Faith

At 15, I heard God say: “I am sending you to the children of Israel”

Alex Liew // March 5, 2021, 2:34 pm

Singaporean serving in Israel - Featured new

When I was 15, my cell group leader urged us to read the Bible cover to cover. Taking up the challenge, I remember being so fascinated with the rich details.

What left an indelible impression on me were God’s promises to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. God made a covenant with them, that their descendants will be His people – the people of Israel. 

That got me curious because I hadn’t heard much about Israel until that point, except for some uncle or aunty in the church who went for a Holy Land tour.

At that same time, I happened to be reading The Heavenly Man, which touched on bringing the gospel back to Jerusalem – where it all began – from China, one of the last places on earth to receive the Good News.

One evening, while singing my heart out at a worship concert, I felt God speaking to me and telling me two things.

First, was from the chorus sung by the crowds: “One day everything tongue will confess You are God, one day every knee will bow.”

It was as though He promised me that I would experience that as I walk with Him in obedience, and that the hundreds of people singing before Him right now were just a glimpse of what I would see.

Second, I sensed that God was saying: “I am sending you to the children of Israel.” I had no idea what He meant then, but I treasured it in my heart.

My enthusiasm in Israel was not reciprocated by family and friends, however, and my interest in Israel faded after a year.

But a couple of things happened in my first year of college. Among them:

  1. I joined my college’s Jazz & Blues Club, through which I met my first Israeli-Jewish friend. 
  2. A friend from my congregation heard about my interest in a particular translation of the Bible – The Complete Jewish Bible (CJB) – and he gave me a copy as a gift.

At the same time, while all of this was happening, I was seeking God’s will over my life and how I could serve Him. 

How do I discern God’s will for my life?

One summer, I visited my aunt and uncle who were missionaries overseas. 

When I consulted them on God’s will for my life after graduation, my aunt challenged me: “What are the things that God has already spoken to you? Have you been seeking and asking Him about what He has already told you?”

As I prayed about this, I sang these words: “Do Lord, O do Lord, do remember me.”

That’s when God responded by directing me to Psalm 137:5-6 (NASB).

If I forget you, O Jerusalem, may my right hand forget her skill.
May my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth if I do not remember you, if I do not exalt Jerusalem above my chief joy.

I realised God had meant what He said about sending me to Israel at the age of 15. He remembered all along; I was the one who forgot.

Awestruck and amazed, I asked God: “What am I to do now?”

It was as though He asked me the same question posed to Moses: “What is that in your hand?” (Exodus 4:2)

Moses had a shepherd’s staff; I had a degree in history.

As an undergraduate, I decided to seek an opportunity to go to Israel by focusing on the local Jewish community for my research project.

Many have heard of stories of Jews returning to Israel from the Americas and Europe. However, little is said about the Jews in Asia, and even less about Jews in Singapore.

(Did you know that we thriving Jewish community here on our tiny island? Singapore’s first Chief Minister, David Marshall, was a Jew!)

I felt the Lord calling me to search out history to show His faithfulness to His people, to search out His wondrous deeds and promises to His people.

But there was another challenge: How was I supposed to get to Israel?

God sets the rhythm, and we dance to His beat.

There were countless rejections and doors closing in my face. I knocked on many doors, including the Israeli embassy, a bible college and a university in Jerusalem. I hoped that at least one of them would show interest in my project. Most ignored me. 

Discouraged but not dejected, I continued to finish my research project and endeavoured to learn the Hebrew language.

I tried to do this by having an online language exchange partner. A website paired me with a native Hebrew speaker, an Israeli learning Mandarin who was my age.

Over our first Skype conversation, he heard about my research interest and suggested I study at his university in Israel. He also said he could get me a scholarship. I thought he was joking and at one point even thought the entire thing was an intricately planned scam.

As it turned out, his professor was really interested in my research and offered me a scholarship before I finished my research project and degree!

At that moment, I saw the hand of God opening the exact door He meant for me to walk through. And the rest is history.

I arrived in Israel fresh out of college at the age of 25 helpless, like a child all over again. 

It was a humbling and unsettling experience to be surrounded by unfamiliarity – living in a foreign land, surrounded with people of a different ethnicity, speaking a foreign language.

Before coming here, I prayed for His providence for a local community of believers, the opportunity to master the Hebrew language quickly and a scholarship to further lengthen my stay.

