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How I Found A Community While Going to College Abroad

Written By Yang Ming, Singapore

Before I set off to Swansea, Wales to further my studies, I had researched a number of churches to attend. While I knew about Singapore communities in popular destinations like Sydney or London, I didn’t know of any Singaporean Christians in Swansea. I asked around for recommendations, but didn’t receive any. So my search continued on Google.

I was anxious to find a church. I knew friends who had found God through church communities when they were studying overseas. I also had Christian friends who experienced God in a supernatural way and whose spiritual life grew while abroad. Both groups shared compelling personal testimonies, and I always felt encouraged by their faith-charged stories and was eager to have the same experience. Although I made a list of churches I found online, I was still fearful that I might not find a suitable church to settle in.

But as I was spending time with God one day, I was reassured by a verse in Joshua 1:9, where God tells Joshua, “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” If God was with Joshua when he entered a foreign land, surely God would be with me as well.

My first month in school was a challenging one. I had to acquaint myself with my new flatmates and classmates. I had to learn a new culture, and adjust to a different way of living, food, transport, and even communication. On top of that, I had to re-adjust to student life after having worked for five years. It was awkward not even knowing the agenda for my class!

But just as God promised, He was with me as I entered this new country. A chance encounter led me to meet Molly, who together with her husband Charles, are missionaries from Singapore serving the local community in Swansea, Wales. Molly set up the English Corner at my campus some years ago as a place where international students can come together to learn English and the local culture from native students.

Molly followed up with me to make sure that I was settling well. She also invited me to her church. When I finally had all the administrative work settled, I decided to pay a visit to Molly’s church.

I casually invited two of my flatmates—one from Italy and the other from Brazil—to the Sunday service as well, and surprisingly, they agreed to come. Later I learned that both had attended churches in their respective homes and were also looking for a church to settle in.

Molly was very welcoming to us when we turned up for service. Her church was Presbyterian, whereas back home, I worshipped in a Charismatic church. We sang different songs during worship and the services were conducted differently. Despite these differences, I felt at peace during the service. The guest speaker’s message that day spoke to me. It made me realize that what mattered wasn’t so much the worship style or how the service was conducted, but that the church was focused on God’s Word and His heart for the people.

After service, everyone in the congregation was invited to stay for a scrumptious homecooked lunch, courtesy of Molly and her husband Charles.

As time went by, Molly invited me and other international students to her place for Bible study. Since I was a newcomer, everyone tried their best to make me feel welcome in the group. Molly always cooked a hearty dinner before the Bible study, and I was moved to see students from all over the world coming together to have a meal.

Knowing we were all students, Molly always made sure there would be an abundance of food for us to pack home afterwards. Her love for the students reminded me of the verse in Romans 12:13, “Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.”

Recently, I missed a Bible study session because of an important assignment I was working on. But the group remembered me and gave me a packet of homecooked food, just to make sure that I was eating well. It really gave me a sense of belonging and love.

As I made an effort to share my own life and ask about their lives, I got to know these people from different parts of the world better. They also helped me during moments when I struggled with the way things worked here. My friends helped me understand some of the idiosyncrasies of the local culture, what the four seasons were like, and also how to combat the wet and cold weather in Wales.

During the Bible study, facilitators who led each session reminded us of the importance of God’s Word. Even as Christians, it is sometimes easier to get caught up with so many things—assignments, readings, spending time with friends—that we neglect God’s word. But every time I read the Bible in depth after a long day of studying and working on assignments, I would feel so refreshed.

The time spent studying God’s Word with these people has challenged me in my thinking and in the way I understand the Bible. As we studied God’s Word together, we learned to sharpen each other (Proverbs 27:17).

This is one of the things that I am thankful for—a community where we can grow and serve the Lord together. It has helped me see what an important role church leaders and fellow Christians can play in helping newcomers and foreign students settle into a new environment by lending a listening ear, meeting their needs, and making them feel welcome in the community.

Apart from reaching out to foreigners who are fellow Christians, churches that are strategically located near colleges also have the opportunity to treat non-believers or people of other faiths well. Living in a different country is always a frightening experience. By inviting newcomers over for a meal and showing them around, we can help them settle in well. Offer community, and people will feel welcomed and loved.

This is something Molly and her family have done throughout their years living in Wales—loving people and making them feel welcomed and loved despite differences in faith and nationality. Their example has inspired me to initiate conversations over coffee and reach out to other international students who are living on campus.

As I continue my studies abroad, I increasingly see the importance of having a church community. When I go through difficult times, such as when I’m struggling with my studies, I have support from God’s family. Being part of a church community also helps us watch out for one another in time of troubles, and more importantly, pray together as a family.

