She spent a year befriending women in the red light district of a Chinese city, hoping to be a bearer of God’s eternal light; while he served on the fringes of Thailand for four years at a shelter for needy children.
Separately, Gina Chan and Daryl Tay had returned to Singapore in 2018, for an “involuntary break” from overseas missions, expecting to jump back into the field they each felt called to after a year at the Singapore Bible College (SBC).
But God had other plans.
In that one year, he had them meet and resonate with each other’s heart for the marginalised, while wrestling with being called to serve in different countries. And yet, He led them to get married, put on hold their enthusiasm for overseas missions and remain in Singapore for this season.
It wasn’t an easy decision to make for the couple who had always envisioned their Graduate Diploma course in Intercultural Studies at SBC as but a pitstop.
Daryl’s home church, which supported his mission stint in Thailand, had wanted him to be theologically equipped for work in the field; while Gina had returned for a short break after her one-year stint in China was up. But both had planned to jump back into the field as soon as they finished their studies.
“I think initially we both struggled with staying in Singapore. We were both living one foot in Singapore, and the other foot out. I was still living on a contractless phone plan. I didn’t try to do anything that will cost me to stay or commit to anything long-term, so everything was very half-hearted in my one year,” said Gina, who is currently an associate Christian ministry staff member at St Francis Methodist School.
“But when we started dating and thinking about getting married, we sensed clearly that God was asking us to root ourselves in Singapore (for this season). We saw His plans for us here,” said the 31-year-old.
Daryl, who serves as pastoral staff in the children’s ministry at Wesley Methodist Church, said that God has reshaped his perspective of “missions” over the last few years in Singapore.
“Initially, we saw missions as something that we need to go overseas to do, but I think God has been showing us that within Singapore, especially amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, missions exist right at our doorsteps,” he said.
You don’t need to buy an air ticket to live missionally.
St Francis, for instance, has proven to be a huge mission field because the majority of its students are from the Chinese diaspora. The couple also reaches out to the community in Singapore’s red light district with Operation Mobilisation, a Christian non-profit organisation.
“Sometimes, we become so fixated with our secondary calling that we forget our primary calling to live out the gospel. It was a reminder for us that even as we came back to Singapore, we can live out the gospel here as well. And God really has a purpose for every season,” said Daryl, 32.
The couple refers to the respective countries they feel called to as their “secondary callings”. The recent years in Singapore and their earlier years abroad have taught them that the missional heartbeat can, and should, be lived out everywhere.
Gina said: “I have always told others that you don’t need to buy an air ticket to live missionally, and I felt that God was challenging me precisely with this.”
ANSWERING GOD’S CALL TO MISSIONS — GINA’S STORY
Even though Gina and Daryl now see Singapore as their mission field, it was the season where God had placed each of them outside Singapore that moulded their hearts for communities on the margins.
In fact, Gina had felt a burden for the Chinese diaspora community as a young undergraduate, after interacting with many Chinese students from St Francis who had come to check out her home church, Bukit Panjang Methodist Church.
She recalled: “I realised that there are people out there who have almost zero knowledge of God, but are still interested [in the gospel]. And I felt very surprised and burdened at the same time. How is it that there are people who are interested but haven’t really heard the gospel?”
What started out as a general interest was later affirmed by various experiences. “I went for three short-term trips, and with each trip, I felt God placing a greater and greater burden. I felt like I shared God’s love for these people, particularly more than any other people.”
Initially, though, she felt tentative about going down the path less taken.
“It hit me one day that it’s okay if I don’t really know what’s next (in my life) but I know that God wants to use me. So I asked God, ‘Should I go (for overseas missions) now?’ And I thought God was asking me, ‘If you don’t go, what is your reason for not going?’ And I was stuck, because that was no reason. I couldn’t say that I had a sick parent, or that I’m expecting a baby or something like that.”
Even her father, a non-believer who was initially against the idea, gave Gina the green light eventually; which she took as a clear sign from God to proceed. She left her job as a social worker working with at-risk youth in 2017 and spent the next year in China, reaching out to women in the red light districts.
If you don’t go, what is your reason for not going?
There, Gina saw how God’s love touched the lives of these individuals, who are typically ostracised by society and have not had a chance to hear the gospel.
She recalled a memorable encounter in the earlier part of her stint: “When I first went, it was at the beginning of spring, so it was very cold and dark. But I remembered how the face of one particular lady lit up when she saw us. I realised they were very open to talk with us
“I think it really hit me how these women are really seeking for love, and I felt very humbled that God used our presence and friendship to show them that they are valuable and worthy of love.”
