Newlyweds Melvin Soon, 28, and Joanne Ong, 26, are spending their first Christmas in their new home. But they will not be celebrating alone.
Over the span of one week, the couple will host three different groups of people whom they have come to befriend.
You see, the couple have a radical yet ordinary vision for their house, which they have affectionately named “Salam”.
As an abbreviation, it stands for “Salt and Light as Missionaries”. It also reminds them of the Hebrew word shalom, which means “peace”.
“Naming our home reminds us of our mission,” Joanne remarked. “And our mission is to allow anyone who comes into our home to experience peace,” she explained.
Although they have been married for fewer than 10 months, Salam has already been a place of refuge for at least four different families who have been in need of shelter.
While highly missional in their thinking, it is remarkable to note that neither Melvin nor Joanne are “full-time missionaries”, according to our conventional understanding of what the label means. He is an engineer, while she is a social worker.
Sharing how God had started them on this unique journey with baby steps, the couple confessed that this way of living did not always come to them naturally or instinctively.
It was during her university years that Joanne, regularly volunteered with a group of children living in rental blocks.
As she witnessed firsthand their hardships and resilience, and built relationships with them, her passion to serve the less privileged grew.
It was different for Melvin, however.
“I was very uncomfortable with the idea of doing this kind of things,” he admitted, recounting how he had little desire to reach out in such ways when he was younger.
But God relentlessly challenged him over the years, showing him His heart for the marginalised, and His commands for His people to love and care for those around them.
That inspired Melvin to step out in action.
And yet while God was speaking to each of them individually, He was also bringing about a new season in their lives.
Melvin and Joanne met each other through mutual friends. As they got to know one another and shared their hearts for ministry, they discovered an alignment of values.
When they started to date, Melvin and Joanne picked up a book to read together: You and Me Forever: Marriage in Light of Eternity by Francis Chan and Lisa Chan. This book became foundational in shaping their discussion on how they could love God, serve Him and share Christ together.
In fact, one of their first projects as a couple was during their one-year dating anniversary.
They celebrated it by buying and customising cups for the children that Joanne had been reaching out to. These were meant to be gifts for Children’s Day.
The couple humbly recounted how they lacked the funds and even the design skills to execute their plans. They were only able to carry out the project because different friends chipped in.
“At that early stage, we learnt that we couldn’t do this on our own, and that we would always have to tap the resources of our church and our community,” said Melvin.
“Whatever small ideas God planted in our hearts, even if it was really random, we would bounce off ideas [with each other] and pray for courage to just do these little things,” shared Joanne.
A COMMUNITY SPACE PROVIDED BY GOD
When it finally came to the time to purchase a home together, that, too, was a journey of seeking the Lord and responding in obedience.
Revealing that their 5-room flat in an old estate in the west had not been their initial choice, the couple said that their first housing application had failed.
After deciding to try for an open booking, Joanne had a dream that the ballot number they would receive would be “6” and their future flat would be on the 4th floor.
When she received the message with that exact ballot number, she was amazed. “When that came to pass, it was an assurance of God’s guidance,” said Joanne.
Setting aside an afternoon to check out the available units that they had shortlisted, they realised that their current house was not only located near two families they were reaching out to in the vicinity, but also on the 4th floor!
As they prayed over the unit and their potential neighbours, they felt a conviction that God had led them to stay here.
And it was through these small steps of obedience the led the couple to take a brave leap to open their house to families in need. In fact, the first two opportunities came even before they moved in – but after their place had been fully renovated.
“Those were only for one or two weeks, but I think God was really planting those small opportunities to grow… And from those small opportunities that God gave us to steward, larger opportunities came,” said Joanne.
And one such opportunity came just a week after the couple moved into their home.
On April 6, just before the Circuit Breaker kicked in, the couple heard of a missionary family of seven who was stuck in Singapore with no available plane ticket back home.
Melvin and Joanne immediately made plans to move out of their home to make room for the family.
“That was a very transformative experience for both of us because we were newlyweds,” Joanne explained.
“When we returned back home after two months, what stood out the most for us was that it didn’t even feel like we were returning home. It felt like we were returning to a community space.”
SHARING LIFE TOGETHER
But their house isn’t just a physical place for people to stay. Melvin and Joanne want to welcome whomever they cross paths with to share and do life with them as a family.
With their current guests (a single mother and her child), they have enjoyed numerous heartfelt conversations, home-cooked meals, shared hobbies and even surprise birthday celebrations.
It is in this spirit that the couple are opening their home to three different groups this Christmas, including the children (now youths) that Joanne had been ministering to over the years and friends of their current guests.
When asked about what they were planning to do, Melvin and Joanne shared that they intend to keep it very simple with no frills – a dinner, some carols and games, and the sharing of the Christmas story.
After all, their focus has never been on programmes, but on building relationships and serving people through what Joanne calls “radical ordinary hospitality”.
The couple also wants to intentionally befriend their neighbours after their current guests move out at the end of the month. The plan is to invite different families over for fellowship dinners between January and February 2021.
When asked about the fruits of their labour so far, Melvin recognised that the opportunity to share not just happy moments, but also the pains and sorrows of their guests, was a worthy thing in itself.
Often, their guests are grateful for the fact that there is someone there to listen to their struggles and offer a refuge in time of need.
For instance, they had sheltered a lady showing trauma symptoms due to family circumstances. It was heartening for them to hear that being able to stay in their home temporarily was a very restful experience for her.
“We were one of the few friends who cared,” recalled Melvin.
Looking back on this journey of hospitality that God has brought him on, Melvin shared this word of encouragement.
“No matter what your capacity is – how much you can take, how much you can serve – try to match that,” he said. “At most, push yourself a little bit out of your comfort zone. Eventually as you push yourself a bit, your capacity can also increase.”
While it hasn’t been easy, Melvin spoke with conviction on how it has been so worth it.
“There is a sense of peace in knowing you’re following the will of God in obeying His Word – to know you’re at the centre of God’s heart and will. It is an amazing feeling.”
- What does the Bible say about God’s heart for the poor and marginalised?
- What small step might He be calling you to take to serve those in need currently?
- What resources can you tap on and who can you rally to serve together?