What does an escape room have to do with a riverboat sailing through Europe?
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.
Flora Man served on board the Andante, an OM Riverboats vessel that sailed across Europe. Photos courtesy of Flora and OM.
You’ve heard of escape rooms or maybe even been to one before, but have you seen an escape room on a boat?
Riding on the popularity of the game that was still fairly new in Europe at that time, this was the highlight of the Operation Mobilisation (OM) Riverboats vessel sailing through the heart of Europe via the picturesque Rhine River in 2018.
Named The Agency, the escape room was built on the deck of a riverboat that cruised through three countries – confirming the reality of years of planning and praying.
For three months, Flora Man sailed with 80 other like-minded crew members to six ports in the Netherlands, France and Germany.
“The concept of The Agency could be summed up into three words: recruited, trained and sent,” said the 33-year-old.
“It was such a radical idea, and so fitting of OM’s can-do spirit, to haul an entire escape room onto the top of a boat so that it may be effective in reaching tens of thousands of people with the gospel.”
In the first room, participants were recruited for a mission, but all of them would fall below the standards required by their boss, “El”.
Next, they entered a dark room, where they had to find a way to escape. As part of their training, they had to listen out for the voice of “El” amid all the noise, go through a trust tunnel while having faith in “El” and know His mission. After that, they received their identity as an agent.
But even then, they were only able to accomplish their mission on shore, where they would engage with crew members who played the roles of the marginalised such as the refugees and the homeless as well as other characters they would meet in daily life.
“That was the most powerful part of the escape room. The participants had to practise what they had learnt and share the gospel with these groups of people,” explained Flora.
And in case you haven’t already figured it out, the character of “El” was meant to represent God – inspired by the Hebrew names of God like Elohim and El Shaddai.
Through the interactive experience, participants learnt what it meant to be sent by God and carry out Jesus’ command to make disciples of all nations.
“Instead of a sermon on the Great Commission, we tried to impart the message through an engaging and interactive way through the escape room,” she elaborated.
Aiming to inspire the Church in Europe to share about Christ, The Agency’s tagline was: The secret that can’t be kept.
“We welcomed almost 10,000 visitors onboard during the three months,” said Flora, who added that the riverboat attracted a diverse crowd, from the young to the elderly, and from the wealthy to those discriminated by society.
“There were also a lot of church leaders that came with their youth groups, and pastors that came to see what OM was doing.”
She fondly recalled a remark made by two 13-year-old boys, who were almost in tears after going through the escape room.
“We can never live our lives the same way again, knowing that there are all these people out there who need to hear the gospel,” they had said.
Despite the positive feedback the riverboat received, Flora observed that there were a handful who viewed the experience as just entertainment.
“It was discouraging to see that it didn’t impact them. Even though they were aware of the needs… it didn’t drive them to think deeper.”
That’s why it comforted her to know that OM had staff in those countries, who could continue working with local ministries and offer necessary support.
“The riverboat ministry was a catalytic ministry,” explained Flora. “We joined in the work that was already ongoing in the country and added our energy to it.”
Besides helping out on the ship, Flora shared that she also had the chance to visit the refugees and the homeless during her onshore ministries.
In the Netherlands, she participated in a bible study class for refugees from West Asia, where she was touched by their positivity and passion to learn more about Jesus, in spite of their trying circumstances.
The group size fluctuated a lot due to the refugees having to relocate very often, but those who attended even designed a poster to reach out and invite other refugees to join the class.
Over in Germany, Flora joined a local organisation in distributing food, warm clothes and Christian tracts to the homeless. This took place under a train track during the height of winter, so it was freezing, to say the least.
“It was intimidating to directly approach the group who were mostly men, as many were under the influence of alcohol or drugs,” she said. “I hope that through our prayers and practical help, they were able to feel the love of God for them.”
Once the riverboat left the ports of call, the local offices, churches and partner organisations would reach out to those who expressed interest in wanting to know more about Jesus. They also continued the work of caring for the needy and ministering to them.
Reflecting on the stepping stones that led her to the riverboat, Flora shared that she always had an inkling that she would serve in missions someday. The question was when, where and how?
Growing up, she went on trips to Thailand and Cambodia with her family, visiting the churches and villages there. When she began working, she also thought of taking some time off to do God’s work for an extended time.
But then, as her career progressed, so did her inertia.
“I was carried away with the comfort, ease and fun I was having in my life in my 20s, so I put off the idea,” Flora confessed.
It wasn’t until another OM ship, Logos Hope, had docked in Singapore that she was reminded of this desire she once had.
“My passion for missions came alive again. That very day I went on board to visit, I knew I wanted to serve on Logos Hope,” said Flora.
Describing the experience as “a small taste of heaven”, she observed how the crew members had so much energy and joy, and lived together harmoniously.
“The atmosphere on the ship was out of the ordinary. So many different kinds of people from around the world came together as a family, and they loved each other and loved God.”
However, there were still things that held Flora back from taking the leap of faith to sail with Logos Hope.
She had finally found a job she really liked, having gone through a few difficult experiences since graduation. She also enjoyed and excelled at her work, and got along well with her colleagues.
“I was in a very safe harbour where I was financially independent, and I had a good group of friends,” Flora said, explaining her reluctance to move out from her comfort zone. “It was very tempting to keep myself in that status quo.”
Although her parents were fervent Christians, they were worried about her safety as a girl travelling to different countries and what this would mean for her future.
It was a valid concern, one that Flora herself thought about.
“How long will I be gone for? Will I ever return to this ‘normal’ life? Will I be distanced and disassociated with society?” she wondered.
Ultimately, both Flora and her parents agreed that it was the right thing to do, trusting that God would be the one to provide.
Their faith was proven true – through the many hurdles that Flora had to overcome, from raising financial support to finding a suitable role she could contribute to onboard, she saw the hand of God at work.
After serving on Logos Hope, a door opened up for Flora at OM Singapore as a Field Communications Facilitator. God also provided an unexpected life partner for her – someone she had met 10 years ago in university, and they got engaged.
Despite having a wedding in the pipeline, she was keen to join the riverboat when she heard that they were recruiting.
While Logos Hope has the ability to traverse seas and oceans as a large ship, the riverboat presented new opportunities to reach hundreds of towns and villages along Europe’s extensive river network, which connects many of the major cities.
While the Rhine riverboat was just a start, there are many other major rivers in the world like the Mekong, the Amazon and the Nile that are teeming with potential.
And that was how Flora ended up in in this inaugural project, serving as a journalist and photographer onboard.
Speaking from Japan, where she is living with her husband and a young child, Flora is currently a Strategic Communications Manager with OM International.
Looking back at her journey over the last six years when she first decided to step out in faith, she said: “God opens doors and paves the way.
“Our job is just to remain close to Him, listen to His voice amid all the distractions and noises in the world, and keep our eyes on Him. Even though you don’t know what to do, God will show you step by step.
“The first step is the toughest – it takes courage, faith and obedience. But if you do take it, God will surprise you, and you will begin an amazing journey with Him. You will experience Him at every step of the way.”
To commemorate their 40th year, OM Singapore has also published a book, Unchanging: On Mission With a Faithful God, capturing 40 stories of Singaporeans who love God and His mission in many parts of the world. You can purchase the book here: www.sg.om.org/book
THINK + TALK
- What does The Great Commission mean to you?
- Have you tried to share the Good News of Jesus with others? What’s hindering you from doing this more?
- How can you use your gifts and talents to tell someone about the gospel?