Written by Emily-Ann Chao
Leaning into my fear and embracing the adrenaline coursing through my veins, I answered the Lord and said, “Yes, I’ll go to China.”
I was 19-years-old and in my second year of college when I sensed God calling me to be a missionary. Young and naive, I had no idea what was happening when I heard “Go to China” on repeat in my head for a week, on my way to and from class, while eating meals in the dining common and when trying to fall asleep at night.
God had never spoken to me like that before and I wasn’t a strong Christian then, so I went home for the weekend and told my parents what was troubling me. As missionaries who have also received similar messages from God, they said this was God calling me to serve Him and it was my decision to answer “yes” or “no”. My mother encouraged me with Isaiah 6:8. :
And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then I said, “Here I am! Send me.”
I knew my mom was right and I could feel the Lord tugging on my heart to follow Him. Trembling and full of questions, I stepped out in faith and decided to serve God in China, not knowing what I was getting myself into, or how or when I was going to get there!
For the next two years, I focused on my studies and changed my major from Psychology to English. I went on my second mission trip to Southwest China to teach English in summer camps. God was still working in me and set His plan into motion when I applied to a missions agency that placed me with an English teaching team in Northeast China.
After graduation, I moved to Jilin province and found myself in front of 200 freshmen college students. I was their foreign language teacher and only four years older than them. I felt overwhelmed and underqualified to teach these teenagers, let alone minister to them.
I quickly learned that their English proficiency levels were low, and that I could, in fact, teach them something about English as a native speaker. With God’s help every time I stood in front of the classroom, I slowly became comfortable around my freshmen and started enjoying teaching and building relationships with them.
That was the start of my adventure in China. Over the next two years, I would take on different roles—each with their own set of challenges that stretched me: from being an education advisor to my own co-workers and peers in the ministry, to teaching English to students in their 30s and 40s.
Here’s what I’ve learned along the way about overcoming my fears in ministry.
1. Replace your doubts and fears with God’s Word
The Lord refined my identity as His child that first year and I had the largest spiritual growth spurt of my life. God drew close and surrounded me with community, while testing me with homesickness, and getting over a painful breakup. I struggled with my commitment as a long-term missionary, but He convicted me of my calling through the Bible, worship music, and my ever-growing relationships with my students. God’s message to me was: “This is what you’re here for . . . these kids, your teammates, and me. Stay and keep running the race with endurance.”
A faith practice I implemented that solidified my trust in God and helped me triumph over my fears was spending time reading the Bible and absorbing the Word of God. The more I read about God’s power, faithfulness, and love, the more assured I was in the Lord’s calling and placement in ministry. Spending time in His Word comforted and assured me He was able to provide everything I needed.
A verse that I held on to during this period was 1 Timothy 4:12. Whenever I felt inadequate or underqualified for what God had called me to do, this verse helped me replace my doubts and fears with reassurance in my purpose.
2. Lean on the strength of your community
Another important factor that kept me grounded was immersing myself in community. My team leaders and teammates were always there for me and I shared my fears, worries, and feelings with them. They helped carry my burdens with their presence and prayers. Ministry is not a one-person job! God carefully crafted my team so that we could support each other in the valleys and rejoice together on the mountaintops.
During my first year, one of my teammate’s mom passed away and he had to return to the USA for her funeral. The rest of the team supported him emotionally and picked up his classes while he was away.
The girls on my team and I formed close bonds as we ministered to students together. We loved inviting the students over to our apartments for meals and arranging outings in the city with them. More than that, we shared everything together, encouraged, and prayed for each other every day. They taught me how to reject my fears and cast them out of my mind. These women are still some of my closest friends 10 years on!
I am also grateful for my parents’ support. I once expressed my fears and worries to my dad, and he encouraged me by saying, “God has given you everything you need to do the work He’s called you to do. He puts you in the correct place at the correct time and equips you for His plan.”
His words of encouragement helped me serve my students the best I could with my language and relational skills. I also learned to stand up for myself and others in staff meetings while also finding my voice to share my ideas.
3. Let God use your experiences to launch you further afield
After three years of ministry in China, full of joyous memories and tears, I left the country I was originally so afraid of going to. It was in China that I first experienced true Christian community and where God prepared me for a lifetime of ministry.
Little did I know that two years later, God would call me to serve women of all ages and religions from across the globe.
I moved to Hong Kong in 2017 and served in a ministry that helps individuals caught in sexual exploitation and human trafficking. For the next three years, I used what God taught me in China about confronting and overcoming my fears to love and advocate for women in terrible circumstances.
During that time, I’ve had some heart-stopping experiences. The scariest was when a pimp chased my two teammates and me out of a brothel, throwing bottles of lotions at us (we had bought them as gifts for the ladies!). We were so afraid to go back, but God prompted us to return and to talk to the pimp. We returned the next day, and we were able to have a peaceful conversation with him!
It’s never easy to reject our fears and to follow Jesus, but after a decade on the mission field, I’m happy to say God’s consistent faithfulness and provisions have made it easier each time for me to choose Him, instead of my fear.
As I look back on the past decade, I’ve seen how trusting God and overcoming my personal fears in ministry has enabled me to touch the lives of hundreds of university students and mistreated women. And it all started with that simple response, “Yes, I’ll go to China”.
If God is asking you to serve Him, but fear is holding you back, be assured that God’s plan is way better than your own. Reject your fear and say “yes” to Jesus!