I recall having “Missions Month” in Sunday School as a child. Each week’s Sunday School lesson included a brief exposure to a different culture, followed by the constraints the people faced in having opportunities to hear the Gospel. We ended the sessions with a list of prayer items for each people group.

It was intriguing to learn about different communities worldwide, but I didn’t see how it was relevant to me. Missions seemed like a cherry on top of regular church programmes – good to have, but not mandatory.

It didn’t help that as I grew older, I chanced on articles like this which suggested mission trips tended to do more harm than good. Every effort to provide aid to a developing country appeared to be a thinly veiled cover-up for the sending team to feel superior about themselves – “aid” provided without true consideration of the country’s needs.

In my misguided understanding, mission trips seemed merely a means to impose ideals and assert authority over a people group perceived as “inferior” to the mission teams’ homeland.

As God’s chosen instrument, all I can do is avail myself for His use, trusting God to save some in His time.

My first taste of overseas missions was an exposure trip to China in December 2012.

As part of Singapore Crusade for Christ’s (now known as Cru Singapore) 40th anniversary celebrations, 40 mission teams were sent worldwide to expand the reach of the gospel. My church had a Cru staff member who was leading a team up, so I signed myself up out of curiosity for new experiences, not from a heart wanting to heed God’s call to proclaim the gospel to the unreached.

We decided that we would use the encounter of Jesus healing the paralytic at Capernaum (Mark 2:1-12) to share the gospel, a story I had been familiar with since childhood. We thought it would be almost effortless to narrate this from memory – but soon learnt it was a different challenge altogether recounting it in Mandarin.

We Googled and searched our Bible apps in desperation for the version with the simplest Mandarin translation we could find!

That was the first thing I learnt about missions, even before the trip had begun: To never take for granted my knowledge of the Gospel, so that I am prepared to share it wherever, whenever.

Part of the programme included us preparing for a session of English enrichment at a private school, using the parable of the prodigal son. At the same time, a parenting talk would be held for their parents. We had no idea how many people would turn up, but as it was a weeknight during the Chinese school term, we were told not to anticipate a large turnout – maybe 10 people, or 20 in the best-case scenario.

That night, the turnout for the event caught the team by surprise, and I don’t say this in an encouraging way. Apart from the children of the couple who ran the private school, there was only one older lady, a non-Christian.

But on hindsight, that day wasn’t meant to be a lesson for kids, but for us. God was teaching us that He would bring to us the people He desired – not those we desired.

What happened to the people we believed You’d bring, God? Is this how You’d encourage a first-timer in the mission field?

But on hindsight, that day wasn’t meant to be a lesson for kids, but for us. God was teaching us that He would bring to us the people He desired – not those we desired.

As the missionary couple shared with us the nature of their work, they showed numerous pictures of their partnership with various Singapore organisations, both Christian and secular. They explained how the collaborative effort of each mission team and volunteer group played a crucial role in sustaining their ministry over the years.

This helped me realise that while it’s true that short one-off trips probably having a greater impact on those going than those receiving, the fruit of each individual trip has a cumulative effect, ultimately furthering the work of the ministry abroad.

It was clear that they appreciated our presence that night – it gave them opportunities to converse in Singlish, a rare but welcome reminder of home in their sixth year abroad. We spent the night playing games with the missionary family and singing Gospel songs together to encourage them to persevere for God’s kingdom, which is challenging when abroad and alone.

That was my first taste of short-term missions. Since then, I’ve gone on two trips to a different part of China with teams sent by my church.

I’ve learnt that while the programme may vary with every trip I make, God’s heart for His people doesn’t change. God calls His people to proclaim the saving knowledge of the gospel (Romans 10:14) so that those who hear it may be saved (Mark 4:12).

As God’s chosen instrument, all I can do is avail myself for His use, trusting God to save some in His time.