National Director Joseph Chean tells Joanne Kwok how Youth With A Mission (YWAM) Singapore obeyed God’s leading to move into mercy ministries despite neglecting them in the early years.

For almost 30 years since YWAM set up camp in Singapore, the base remained steadily focused on two of its three pillars, training and evangelism. This was despite spending over a decade in the infamous red-light district of Geylang and the third pillar being mercy ministries.


We didn’t feel like we had a word from God about reaching out to Geylang, our neighbourhood since 1996.

It was only in 2007 that it began to take form, when one of our YWAMers asked if we could reach out to the street workers she often saw out on the streets. We thought, why not?

Joseph Chean addressing some 100 participants who had gathered over Zoom to celebrate YWAM Singapore’s 40th anniversary on Saturday, December 12. Many of them had also opened their homes to host small groups for the party.

Through the work, one of the ladies even received Christ. Hoping to pull her off the streets, our YWAMer asked if we could house her. The leadership decision was “yes”, since we had taken on this mercy ministry.

Then, we found out that she had overstayed her visa! We had to ask her to leave. This incident greatly shook us, and it was by no means the last.

Every other week a new situation cropped up, to the point that we said to ourselves, we cannot touch this – it is way too messy, too complicated, too tough.

The third pillar was turning out to be more difficult to pioneer than we had imagined. So our mercy ministries were put on the back burner for the next few years.


In 2011, I went on sabbatical after serving in YWAM for 14 years. During this defining season, God started impressing upon us about setting up a centre to focus on mercy ministries.

When I returned to take over as YWAM’s National Director, various ministries – to the street ladies, homeless and young offenders – were also starting to take shape and gain momentum. We later added our medical ship as well as rescue and relief efforts.

By 2013, we had a legal entity that would allow us to intentionally tackle the issues of our nation.

Looking back seven years later, it is evident how God used Geylang to disciple YWAM and through that, the Church in Singapore.

YWAM’s obedience to God’s leading in our mercy ministries provoked the churches in Singapore to look into issues such as social justice and mercy, so as to be aligned to God’s heart for the poor and marginalised in society. We became a catalyst of sorts, experiencing a new model of bringing the living gospel to the destitute. 


How can we, the bride of Christ, expect the poor to understand the love of Christ by seasonal giving of oranges, mooncakes or even money? Giving money away is not a ministry. A ministry is about relationships.

Mercy ministries must be integrated into our Christian life, not institutionalised for a few people to run.

A ministry is about relationships.

If our churches really decide to serve the poor around us, it will change how we run our ministries. The main congregation will be actively participating and engaging with the poor, not just contributing finances. We will be pastoring our community, bringing eternity to people and transforming their lives inside out.

The three strands of the gospel – salvation, transformation and serving the poor and marginalised – must be interwoven as the Great Commission that we build our church programmes on.

Not everyone is called to be a missionary, but everyone is called to think missional. 


I once resisted getting YWAM’s feet wet in local mercy ministries, but it was during my sabbatical that the Lord changed my heart through a lesson on brokenness.

He revealed to me that brokenness is not so much a journey as it is a destination – that I had to carry this at the core of my inner being. It was not something one passes through, like a season, but a posture of being broken before the Lord.

Only in brokenness can we experience the depth of mercy.

Brokenness keeps us from falling apart when something bad happens to us. Because in mercy ministries, bad things will happen, and we will be hurt by those we care for.

Without brokenness in our hearts, we will walk away saying they do not deserve our love. We would not take up ministries we consider too messy, too complicated, too tough.

But when you wear brokenness, when we understand God and His mercy and compassion, and who we are to Him, you don’t walk away.

Because God never walked away.

This article and in-depth features of the mercy ministries can also be found on YWAM Singapore’s newly released magazine, FACES, which features a special edition for its 40th anniversary.