One of the wonderful things about the Christian faith is that no matter we go, we are never completely alone—but are all connected to a big Christian family worldwide. My Italian flatmate now attends church regularly with me, and remarked that she felt at home in church. As Psalm 133:1 says, “How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity!”

Through this journey, God has opened my mind and showed me what He’s doing in other nations. He has also given me a heart to pray for this nation. I hope that in the coming days, I will be able to share my testimony to the congregation during service, help to serve lunch after service, or perhaps, lead a session during the Bible study.

4 Things To Consider Before Leaving Your Church

Written By Tay Boon Jin

Boon Jin has been a staff with Singapore Youth for Christ for the past 15 years. She now serves in Malaysia—reaching children through the teaching of English.

I was a young Christian when I witnessed my first church split. There was an exodus of members from the congregation I worshipped with. I had no clue how to make sense of what was happening. I don’t really remember who was in the right or the wrong; I simply remember the sadness that lingered when brothers and sisters in Christ part ways under unpleasant circumstances.

Some years later, I faced the prospect of leaving the very same congregation. It was a tough decision. By then I had grown to know some of the brothers and sisters well, and had become co-workers with them in ministry. Now I felt not only sadness, but also the pain of parting and the hurt of misunderstanding.

I have since joined a new congregation. Here also, brothers and sisters in Christ come and go from our midst for various reasons, and I would be lying if I said I have never thought about leaving this church too. But God has been teaching me to grow in love for the community He has placed me in. Loving people is a very difficult thing. Yet though I am difficult to love, my friends in this church have shown me much grace.

As I look back on each time someone leaves a congregation, I thank God for lessons learned. Some, I rejoice with them as the Lord beckons them to places where their presence with us would be impossible, and some, I continue to pray that God may see them well-placed in another community. Whether we are watching someone leave or leaving ourselves, I pray that the following pointers may help us continue to witness to the Lord’s headship over us—we who are the body of Christ.

 

1. Are you honoring Christ as head of the church?

Passages like Colossians 1 and Ephesians 2 clearly speak to Christ’s headship over the church. Some argue that when a Christian leaves a local congregation, he still remains a part of the body of Christ. Of course the body of Christ is greater than just the local church! But just as Christ is the head of the universal church, so is He the head of each local congregation.

When issues arise in a church, we often decide whether to leave or stay based on our emotions. I urge that we not be hasty, but carefully consider whether our response honors Christ’s headship. And this is not just about whether we stay or leave, but how do we respond to the initial issue that sparked such a question? Are we complaining loudly and adding to the division in the church? Or are we building up the body of Christ?

 

2. Are you living out the new commandment?

Speaking to a group of followers who did not always get along, Jesus commanded them to love one another (John 13:34-35). And He explained why: that the world may know that we are Jesus’ disciples.

We were commanded to love. The command still stands even when we are the hurting party, or when we are bystanders watching the drama unfold. As difficult as it can be, we need to put aside our hurts and grievances so that we can act according to this love. Are we praying for the other party? Are we coming together (even though we might disagree on different issues) to pray for one another—for the grace of God to be shown in these circumstances?

Whether we choose to leave or stay, whether to bless another’s departure or retain them, we need to consider if we are acting in love. Loving others will be difficult and draining, but that is what Jesus commanded.

 

3. Are you seeking the unity of the Spirit?

Sometimes when we fight over who is in the right, we become hostile to our brothers and sisters in Christ. Scriptures urges us otherwise:

I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. (Ephesians 4:1-6)

In hostility, there is only pride, retaliation, and impatience. These are hardly ingredients for the unity of the Spirit. Even when justifying to third parties or questioning the reasons for someone’s departure, we often seek subtly to undermine the people involved. Wisdom can hardly do its work to help us make good decisions when we indulge our resentful spirits.

In making such difficult decisions, we need to pray that the Lord will guard our minds and hearts. Do we seek mediation from people who may see the issues more clearly than we do? Do we adopt an attitude of humility in seeking counsel from wise members of the church, or do we merely want an affirmation of our decision?

 

4. Are you actively building up the church?

Sometimes people leave a particular church because they feel like they are not experiencing spiritual growth, or that the preaching is not solid enough. This can be a subjective judgement. Spiritual growth is inevitable, since the Spirit is given to every believer. So perhaps our expectations need to be re-considered. Perhaps our over-reliance on a Sunday sermon is the problem. Spiritual growth should be an everyday experience!

Some of us might be spiritually mature, and find the current church lacking in the same maturity. If so, we have a responsibility to build up the body of Christ. We may have to find different resources to bring the Word to people around us so that they may grow too. If mature believers leave a congregation which lacks growth, then we leave behind a group of brothers and sisters poorer in their understanding of the Word of God. Good sermons and even good online theological courses are now prolific; as others build us up, let’s pray that God may use us to build others up.

