As LoveTimor marks 20 years of ministry this year, we’re shining a light on Singaporean missionaries who are shining God’s light in the land of Timor-Leste.

DAVID CHAN (49), founder and principal of St. Paul Methodist School, tells us all about his first steps of faith before uprooting his entire family for a new life living, learning and teaching in Timor-Leste.

How did you take your first step as a missionary?

I had been in the education sector in Singapore for close to 14 years, and by 2012, I was due for my principalship interview and appointment.

I began praying and asking the Lord for His will because I really wanted to serve Him when I’m at the peak of my life and not when I retire.

Hence, I told God that if it was time for me to leave the Ministry of Education (MOE), He would allow me to fail my interview. Long story short, the interview results came out and I wasn’t cleared. I had failed the interview.

I then asked the Lord for another sign – because He was asking me to leave something that I love!

The second sign came through a movie called The Dark Knight Rises.

Towards the end of the movie, a policeman threw his badge into the sea. That led him to find the Batcave and eventually become Robin.

As I watched the movie, God impressed on my heart that I had to first throw away my “badge” before He would reveal His plan for me. I had to make the decision to resign first.

Eventually in December 2012, God spoke to me during a church camp.

In his sermon, Pastor Benny Ho gave a mandate to seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the fatherless, plead for the widows – and run a school without walls.

I sang these lines as a commitment to the Lord: “Won’t You Lord, take a look at our hands. Everything we have, use it for Your plan.”

How did you end up serving in Timor-Leste?

After I left MOE, I began telling the people around me that I had resigned but did not know where I was going.

When I eventually spoke to my pastor in 2013, she said, “David, have you considered Timor-Leste? Why don’t you go to the Methodist Missions Society (MMS) and ask about Timor-Leste?”

That was the first time that Timor-Leste was brought into the picture.

And so I went to MMS. The first time I entered one of the rooms there, I saw the map of Timor-Leste – and God brought back a memory from 2008.

Back then, I was a vice-principal at Fairfield Methodist School (Primary).

One evening, when I was walking out of the school with my friend, I said, “We are so blessed to have Fairfield thanks to our founder. How I wish we could bring Fairfield international one day.”

God reminded me of this conversation when I saw the map of Timor-Leste in the MMS room. He impressed on my heart that He wanted to fulfil that dream by leading me to start a school in Timor-Leste.

I also found out through MMS that they had been applying for a non-governmental organisation (NGO) certificate since 2010. The application went silent for two years but in December 2012, they suddenly received an email from the Ministry of Justice saying that the license had been approved.

Then in January 2013, Datuk Edward Ong, the developer of Pelican Paradise, also approached MMS. He offered MMS five hectares of land and asked if they were willing to start a school because he wanted it to be part of the Pelican Paradise project.

Within a month, they got a plan, a license and a land. They simply needed someone to start the school. It seemed like I was the missing piece to the plan that God was orchestrating.

Thus, that began the journey of planning and preparing to leave. My family decided to call Timor-Leste our final destination, so we took about three years to round up everything in Singapore and eventually left on 8 September 2015.

How did St. Paul Methodist School come about?

As we proceeded with the project, we felt that God was leading us to part from the Pelican Valley. The project was located in the western side of Timor but we felt led to the eastern side of the country. 

In 2016, St. Paul Methodist School was established officially. We started our first Grade 7 class by renting a school.

In 2018, my pastor and the MMS regional director came to visit Timor-Leste. They asked intercessors to pray for God’s direction, and they received the prompting that we should pick a land that is near the sea and next to a river.

I was set on four plots of land. Three of them were in Hera, the city centre, while the other one was in Metinaro. I was keen to pick one of the lands in Hera, but since none of them was near the sea and next to a river, we explored the land in Metinaro.

When we visited the land, we crossed a river and the landowner said that was the land that he would lease to us. The land was also very near the sea, just about 500 meters away.

Hence, we decided to build our school compound on the land in Metinaro, on the east side of East Timor. I believe that was where God was leading us because East Timor literally means “east east”.

That was 2018. It took us three years to look for a plot of land before we could decide on the final location of the school.

What is your dream for St. Paul Methodist School and Timor-Leste moving forward?

While St. Paul is a Methodist school, the unity of the Body is really very strong over here.

I have people from different denominations coming to say that they can help with different aspects of the school.

Timor-Leste is like a party that embraces and allows groups from different denominations and organisations to work together.

In recent years, the Lord has given me the vision that He will one day use Timor as the light to bring the Good News to the ends of the earth.

During the recent pandemic, we realised that when the world came to a complete standstill, Timor continued to survive.

Timor-Leste is like a party that embraces and allows groups from different denominations and organisations to work together.

I believe there will come a season of time when the world, that is so entwined with technology, will come to a standstill and experience hopelessness.

That is when Timor will come to be that light. The latest vision that God has shown me is that Timor will be a crisis-management nation.

This is what I always impart to my students. I tell them that they are not just here to secure a good job and a good future. They are to be sent out to bring the light of Christ to the ends of the earth.

What is one thanksgiving you have from this whole journey?

I am thankful for how God has brought my family closer together through this journey.

When we first came over to Timor-Leste, my family would gather every night to read the Bible and do devotions together. We were often able to encourage each other through the Word of God.

Because of St. Paul Methodist School, my three children were also able to go through school together in the same class. That would have been impossible in the Singapore education system.

Our journey together as a family allowed us to know and support each other better.

We remind each other to live within our means and to be content with what we have, and we encourage each other as we live and be with the people of Timor-Leste.

Together as a family, we deny ourselves, pick up the cross and follow Christ daily.

How can we contribute to the work in Timor-Leste?

To anyone who is interested in the work in Timor, I would encourage you to come and walk the land.

As an educator, I can easily tell you what are the needs and opportunities according to my profession.

But the Lord may impart different and unique burdens to you according to your talents and gifts. God may open your eyes to see certain things that I can’t tell you.

Hence, as long as you feel that you can contribute in some way – come and explore. Come and see how we can come together and build this nation together.

Our dream is that through St. Paul Methodist School, we would build up a generation of students who are willing to pick up their cross and follow Christ.

Interested in finding out more about the work in Timor-Leste? Take a baby step by reaching out to the Methodist Missions Society!