TRIGGER WARNING: This story contains material about suicidal thoughts and a suicide attempt that some may find distressing.

I grew up actively serving in church from the tender age of 9.

I remember being excited to get involved in every ministry possible as a youth – choir, dance, ushering, outreach, worship, technical crew… even folding Sunday bulletins and stacking chairs!

Serving was where I found my spiritual community, and how I grew the most over the years.

I was psyched to be at every church event possible, including 6am dawn prayers before heading to school (I was one of those kids excited enough to invite my teachers to join me).

So in 2004, when my youth pastor rallied all of us for the Fever 100 Conference organised by Joshua 21, the youth missions mobilisation arm of LoveSingapore, I was probably the first in line to sign up — not realising it would change my life forever.

Sarah (third from left) serving on the worship team at 11 years old.

The call: God’s voice

We showed up at Church of our Saviour to find ourselves in the electrifying company of hundreds of young people from churches across Singapore.

I vividly remember an evening packed with passionate praise and worship, hearing about gut-wrenching needs in the nations, inspiring stories from missionaries and a compelling call at the very end.

A challenge to my generation to say “yes” to God’s call to reach the nations.

My heart was stirred. I went right up to the front of the sanctuary alongside hundreds of other young people to say “yes”.

I had no idea what that would look like, no call towards a specific nation, nothing but an open “yes” to the Lord – wherever He may lead, even full-time ministry.

“I’m going for it!”

The next day, my youth pastor gathered a few of us who responded that night to process what the Lord had showed us beyond the “hype of a moment” – what a wise move!

It was a conversation that crystallised my response to the Lord. He challenged me to remember what I responded to and journal it down.

Eighteen years on, I still have that journal. Here are the innocent words of my 12-year-old self:

Sarah’s mug and notebook from the Fever 100 Conference that she still uses today.

I wish I could tell you that life was perfect from that day onwards and I never made a silly decision – but that could not be further from the truth.

My teenage years were turbulent – both at school and at home. There were times where the pain was intolerable. My father’s debts and vices built up, and he eventually left home when I was 14.

I never stopped serving and leading in the youth ministry at church, but as the pain grew within, so did resentment and anger. That year, it culminated to a point where I broke.

“I just felt I had to call you to ask… how are you?”

I left school one afternoon, crossed over to the first HDB estate I saw, went up to the 20th floor and sat on a parapet I casually climbed over. I was prepared to end it all.

I looked out at the view with tears streaming down my face and prayed what I thought would be my last prayer.

“God, I don’t know whether you’re real anymore. But if you’re there and you really love me, show me!” 

I expected nothing to happen. But the moment I said that, my phone began to ring in my pocket. I picked it up and it was my youth pastor.

“I just felt I had to call you to ask… how are you?”

It felt like a return call from Jesus that I never expected. Shook to the core, it felt like I was on holy ground. I began to sob.

In a moment where no one else knew where I was, I knew it was the Lord’s way of telling me: “I saw you. I heard you. I love you.”

The turning point: God’s redemptive story 

What was meant to be the end of the road for me turned into a new beginning.

That moment of divine intervention and encounter with the Lord sent an awakening through my soul.

I walked down 20 storeys thinking: “How dare I even ask God to show me that He loves me when He’s already done that on the cross?” 

Yet, He graciously, lovingly responded when I earnestly cried out. That’s the kind of God we worship. One who redeems our moments of desperation into a renewed destiny.

The Lord had spared my life from my own destruction, and clearly the best decision I could make was to give it over to Him.

That year, I began to find ways to live more intentionally.

Youths from church that Sarah (front row, fourth from left, holding a mic) would go on to lead.

I started volunteering weekly at a social service agency with kids and youth at risk from disadvantaged homes.

In one of those weekly sessions, I was teaching a 10-year-old boy who couldn’t read.

He stood up in a sudden rage of anger and threw a chair at me in frustration because he could not read a word on the page. He came from a background of domestic violence, and his fits of anger were a common occurrence.

Ducking from that chair being flung at me, I had the strangest thought go through my mind: “I could give my life to this…”

I realised the Lord was growing in me a love for the last, the least and the lost, and I felt led to pursue social work.

“Sarah, missions is where ministry and social work will converge. That’s how I’m going to use you.”

At 16, I went on my first mission trip to Timor-Leste. Our youth pastor got us to climb up a hill one morning to pray over the land, and I began to weep.

It wasn’t my first mission trip, but it was my first time weeping uncontrollably for a nation – and one I barely knew.