Another common reason people give for leaving is that the church is “cold”. The thing is, relationships take time to grow. When I first stepped into the current church that I worship with, I felt out of place for a couple of years. If anyone had asked me to describe my church in a word, I would have said “cold”. However, I knew that my lack of effort in getting to know people played a large part in it.

I was serving in the youth group and spent all my time and energy with the youth. As years went by, I learned to broaden my circle of meaningful interaction by attending church prayer meetings or finding other ways of meeting people. And now I would describe the very same group of people as genuinely concerned for God’s work and His people. If anyone is contemplating leaving their church because it is cold, I would really ask you to consider not leaving, but being more involved!

 

We are not simply bound socially because we come to “do” something together every Sunday. We are all mysteriously bound—in love and peace—by God’s redeeming work. I cannot explain the sadness and pain experienced when people leave the congregation.

When we were redeemed by Christ, God called us His children and made us family! When there is love and peace among us, we reflect the very character of our Father, who demonstrated His great love in sending Christ and reconciled hostile sinners to Himself. We must then ask, do we respond to one another as a family member would?

Paul writes, “If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it” (1 Corinthians 12:26). So whether we choose to leave or to stay, let us bear witness to the love and peace Christ bought for us with His precious blood.

When We Found Out Our Baby Had A Heart Defect

When we first found out that our son had ventricle septal defect (VSD), we did not think much of it. Many children are born with holes in their heart, and many of these close over time. But by the third week, it was evident something was not right with our newborn son, N.

Feedings were short stints and left him extremely breathless. At times when the milk came too quickly, he’d cough and sputter, and milk might even come out through his nose. When he lay flat on his cot, we saw how vigorously his chest rose and fell, as though simply breathing took too much effort.

The pediatric cardiologist confirmed this when he measured N’s hole to be one of moderate to large size. By this point, his left lung was also slightly swollen due to the leak from the heart. His heart was also working double time to make up for the losses, leaving him more tired than most infants his age.

Though my husband and I are both seminary students, we are no spiritual giants. The diagnosis left us confused and saddened. I remember crying all the way home after that review. Recognizing that our son’s life was in danger, we had two options—to choose to believe in God’s sovereign will, or to abandon our faith altogether.The latter was ruled out almost immediately, and we knew we only wanted His will for our lives and nothing else.

The cardiologist told us that N needed surgery, and the thought of it scared us, but we knew it was time to call for our brothers and sisters to come alongside us. Perhaps our faith was being tested, but we surely did not have to brave this storm alone.

My husband Jonathan typed out a simple text explaining N’s situation and our need for prayer. I set up a broadcast group on WhatsApp and blasted that text to any and every one whom I knew would pray. Little did we expect the ripples of encouragement and practical help that came our way, and has continued to pour in till this day.

Right from the beginning, not a day passed without us receiving an encouraging text or message. Friends and friends of friends would drop me a note to press on with the feeding—tough as it was with N feeding twice as often as a regular newborn—and remind me that they are praying for us. God has used close girlfriends, aunties in church, and even the most obscure of friends from Secondary School to give me a boost every single day without fail. It gets very lonely and discouraging when you are all alone with an infant for hours on end, but these little messages reminded me of God’s love throughout the hardest days, and I knew N and I were remembered even through the roughest nights.

In church, people we hardly speak to came up to us and offered to pay for a session of N’s medical review, or to write us a cheque with an amount God had impressed upon their hearts. The church rallied intercessors in prayer, and cell groups have been moved to adopt us in their prayers. One pastor even allowed us to share N’s situation via a short video clip during his sermon on suffering, so the entire congregation will know what we’ve been going through.

As if these were not enough, God surprised us further when two family friends decided spontaneously that they would bring us homecooked soups once a week, so I would have less to prepare in the evenings. Pastors came and laid hands to bless and anoint our little family. Youth and young adults offered to take our older child to the playground to relieve us and give her some undivided attention. Clothing for N keep coming in bags such that we have not had to buy him a single thing since he was born.

And the blessings just keep coming.

This trial has only begun. But it has been made so much easier because of the community of believers rallying behind us in prayer and in every other practical way possible. We are reminded of the picture Paul painted in 1 Corinthians 12:25-26a, that God has put the body together, “so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it. . .”

We now know in a very tangible way what it means to be One Body, and we are confident that we can stand firm in our faith because of those carrying us on their shoulders.

 

When “I’m Praying For You” Feels Hollow

Have you ever watched a friend go through something you really can’t help them with?

I have a good friend who struggles with a slew of health problems. The best I can do is hug her and tell her that God is in control—whatever comfort that may be. She also struggles with finances. Her family does not have steady income. I have no idea how they pay the medical bills.

Now that I have moved half a world away, I can’t even hug her when she’s having a bad day. Seemingly the only thing I can do is tell her, “I’m praying for you.”

