A few years ago, Joseph Chean was tasked to close a national prayer event with a segment on missions.
Speaking to an audience of 8,000, Chean was told to expect 50 respondents if the call he made was succinct and clear.
500 streamed down to receive prayer that night!
“I saw people of all generations: retirees, families with young kids, single guys, single women,” said Chean.
“And I suddenly saw something there that I never thought would happen — God has preserved for Singapore a group of people who are willing to go to hard places.”
THE NEED FOR COURAGE IN A CRISIS
Indeed, getting believers to go on missions to other nations can be challenging enough. Sending them to “hard places” is harder still, especially with all that is happening in the world today.
Chean observed that in the face of COVID-19, many churches have either pulled their missionaries back home, or have pivoted from overseas to local missions.
“It’s not a wrong or bad thing because there are indeed many unreached people groups at our doorsteps. But it’s common to hear local churches talking about focusing on local missions and no longer engaging in overseas missions for now.”
However he pointed out that the mandate of the book of Acts is for people to go to Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and the ends of the world.
“So it’s not one after another. It’s simultaneously together,” explained Chean.
“And when we look into church history, pandemic or no pandemic, the church has never stopped venturing into overseas missions. It’s the blood of the church. It’s the lifeline of the church.”
That is why Chean and other representatives of the steering committee of an upcoming conference organised by the Fellowship of Missional Organizations in Singapore (FOMOS) have decided to name their event “Courage Calls“.
It’s apt, since courage is what is needed in this local peculiar context of comfort and crisis.
“Courage in the face of missions realities,” elaborated Ng Zhiwen, a member of the conference programme team (and who’s also involved with integral mission movement Micah Singapore and Christian NGO Habibi Singapore).
“Courage for those who would go, and for those (churches) who would send. Courage, in answer to God’s calling.”
Calling for such an event is also a step of faith for the organisers.
Christy, National Director, Interserve Singapore, echoed Chean’s words and urgency, noting that “there’s never a perfect time”.
“We wanted to do this last year, and we didn’t want to delay further,” she shared.
“We felt like we also had to take courage to do this because this is an on-site gathering, as long as COVID restrictions permit. We are calling for people to be inconvenienced in a small way, so to speak.
“We want people to rearrange their priorities… to just come in a consecrated, focused way to meet the Lord and just allow Him to deposit what’s on His heart for the nations.”
COURAGE CALLS FOR COMMITMENT
The one thing they all agreed on is that there isn’t a good or better time to do missions, whether in easy or hard places.
“In Singapore, we almost live in a bubble where we are largely shielded from real persecution for being believers of Jesus Christ,” Christy continued.
“We have an open church and so many different expressions of that open church, and so much freedom that sometimes we really take that freedom for granted.
“The kind of risks, suffering and pain that the world actually experiences is far greater than what we experience here.”
Christy’s point was that we are so blessed and well-resourced, and that if we do not take the time to understand what is on God’s heart by looking intentionally at the news globally and holding personal and corporate spaces to wrestle with that, then we are not being the church God wants us to be.
And in that light, the church may well be in danger of missing the mark.
Chean shared that many missions committees in local churches have told him that “overseas missions are not for now” and that they “don’t have anyone to send”.
Because of that, the tendency then is to switch to supporting missionaries on the ground, whether by sending funds or people to train them.
Singapore’s missions force is actually a sunset generation, rather than a sunrise generation.
But Chean sees risk in choosing convenient missions over incarnational missions, which he defined as people on the ground embodying the reality of Christ there.
“The danger of that is that we switch to convenient missions work,” he said.
“Missions work that is more convenient and less costly. Meaning, we don’t have to send our sons and daughters — all we need to do is just send money in.”
“We tend to give of our wealth more easily than our whole being — our persons and our commitment — in a sacrificial way,” said Christy in affirmation of Chean’s reflection.
Avoiding such scenarios is precisely where Courage Calls comes in, as a space to mobilise more labourers for the harvest.
“We do want to have people, hopefully bred from the churches of Singapore, to actually be sent out and be the incarnational representative of God,” she added.
To Christy, what matters most is willingness.
That is the crucial starting point she hopes Courage Calls attendees will begin from; equipping, fellowship and support are other things that can happen along the way.
“I’m encouraged that there are young people out there who are willing,” she shared. “It’s a matter of meeting them and journeying with them.”
WHO WILL GO FOR US?
“We’re targeting people who sense that they may have a call. They need clarity, they need help, and they need some encouragement,” said Chean of who they’re hoping to reach out to with the conference.