It was a bizarre experience. By the end of the trip, I was a crying mess every single time we prayed for Timor!

I asked the Lord what all this meant and heard a still small voice that said: “You’ll be back”.

During a hike up to Mount Ramelau on Sarah’s (third from right, in grey jacket) first trip to Timor-Leste in 2009.

Unsure what that meant, I simply made a commitment to return every year for a short-term mission trip and sensed a deepening call towards missions each time I returned.

I began asking: “Lord, I remember a time I felt called to full-time ministry, then a time I was so certain of your leading towards social work, and now it’s missions. If you’re not a God who changes your mind, am I not hearing you right?” 

And He opened my eyes that day. I sensed Him saying: “Sarah, missions is where ministry and social work will converge. That’s how I’m going to use you.”

Fast forward a couple of years, another confirmation of that calling came.

At my 21st birthday celebration, my mother gave me a massive cake of Timor-Leste flag!

She prayed over me that day in the presence of my family and friends, releasing me to the nations He would call me to.

Sarah’s 21st birthday cake that featured the Timor-Leste flag and a key.

The wait: God’s work in us

However, I came to realise that saying “yes” to the call was the easy part. Learning to be faithful in an indefinite wait – that was challenging.

I remember being impatient and raring to go in my teens, wishing I could stop school early and head to the field!

With hindsight, I learnt that the 18 years’ wait was more than necessary.

The more I saw God’s hand of provision, the more assured I was of His presence and call.

It was about God’s work in me – teaching me to be intentional in missional living here in Singapore, shaping me in three ways:

  1. Spiritual intimacy
    I grew to see that my goal in life shouldn’t be about a position in the field, but the pursuit of the Father.
  2. Personal growth
    It was a time of learning to love His Church despite imperfections and pain. After all, how could I be a missionary if I could not love His Bride?
  3. Practical decisions
    It changed my perspective on my studies, knowing I was privileged to study so I could give more. It affected the choice of courses I took in school. It meant having to say “no” more often to friends on nights out or slightly lavish meals, so that I could save up for my next mission trip. 
Sarah (third from left, in green shirt) ended up leading youth groups to Timor-Leste every year.

I was studying at Ngee Ann Polytechnic when I committed to make a trip to Timor-Leste annually – an expensive feat!

So I prayed: “Lord if you want me to go, will you provide? I’ll probably need a part-time job.”

The next day, I met a stranger on the bus. He turned out to be the head of a department at an institution next to my school and was looking for a young person to work for him part-time.

The job paid better than most part-time student jobs and ended up being a main source of my mission trip funds the next one to two years.

The more I saw God’s hand of provision, the more assured I was of His presence and call.

Much later, I would come across a phrase candidly used in Youth With A Mission that I find to be true in my life:

“If it’s God’s will, it’s God’s bill. Where He leads, He feeds. Where He guides, He provides!”

For the first six months of 2016, Sarah was released from church ministry to attend YWAM’s Discipleship Training School. This was during her outreach phase in Papua New Guinea.

The release: God’s timing 

Every year, I asked the Lord if it was time for me to go. Each time, He made it clear that it was a season to stay.

He would speak through my daily devotions, books I happened to be reading, sermons, confirmations from leaders and even people with words of knowledge (and they didn’t know what I was seeking the Lord about)!

I slowly grew more rested in following His timing, and found increasing joy in ministry and playing a part to see other young people live missionally.

In 2019, I found myself learning to die to my own desire to “go”, wondering if perhaps my role was to mobilise others to missions.

So I prayed: “Lord, I am willing to stay. Ready to go. But seeking to obey. Lead me.” It was as if that prayer unlocked something in my heart.

Perhaps I had to come to the place where the “going” was no longer a wrestle of my ambition, but a yielding of the spirit.

And the Lord began to speak in numerous undeniable ways that year. I heard Him say: “Now it’s time for you to go!”

Perhaps I had to come to the place where the “going” was no longer a wrestle of my ambition, but a yielding of the spirit. He knows my heart, and His timing is perfect.

A new beginning

The first thing I did was to share this with my church leadership and senior pastors who prayed, journeyed and gave me their wholehearted support in every way possible to answer God’s call.

In 2021, I was privileged to be sent for a life-changing missions preparation course – the School of Frontier Missions (SoFM) with YWAM.

I was still a full-time ministry staff, but I was released to do the nine-month course since it was held locally due to the pandemic. The training was designed to equip us with skills to reach the unreached.