Does that ever feel hollow to you? Sometimes it does to me. I say “I’m praying for you” when there’s nothing else I can do.

But I am learning to remind myself that, praying for someone is actually the best thing I can do for them. After all, by praying I bring my needs and my friends’ needs before our all-powerful God. Seeking God’s intervention in someone’s life—surely that’s more effective than dinners or hugs!

As I practice praying for others, I increasingly realize that prayer is not the easy way out.

When Jesus prayed before His death, “his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground” (Luke 22:44). When Paul wrote to the church in Rome, he asked them to “join me in my struggle by praying to God for me” (Romans 15:30, emphasis added).

Prayer can be a struggle. Our first instinct when faced with brokenness in the world is to do something about it, not spend hours in a quiet room tearfully petitioning God. Both are necessary, but it’s so easy to forget which one is more effective.

As I learn more about prayer, I am more and more convinced that praying is really the best thing we can do in any circumstance.

 

In prayer, I acknowledge my helplessness

When a friend is going through a difficult time, I want to help. I might offer to spend time with them. I might run errands or cook dinner or offer some other practical help. At the very least, I might send a short text telling them I’m thinking of them.

Sometimes I try to fix their problems—I give my friends’ the right books to read, spend hours talking about their troubles, offer all the usual platitudes. . . But while it is important to love our friends and walk with them through difficult times, I need to realize that I can’t fix my friends’ problems. On my own, I can’t help them recover from break-ups, heal from a death in the family, or be restored to health.

That’s why I pray—I need to acknowledge my utter inability to help my friends or myself. I might have good intentions, but the fact is, I am not the healer. When I pray, I acknowledge that God will heal my friends in His own time, in His own way. My responsibility is to love them and walk with them. The rest I need to leave up to God, who is much better at these things than I am.

 

In prayer, I acknowledge God’s sovereignty

God is sovereign. Nothing happens without His permission (Matthew 10:29). When bad things happen in our lives or the lives of our friends, we need to recognize that God is working. We pray and trust in God’s promise that “in all things God works for the good of those who love him” (Romans 8:28). When faced with the meaninglessness of tragedy, we pray and profess our belief in the goodness of God even as our hearts are broken to pieces.

When a friend is diagnosed with a fatal illness, or when a young mother experiences a miscarriage, or when a child dies meaninglessly in a car accident. . . Honestly, is there anything we can do to make those circumstances easier to bear? We try our best by offering our presence and our shared grief. But the fact that Christ has given us hope beyond this life (1 Corinthians 15:13-14) brings purpose to our suffering.

It’s not easy to acknowledge God’s sovereignty when things do not go our way. It’s not easy to believe His goodness when our lives are falling apart. But that’s why we pray. We pray even when we cry out in doubt and pain, and we pray ourselves to a point where we trust that somehow, someway, our God will yet make something good out of our broken lives.

 

In prayer, I learn how best to help those around me

When I pray for someone, I learn to see them through God’s eyes. Prayer is not just me talking to a dark room, it is me talking to God! When I pray sincerely, I am bringing my petitions to an almighty God, and trusting that He will respond.

I often start my prayers by asking God to help me pray. You see, I don’t always know how best to pray for someone. If left to my own devices, my prayers would probably look something like a Christmas wishlist: “Recovery,” “financial provision,” “wise doctors,” etc. There is nothing specifically wrong with that, but it’s not exactly a meaningful or productive conversation with the Almighty. God has promised help for when we don’t know how to pray (Romans 8:26), so I make full use of that promise by asking for help.

Then, knowing God is not only listening, but likely guiding me in my prayers, I start petitioning Him. So often I rely on God’s love—God loves my friends and family so much more and so deeply than I could ever imagine. He knows all their needs, great and small. As I increasingly realize this, I find myself praying less for physical healing or for financial provisions, but praying more for God to give real comfort, for God to remind my friends and I that He is in control, for God to show supernatural provision in their circumstances (whatever that may look like). When I am reminded how much God loves my friends—that He laid His life down for them!—I can pray with confidence that God’s will be done.

As a result, I believe that God works through my prayers. When I open my heart in prayer, I learn how to love a fellow image bearer the way God loves them, and am more likely to respond in a godly manner when the need arises.

While I long to solve the circumstantial difficulties people around me face, I’m reminded through praying that this is the best thing I can do for them.

 

Our world is fallen. We are reminded of this every time we turn on the news. We are reminded of this every time our loved ones suffer for one reason or another. Whenever we feel overwhelmed by the brokenness of the world around us, let’s remember this: Only God can offer peace that surpasses understanding. Only He will ultimately wipe away every tear. And when we pray, we call on God’s promises—and take comfort in the knowledge that whatever the circumstance, His purposes will be accomplished in our lives (Isaiah 46:10).

“Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” (Hebrews 4:16)