All these the Lord graciously answered in abundance!

5 steps to handling money well

I became part of a Hebrew-speaking congregation, where I joined their outreach activities such as sharing the gospel on the streets of Tel Aviv and giving food to the homeless. All these provided an immense motivation for me to learn the language well.

I’m also grateful that local Israelis are very encouraging. Often they are pleasantly surprised that I can speak their language, exclaiming: “You speak Hebrew?!”

(Side note: I’m glad that our Singlish words like “can” and “ya lah” sounds so much like “yes” in Hebrew and “yallah”, an Arabic slang for “let’s go”.)

Icebreakers like these make for a pleasant welcome, and I often enjoy these random conversations.

I also thank God for His providence in the entire research process. From the leeway to submit assignments in English, to His mercies through my professors who were so generous with grades.

The completion of my master’s degree was not based on my smarts, but completely on God’s grace. 

In addition, God opened the doors for me to stay on in Israel by providing me with the opportunity to present my master’s research paper at a local university, where I eventually got a scholarship for my PhD.

At that same conference, my wife-to-be was in the audience. Though we did not talk then, my presentation left a positive impression on her.

Months later, a familiar face came up to me after class and asked me in Mandarin: “Are you a believer? Yes, I thought so! I can see the light in your eyes!” 

As we conversed, we found out that we had a lot in common, in particular, our call to Israel. Given our similar background, it did not take too long for romance to blossom between us.

With that, God answered all three of my prayers and gave me above and beyond what I asked for. On top of my requests for community, language and scholarship, He even gave me a wife to run this race with!

I thank God for the opportunities to serve Him in a local congregation alongside my wife.

Loving God and loving others transcends national and cultural boundaries – be it playing on the worship team, being the face that welcomes others as the usher or building intentional relationships.

While Christians (Gentiles who believe in Jesus or whom they call “Yeshua”) are free to practise their faith here, Messianic believers (Jews who believe in Jesus) are persecuted. Tensions run deep for a Jewish brother or sister who professes faith in Jesus, and they need our prayers and support.

He is the one who equips the called.

I remember a pastor from my home congregation once said: “There is no wastage in God’s economy.”

The skills and talents I developed in Singapore primed me for my ministry in Israel today. For instance, I picked up an interest in Russian language and history (thanks to A-level History).

I later found out that Israel has a sizeable Russian-speaking community because of the mass migration of Soviet Jews to Israel in the early ’90s due to the collapse of the Soviet Union. Many Holocaust survivors also speak only Russian instead of Hebrew.

My determination in my pursuit to live and serve in Israel can only be explained by the undeniable call He has placed in my heart, an assignment I cannot ignore or run away from.

While many back home may not understand my interest and calling, I count my blessings in the way they have invested in me.

My church in Singapore gave me ample ministry opportunities and helped to develop me as a leader. Above all, they loved me as a person – as a friend and a brother.

I thought God would have wanted me in Israel only when I am older, more mature and wiser. Or perhaps after some qualification like theological training or Christian certification, or a bank account with a large sum of money. 

But He is the one who equips the called. 

To many, it would seem insane to move to another country and much less embark on a mission without detailed plans. And yet, this is the story the Divine Author has written for me. 

Looking back, I have learnt that there is no such thing as a five-year plan or 10-year plan when you follow God’s call.

God sets the rhythm, and we dance to His beat. He has orchestrated matters in a precise and beautiful way that I receive what I need in His perfect timing.

More than a movement: Meeting God through dance

The Lord has not shortchanged me in any way. From the get-go, I had to rely wholly upon God’s divine providence and not my human wisdom.

God reminds me that His grace is sufficient for me, and that He can do wonders through my obedience alone and not my gifts or talents – His Name is magnified through my weaknesses and not my strength.

Through it all, I cling to God’s faithfulness and goodness, that even His will and way would go beyond my own folly.

He can still make something beautiful out of my shortcomings. God rejoices in our partnership with Him. He enjoys our fellowship with Him.

That is where I put my hope in, my Saviour and my lover – Yeshua the Messiah.

*The writer’s name has been changed for confidentiality.

THINK + TALK

  1. What are the talents, abilities and resources that God has given you?
  2. What are the things that God has already spoken to you about and have you been faithful in doing them?
  3. Do you trust that God will be the one to provide for all that you need as you walk in obedience?