It was a full year of both ministry and training, fulfilling in every way. God did incredible things not just in ministry, but in my personal life.

He was preparing my heart in ways I didn’t expect, including a miraculous journey of forgiveness and reconciliation with my father.

I saw once again a glimpse of my Heavenly Father’s heart pursing my own, and redeeming aspects of my life beyond my comprehension.

Sarah sharing at her SoFM graduation. Many miracles happened during the course of the year, including seeing salvations, baptisms and missions taking place right here in Singapore.

Right in the middle of it, the next challenge came.

I met with my church’s missions pastors, and we saw the need to raise a team to be sent with me into Timor-Leste for the pioneering work in the districts. 

My first reaction: I laughed (just as Sarah in Genesis 18)! Where would we find a team within a couple of months?

But we started praying for a team, and in typical God fashion, He showed up.

Within two weeks, I had unplanned, divine conversations with two friends while skateboarding. And they both said “yes” to join me for at least a year.

I was mind-blown, yet I knew I shouldn’t be surprised!

This journey of going is about God, not the goer.

Upon graduation from SoFM came a series of transitions I had to make, including wrapping up the eight-and-a-half years in our young people’s ministry and moving on to our missions department.

It was an end to a beautiful season and a start of a new season of unknowns!

Yet over and over again, the passage in Isaiah 43:18-19 came up, assuring me of His presence in the coming days.

“Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.”

These verses have been a deep encouragement to me this season.

It isn’t a call to forget the past and all that He has done, but an assurance that He continues to do His great and mighty work!

What I have seen pales in comparison to what He will do. In other words, I ain’t seen nothin’ yet…

Sarah speaking at St Paul Methodist School in Timor-Leste.

And all this is just the beginning.

Our team just spent three weeks in Timor-Leste in March for our Vision Trip, and we were floored by what the Lord is already doing in that land through pastors, missionaries and disciple-makers who have toiled tirelessly to see a nation transformed by our Lord!

Yet, the work is far from finished.

Our church has recently adopted a district as part of the LoveTimor unity movement (a vision birthed by the late Pastor Rick Seaward, former chairman of LoveSingapore to see the nation transformed, village by village).

We’re praying for the Lord to lead us to divine opportunities to sow into a next generation of Timorese young leaders!

Some of the friends that Sarah has made through her ministry in Timor-Leste.

This journey of going is about God, not the goer.

The God who speaks, redeems, works in us and is faithful to fulfil His ever promise in His perfect time.

I look back in awe of His faithfulness.

The Great Commission isn’t a mission to be fulfilled by any one individual or church, but by the Body of Christ.

I’m forever grateful for missional believers to journey with: leaders and peers who helped me grow in discerning and responding to God’s voice.

And for the blessing of a sending community: family and friends, church elders and para-church organisations.

The season of waiting and preparation opened my eyes to see the potential of the Body of Christ when we unite to send labourers into His harvest field.

The Great Commission isn’t a mission to be fulfilled by any one individual or church, but by the Body of Christ.

As the late Ps Seaward once shared: “An Antioch nation is a nation of churches that are outward-looking and world-conscious. That’s what you see in Acts 13 – everyone was involved.”

Today, we get the immense privilege be a part of God’s Antioch call for Singapore.

Our generation has been blessed by the legacy of many who have gone ahead of us.

The Lord is already at work both here and in the nations. Will we ride that wave with Him?

It’s a new season. Our God is doing a new thing!

It’s time for us to arise and recapture God’s heartbeat for our generation and the nations beyond our shores.

Let’s be a generation that will hear and obey the Father’s voice, carrying His love to the ends of the earth.

As the youth missions mobilisation arm of LoveSingapore from the late-90s to mid-2000s, Joshua 21 challenged teens and 20somethings to consider world missions as a high calling worthy of the best years of their lives. Since then, a new generation has come of age.

You’re invited to the Relaunch of Joshua 21 on June 16, 2022 (Thursday) at Church of our Saviour! Don’t miss out on this historical, in-person gathering of young people across our nation who are uniting for His Kingdom’s purpose.

Expect a time of passionate worship, inspiring stories of His work in the nations and a time of intercession for a world in need of hope! Registration details can be found here.

    1. What are some burdens or dreams that God has placed on your heart?
    2. What is one truth about God you’ve seen through Sarah’s journey?
    3. How can you trust Him and wait well as He leads you to fulfil the plans He has for you?