“They may not know how to bridge this with a local church — maybe we can help them because not many local churches are willing to send them to hard places.
“We would like to bridge that, to see how we can help believers and churches, so that Singaporeans can go into the ends of the world — and not just to safe places or ‘low-hanging fruit’ locations.”
Ng sees “encouraging signs” among younger Singaporeans, noting they are a generation that is increasingly aware and deeply concerned about global issues and the plight of people in other lands.
“Just last Saturday, I was in a meeting for a Christian organisation, thinking about how much money to give to another organisation that was committed to serve the vulnerable in Afghanistan (and had boots on the ground),” he recalled.
“A young lady at the meeting committed to match dollar for dollar. Our accountant proposed a figure — not a small sum — and I immediately glanced at the young lady over Zoom.
“She did not flinch. She’d been prepared to give even more. And she’s also waiting for when she can go to the field herself. What costly obedience!”
Ng’s prayer is that there will be many others like her, answering Jesus’ call for the Great Commission.
This need for new blood — especially young blood — is something Chean has been reflecting on, especially after missionaries began returning to Singapore in the wake of COVID-19.
“We realise that there are a lot who are actually retiring. Singapore’s missions force is actually a sunset generation, rather than a sunrise generation,” he noted.
Chean was quick to clarify, however, that the Antioch call (and Courage Calls) is not just for young people but all generations.
“I think that those who are in retirement, they shouldn’t retire — they should refire,” he quipped.
“They’ve got so much wealth, knowledge, life and working experience. And God can use them.”
WHAT TO EXPECT AT COURAGE CALLS
Ng outlined that there are three main things attendees can expect at Courage Calls: community, connections and interest groups.
“First, we are big on community,” he said. “It begins with our communion with the Lord. We aren’t going to pack the conference with lots of ‘formal’ stuff to do.
“We are intentionally creating time and space for people to be alone with God, to prepare their hearts for what they will be engaging with at the conference, and to process these things with their Father in heaven.”
Ng also hopes to foster deep connections among conference attendees while working within strict safe management guidelines.
“We do not undertake missions alone. We will make time for people to be with others: to have conversations and make new connections that may go on to last for a lifetime of missions.”
Finally, attendees can also expect to engage in a number of interest groups like community development, peace and reconciliation, ministering to refugees and responding to human trafficking.
They may also get connected with others who share a heart for the same region (or country).
“Iron sharpens iron, and we must spur one another on for the long haul.”
Inspiring stories of missionaries facing persecution and suffering will also be featured at Courage Calls.
“We felt it was really important for the conference to be filled with stories of God’s people, being willing to pay the cost to be a disciple even to the ends of the world,” shared Christy.
“We wanted active practitioners to be part of this conference, to inspire the rest of the church to see that it is possible, and that God is worthy. And He continues to sovereignly sit on His throne.”
These honest experiences of suffering and persecution are not meant to be a sob stories showcase though.
“Our desire is to present it from a view of joy, worship and victory,” explained Chean. “We see signs and wonders. We see miracles happening, even in the midst of troubles.
“So suffering and persecution are not the destination, but the means by which we see a greater joy in God working through them.”
There will also be a special session for missions pastors and senior pastors to engage with one another.
“We really hope that they will make time to come for this to learn together, to hear stories, and to allow God to ignite understanding and passion that this crisis is actually an opportunity,” said Chean.
“We need not turn away; instead we can actually dive straight into it!”
COME INTO COMMUNITY
Finally, Christy gave an invitation to a specific group of people she wants to see at Courage Calls: “I would want to encourage all who have been patiently waiting; who feel lonely alone in their journey in their missions call.
“They feel unsatisfied listening to conversations about the best char kuay teow when their hearts are wrenched with grief over what they see in the world, and they want the gospel of Jesus, the kingdom of Jesus to be out there!”
Christy’s call was for such believers to “come into community”.
“Don’t do this alone,” she urged. “There are more of us whom the Lord has reserved. We need to take courage that we can bind together, band together.
“Iron sharpens iron, and we must spur one another on for the long haul.”
- Thursday, September 30 (7.30–9.30pm)
- Friday, October 1 (9.30–11.30 am, 2–6pm, 7.30–9.30pm)
- Saturday, October 2 (9.30–11.30am, 1–3.30pm)
- What does costly obedience mean to you? Is there an area of your life that God might be calling for you to be courageous in?
- Have you had an experience of greater joy in the midst of trials and suffering?
- Do you sense that you might have a call to share God’s love with the nations? Take time to pray about it and consider meeting with other like-minded people at Courage Calls!