Written by Ng Jing Yng, Singapore
Coming from a safe haven like Singapore, Yu Lian’s heart stirred as she met children from a shelter whose lives were tainted by drug abuse and family violence from as young as six years old.
The year was 2010. The young Christian, then 18 years old, had just embarked on her very first mission trip with Radion International–a Christian organisation which serves villages in rural parts of Thailand–over her polytechnic school holidays.
On this 10-day mission trip to Phetchabun province, she came to know about Manak, a precocious 10-year-old boy who hailed from a huge family; his parents had sent him to the children’s shelter due to their inability to care for him. Clingy and attention-seeking, Yu Lian’s heart went out to him.
She hit it off with Manak and found out about his brushes with substance abuse, as well as the young boy’s constant struggle to stay on the straight and narrow versus being attracted by the wayward activities on the street.
Yu Lian decided to start sponsoring Manak’s studies upon returning from Thailand and kept in touch with him via letters or the occasional Skype calls arranged by Radion’s staff. At the same time, she began praying fervently about her next steps after graduating from polytechnic. Her heart felt burdened for the street children of Thailand, but Yu Lian also knew that the key was to find out God’s heart for her first.
Her answer came from the Parable of the Hidden Treasure and Pearl of Great Value (Matthew 13:44-46). “I was convicted that nothing else will come close to the same satisfaction as serving God. Thus, I searched for a uni course that will be a helpful skill for missions,” she said.
She eventually settled on pursuing her studies in counselling, with the intention of returning to Thailand to serve as a counsellor with Radion International and to reach out to children like Manak.
Healing A Broken Heart
Everything seemed to be going on track but mid-way during Yu Lian’s studies, heart-wrenching news arrived from Thailand that Manak, then about 15, had died during a police assault. Yu Lian’s heart sunk, grief hitting her as she reeled from the loss of her young friend.
“I continued with my studies out of obligations, there wasn’t the same interest in learning. It was like a part of me died along with him. My hope and motivation were gone, and for a period of time I also lost my hope and trust in God’s goodness.,” she added.
She pressed on even as she continued to reason with God and ask Him the whys and how. Amid this emotional tussle, Yu Lian continued to make short trips back to Phetchabun province yearly over the course of her studies. Each time, God revealed more of His plans for her.
Yu Lian shared: “It was quite difficult to go back to the same village at first as I was very used to spotting Manak on the streets during my trips to the children’s shelter. So, it was hard not seeing him around.”
Nonetheless, it was also during her trips that she learnt more about the work of the children’s shelter. One thing that left an impact on her was when she discovered that Manak had dropped in and out of the shelter frequently but would still return often to sit and chat with the staff in his drug-intoxicated state. Yet, never once did the staff turn him away and were always around to offer a kind word and to encourage him that God , as well as people at the shelter, loved him.
Yu Lian was gripped as their example reminded her of how God was always there to provide second chances and grace even when she sinned and strayed.
During one of her reflections in 2014, the verse from John 12: 24 (Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds), convicted her that the grief she experienced was a way to birth new dreams and visions to serve Him. This episode also deepened her burden for the children in Thailand and served as a confirmation of the Lord’s plan for her to return.
After she completed her counselling studies, Yu Lian made plans to go back to Thailand for an initial one-year stint. One of her key barriers was her non-Christian parents, who could not quite grasp why their youngest daughter had to head to Thailand when she could have landed a cushy job as a counsellor in Singapore. Still, by the grace of God, they gave her their blessings and Yu Lian made her foray as a full-time missionary in Chiang Mai in 2017.
Towards the end of her one-year stay, Yu Lian then sought God on ways to convince her parents to let her stay on for another year. She had wanted to honour her promise to her parents but also desired deeply to stay on to continue serving the children.
Trusting in God’s Future Plans
“I was asking God how do I tell my parents? And so I was musing in my thoughts that probably the only way was to marry a Thai and that would be the best reason to tell my parents why I am staying on,” she recalled.
Yu Lian decided to leave the matter in God’s hand and did not go out actively to seek a partner. When Radion International had plans to start a Laos office and her boss had approached her to take up this new position, Yu Lian decided to surrender her future steps entirely to God.
“I remembered praying and asking God if I should go as what would happen to my future partner? But God told me not to worry and hence I decided to just go and serve Him there,” she added.
Eventually, the plans for a Laos office did not come to pass. As for Yu Lian, it was also during this time that she started chatting with a Thai man who was introduced to her by a colleague. He was then studying in a Bible college in Bangkok and they soon made plans to meet in person during his school holidays.
After their first meeting, the pair decided to start a relationship. Yu Lian said that in her early days of being a Christian, she was taught the saying of “Master, Mission, Mate” which indicated the order in which Christians should go about relationships: first knowing Jesus as the Master, finding out God’s mission for her and then seeking a mate.
“To find a guy who shares the same faith and master is already difficult, much less finding one who holds the same vision as me for Thailand in terms of mission work. We also had the chemistry to connect even coming from different cultures. Hence I knew he was the one,” added Yu Lian.
They eventually got married and decided to come back together to Singapore for Yu Lian to pursue further studies in Theology with counselling. But this was also not without its challenges as her husband’s visa was not approved by the authorities in the first few attempts. Adding on to her anxiety was the fact that she had just delivered a newborn child when she returned back to Singapore; the child was a bolt out of the blue as the couple had planned only for a child after both of them had returned to Thailand.
But in hindsight, Yu Lian now marvels at the intricate work of God. “We realised that this is really God’s plan for us because with our child, my husband managed to get a visa,” said Yu Lian, who added that the process of caring for her child is also God’s way of preparing her and her husband for their future work in Thailand.
Staying the Course
Currently in the second year of her counselling studies with two years to go, Yu Lian, now 30, said that God is constantly teaching her and moulding her faith too. She has to fight off feelings of shame as she would sometimes be tempted to compare her life with the well-heeled life of her peers.
Yu Lian shared that the key is to read her Bible daily to steep herself in God’s truth, as well as give thanks for her parents who willingly sponsored her studies. God also continued to provide for her financially via government grants or other love gifts where she noticed her bank account balance had miraculously stayed the same over the last two years despite the high standard of living in Singapore.
Importantly, she keeps her eyes on the dream that God has given her–to build a small children’s shelter back in Chiang Mai instead of the big ones that she used to serve in. This is to allow her and her husband to intimately oversee the lives of each child, tending to both their physical and spiritual aspects.
She said: “It’s a daily commitment to stay grounded in the belief that we are just passing through..this is not our ultimate home and hence as short as our time here, we must treasure what we have and to stay focused on serving Him.”