ANSWERING GOD’S CALL TO MISSIONS — DARYL’S STORY
For Daryl, the call came in his last year as an undergraduate. He had been gearing up for a full-time corporate role in wealth management, but a 12-day humanitarian trip with RADION International in rural Thailand overhauled these professional plans.
There, he worked with village children who were neglected or abused by their family members. There are various tiers of poverty and these kids are “at the bottom of the barrel”, he said.
“When I was there, God really opened my eyes to see that He is in the business of transforming lives in that small village on the fringes. Seeing the needs in the mission field really made me want to be a part of this work . . . I felt Him impressing upon my heart that as the church, we are called to love the least such as these,” said Daryl.
His parents, especially his father, were initially hesitant, but God worked in their hearts as he did in Gina’s parents’.
“Eventually, my dad said that if I felt that this was God’s calling, he would give me his blessing. So I took that as an open door and that God had paved the way for me to spend the season in missions. I initially packed my bags, not knowing how long I’ll be there. But one day turned into a year, and a year turned into four years,” he said.
In those four years, God had let Daryl witness some of these children flourish in school, but the fruit of his labour was not always evident. For instance, some children chose not to receive help in the shelter and went back onto the streets.
“Some moments can be discouraging, but you have to have faith that God is in control, that even though you may not be around to see the fruit, He has a way,” he said.
“When I went there, I was really wrestling with the question of why God allows such poverty and suffering to continue. But God showed me that He is still sovereign, and He calls the church to really step up to be His hands and feet.”
These experiences also taught them patience in waiting on the Lord, and to be sensitive to His leading — lessons the couple had to relearn when God brought them back to Singapore, and toward each other, in 2018.
SEEKING GOD’S PLANS TOGETHER
During their time in SBC, Gina and Daryl were the only two students in the one-year programme—they each wanted to “get it over and done with” before plunging back into the mission field.
Throughout that year, they bonded over a similar compassion and burden for the marginalised and neglected in society. Being in the same programme also meant they shared the same classes and project groups, and had a lot of time to get to know each other.
But while the call to missions was what brought them together, it was also where their plans diverged.
There are no wasted years in God’s economy.
“We often share that our call to missions was the thing that kind of brought us together, but it was also the biggest obstacle in our relationship because at that point in time, we felt clearly called to two different countries. We were wondering if we should even go into this (relationship) because it would complicate a lot of things,” Gina said.
Daryl added: “At first, I was thinking about whether she will be willing to come to Thailand with me. But then I think God convicted me by asking, ‘Is this your plan or my plan? Do you really need to go back to Thailand in order to serve me or to feel like you are living out my calling?’ I felt that God was calling me to just be faithful where I am.”
Eventually, they decided to pursue a relationship and surrender their plans to God.
“If God leads us to China, or Thailand, so be it; if God leads us to another country altogether, so be it. Or if God calls us to stay in Singapore, so be it as well. That dying to self and surrendering was tough for both of us but it was also a relief, because it opened a door for us to get to know each other, and it also allowed us to trust God for the future,” Daryl said.
The couple got married amid the COVID-19 pandemic last year and have stayed put in Singapore since.
Gina said the journey in discerning God’s purpose for them as a couple taught her true obedience to the call to live missionally.
“I think we’re still in a season of seeking. Where we will be in a number of years is still a question mark . . . But (Daryl and I) know very clearly that deep down in our hearts, we still care a lot for the poor, the marginalised, the neglected in society. And this group of people literally exists everywhere.”
Although God has placed them in Singapore for now, they’ve continued to cross paths with the communities they feel burdened for. Gina, for instance, works with Chinese students, while Daryl has the opportunity to serve with Thai workers through the Operation Mobilisation ministry.
Gina said: “I think that is when we really know that God wants us here for this season. You can never really question God’s purpose even though we sometimes only make sense of it a few years down the road.”
There are no wasted years in God’s economy, she added.
Daryl also sees how God has placed him in children’s ministry to exhort the call to missions.
“Nurturing the missional heartbeat is a long-term effort. It is important for us to challenge the young ones to move outwards instead of growing up focused on themselves,” he said.
He stressed, again, that engaging in missions should not happen only thousands of miles away, but is often right at our doorstep.
“I think the calling to missions is first a lifestyle, before it is a place.”
This article was first published on YMI and is republished with permission.
- What are some qualities you look for in a spouse?
- What do you think God has called you to in life?
- How would you navigate dating someone who may not have the same calling?
- Lift up every aspect of your future to God in prayer. He’ll handle the rest! 🙂