“Give me one more chance to fit in,” she pleaded: How one girl found a sense of belonging
This story is part of a special series produced in collaboration with OM Singapore, which is celebrating 40 years of God’s faithfulness in missions this year.
Spending time with children during the Missions Discipleship Training (MDT) programme in South Africa. All photos courtesy of Jemma* and OM.
Jemma* remembers the first time she felt different.
It was in Primary 1, when students were supposed to get ready for their Mother Tongue classes.
All the students studying Malay got up to go to their classrooms, and all the Tamil language students went to theirs.
Jemma remained seated — and everyone turned to look at her. Suddenly, she found herself face to face with a classroom full of curious eyes.
“I’m Chinese, but until this day, people can never guess where I come from,” she said.
This continued throughout her teenage life, when things only got more difficult.
“Even up to my secondary school years, people were always pointing out the fact that I looked different,” added Jemma, recounting how people would make fun of her skin colour and hair texture.
Despite these nasty experiences as a child, Jemma realised in her days as a youth that she loved being with kids. Everyone said that she was really good with children and had a way of connecting with them too.
As one of the older ones in her cell group, the younger kids always enjoyed being around her. She also served in Sunday School and had a wonderful time there.
And so, while waiting for her A-Level results, Jemma took up the job of a kindergarten teacher.
That experience, however, went badly, leaving her hurt and discouraged.
I WAS JUST… DIFFERENT
While working at the kindergarten, Jemma voiced her concerns about the way lessons were being taught.
Instead of spoon-feeding the children with information, Jemma believed that they should be allowed to learn experientially, with the teacher coming alongside as a guide.
But she often felt that her colleagues were dismissive because she didn’t have a degree in early childhood education. They also made no attempt to hear her out.
This was followed by many unpleasant interactions with parents. Jemma even had to face mean comments such as: “You don’t have children. What makes you think you can take care of my child?”
Feeling again like she didn’t belong, Jemma decided to give up on the industry entirely, choosing to take up work in the area of logistics instead.
But it wasn’t long before Jemma would find herself at a crossroads in life.
Conflicted, she remembered sitting in church, having a conversation with God. In two weeks, Jemma would be receiving the result of her university application – for the third time.
It was almost as if she had her university application in one hand and full-time missions in the other.
Growing up, the concept of missions was a familiar one in her family.
Recounting how her parents frequently hosted overseas Christian workers in their home, Jemma was used to welcoming guests who looked very different from her.
They usually brought gifts from all over the world, like a flag of Kazakhstan, a map of Paraguay and some coins.
She also recalled attending mission conferences in church during her school holidays as well as reading about the work of famous missionaries like Hudson Taylor and George Müller in A Camaraderie of Confidence.
“Hearing these stories that missionaries are just regular people who had such a heart to serve God, and in such unique and different ways with the different spiritual gifts that God has given to them, I was very very inspired,” said Jemma.
“The Lord really convicted my heart to give everything – my one life – to serve Him.”
But as she waited for the outcome of her application, Jemma still wrestled with God, telling Him how important it was for her pursue her degree because she wanted to be just like everyone else.
All her friends were already in university by now, as she had already been rejected twice.
“Give me one more chance to fit in,” she pleaded.
In the end, she surrendered it all to God, praying: “You decide because I can’t decide for myself.”
True enough, Jemma received confirmation from God in the form of a painful rejection letter from the university.
Little did she know that God’s healing work in her heart was just beginning.
EMBARKING ON AN ADVENTURE
Hoping to begin her foray into missions, Jemma decided to speak to someone from Operation Mobilisation (OM) Singapore, who suggested that she go for training first.
She embarked on a six-month Missions Discipleship Training (MDT) in South Africa, which was where she had to deal with emotions that she had buried for years.
While she thought she had lost her gift in working with children, Jemma’s teammates kept telling her that she was really good with kids.
She also didn’t want to deal with that pain she had hidden away, but God constantly brought it to the surface.
For instance, Jemma recalled a time she bumped into a homeless boy who was reading something he had picked up from the garbage. It was an English workbook.
Striking up a conversation easily, she discovered that he wanted to learn English.
That was when Jemma shared her own story of faith with him and offered him an English-language Gideon Bible. She also told him that one day, Jesus would wipe away every tear, and there would be no more suffering in Heaven.
