in all vocations, not just through missionaries,” she says. “God is at work everywhere, if we have eyes to see it . . . and God calls all of us to be on mission, wherever we are.”

Amy Peterson

Read more about Amy’s story in Dangerous Territory: My Misguided Quest to Save the World. Published in February this year by Discovery House, it is available at www.dhp.org for $13.99.

*Not her real name