At the end of the conversation, the boy gave his life to God.
This story was particularly powerful because one year later, this same boy bumped into another MDT team and asked whether they knew who Jemma was.
He then excitedly shared how she was the one who had told him about Jesus a year ago.
To Jemma, it wasn’t about getting credit — she was just feeling so privileged to have been at the right place, at the right time, with the right opportunity, and to be used by God to show the love of Jesus.
“When people remember me, I want them to remember Jesus. When they think of me, I want them to think about Jesus,” she pointed out.
It was also during MDT that Jemma felt the words of Jesus being impressed on her heart.
“I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.” (John 14:18)
After trying to ignore her passion for children the whole time she was working in Singapore, Jemma finally felt like God was saying: “Jemma, I know you’ve been hurt, but this is the gift that I’ve given to you, and it’s okay if society doesn’t want it.
“‘I want it. Use it for my kingdom work because you’re good. This is the gift I have given to you, and I want you to embrace it.’”
FINDING MY PLACE IN THE WORLD
Today, Jemma is doing just that in Eastern Europe, working with children and youth at risk.
Confronted with the reality of an orphan crisis in a war-torn region, she is part of a team that reaches out to vulnerable children from broken families.
Describing the severity of the situation, Jemma said: “There’s little to no support and hundreds and thousands of young children or teenagers who really don’t have the help that’s needed – not only from surrounding members, but even the government itself.
“It’s so corrupt that there’s no proper system to ease them into society. They end up in gangs, they end up dying of alcohol poisoning, they end up in prostitution.”
These children have either never received love or have received love in a way that is so warped, she added.
Her team engages these children and youth at risk through clubs, camps and other programmes. These are done in partnership with local pastors and church leaders, whom they also provide training for.
Of the many events they organise, the annual theatrical camp is usually the biggest. Taking the children and youth out to somewhere remote and setting up camp there, the goal is to make it very experiential, so that it’s fully immersive.
For more than a week, the participants will feel like “they have entered this whole new world”, described Jemma, detailing the effort they take to prepare all the props needed to make it look realistic.
Characters come alive in full costume, and the script is inspired by humanity’s sinfulness, our need for forgiveness from God and what Jesus did on the Cross.
But at the heart of her work, Jemma explained that, fundamentally, it’s about journeying with the children and youth under her care.
“It’s really a discipleship process of journeying with someone,” she emphasised, while sharing how she mentors a group of teenage girls that meet every Saturday.
“I’ve just been so blessed by God, to be in that moment, at that time and place, to share my own personal walk with God; how I grew with the Lord, and how through the ups and downs, He has led me to this point.”
Some say hindsight is 20/20, but looking back at her life as an adventure with Jesus, Jemma puts on more than 20/20 vision – she puts on a godly perspective.
“I never felt like I fit in, to be honest. I never did. So maybe that’s why God wanted me here as a missionary,” she mused, adding how missionaries are often the ones who stand out for being different.
From feeling like she didn’t fit in growing up, Jemma has finally found a place to belong.
“I really love the work that I do. It’s such a good balance of what I’m good at and what I really love to do,” she said.
“Even though it has its challenges, I feel very at peace. I feel like this is where God wants me to be.”
Today, it’s clear that God had led and prepared Jemma to do the work she is doing now, even though she wasn’t always aware of it.
“This is why I can look at my pain and my disappointment in a different perspective. I now understand the heart of my Father,” shared Jemma.
“God has done so much healing in my life. He has really helped me rediscover Him in ways that I never knew could enrich my walk with him so much more. My relationship with God has been strengthened.”
Reflecting on all that she has been through, Jemma couldn’t help but laugh.
“Seems like You knew, all this time,” she playfully remarked to God.
“Since I was a kid, all the experiences that I had leading up to this point, I think You always knew that I was going to serve You for the rest of my life!”
*The interviewee’s full name has been withheld for specific purposes.
Find out how you can also serve the Lord with your gifts and passions and go on an adventure with Jesus.
THINK + TALK
- What are some hurts and disappointments from your past? God can redeem them and use them for His kingdom!
- What does your identity as a child of God mean to you?
- Do you recognise that you’ve been given gifts and talents? How can you develop these to turn them into skills?