“Don’t take little steps of obedience lightly”: How this ships ministry realised their roadblocks were but stepping stones to something greater
by Gracia Lee // June 25, 2021, 3:53 pm
Hudson Kim and Winston Tham after meeting on the boat Tham dedicated to missions. "God knit our hearts together whilst worshipping and praying on the boat," said Kim. Photo courtesy of Hudson Kim.
As with many things, the Covid-19 pandemic threw a wrench in Hudson Kim’s well-laid plans.
For the past eight years, the YWAM Singapore Medical Ships team, which Kim has been leading since 2018, has sailed a medical ship up and down a river in Southeast Asia, extending healthcare, education and friendship to those living in its remote islands.
Slowly but surely, they had established a strong rapport with the villagers, one that was unheard of in the archipelago.
Even when their ship was decommissioned due to its old age, his team members continued to be welcomed into the locals’ homes and communities when they visited about once a month. It was a promising breakthrough.
Then, in February 2020, the pandemic hit. Borders were shut. All planned trips to the region were cancelled.
Months passed without progress and the team grew increasingly discouraged. “There wasn’t much we could do,” recalled Kim, 39.
Questions swirled in their heads: Wasn’t reaching the unreached in these remote villages a vision that God had placed on their hearts? Hadn’t they been making so much good progress? How would their ministry move forward now?
Then, quite unexpectedly, a series of seemingly ordinary events – yet divinely orchestrated – reinvigorated the ministry’s trajectory far beyond what Kim, and everyone else involved, could have imagined.
Standing in a liminal space
After their medical ship was decommissioned in June 2019, Kim just hoped to have another vessel to continue the work.
However, no one in the team was quite sure how to go about doing that. Should they build a new vessel, or buy one? How would it be fitted out?
After a time of prayer and discerning, they received two words from the Lord: Liminal space.
None of them were professionals in the maritime industry.
In fact, when God had called YWAM Singapore in 2013 to start a medical ships ministry, no one in the organisation had any expertise, experience or knowledge in either maritime or medicine.
It had purely been by God’s grace and provision – of a local doctor, missionaries and professionals in maritime – that they managed to get the ship up and running for seven years.
After a time of prayer and discerning, they received two words from the Lord: Liminal space.
Formed from the Latin root limen, which means “threshold”, the word “liminal” refers to a place of transition in which you have left something behind, yet are not yet fully in something else.
“It’s like we’re pregnant and we don’t know when it’s coming, or where or how, but we have to learn to be okay with that.”
The team took it to mean that they were to embrace the uncertainty and wait patiently.
“God has something in store but it’s a time to just trust Him and be okay to be in that place of tension,” Kim elaborated. “It’s like we’re pregnant and we don’t know when it’s coming, or where or how, but we have to learn to be okay with that.”
Even without the medical vessel, they continued to visit the locals in the villages, going into their homes and teaching English in their schools. They were warmly welcomed almost everywhere they went, said Kim.
Excited for the headway they were making, they began planning for more visits to these villages in 2020, a year they were certain would see even greater breakthroughs.
But in February 2020, Covid-19 struck.
The struggle of waiting
Borders were soon closed, putting a screeching halt to their plans and momentum.
At a loss as to what to do, they went on their knees in prayer: “God, this is Your work. You started this. You brought us through this amazing journey. We know this must continue but it just looks dim and we’re a bit lost. How do You want this to go on?”
Hadn’t their ministry been showing gleaming signs of promise? Why disrupt that now?
As the days went by, they began to understand that this season of pause was a good time to rest, recuperate and reflect on the past seven years of ministry.
“It was a word that was given to the missions world as a whole in 2020, that God is pruning our mission and our strategy in the way forward,” said Kim.
He took the time to search out new avenues of getting a new vessel, which he hoped would be ready by the time they could return to the archipelago.
But waiting was not easy.
As the end of the year rolled around, the pandemic was still raging in many parts of the world with no sign of abating. The team grew “quite discouraged”, said Kim, adding that his attempts to find a new vessel had also been unsuccessful.
Disheartened, the team was left wondering what exactly God was trying to do. Hadn’t their ministry been showing gleaming signs of promise? Why disrupt that now? What was God trying to say to them?
A testimony in Salt&Light
Then, on December 21, 2020, Kim received a message on Instagram after Salt&Light published a story on the YWAM Singapore’s ships ministry, which mentioned that the ministry was in a season of waiting.
“Hi Hudson, read about your medical ships ministry on Salt&Light. Passed on the link to a church friend who has been talking about doing something similar for a while now – he’s ex-shipping and an avid seafarer.”
The message was from Pius Tang, someone whom Kim had become acquainted with on social media earlier in May. Tang had first reached out to Kim on Instagram after being inspired by Kim’s testimony in Salt&Light.
Tang, 38, told Salt&Light that when he read the story on the ships ministry, he immediately thought of his former cell group mate Winston Tham.
Clearly passionate, Tham had often shared with the cell group his vision of marrying maritime with missions, though “no one could really make anything out of it”, recalled Tang, who is a commercial manager in an energy intelligence company.
The bold vision
It was a dream that Tham, a seafarer-turned-secondary-school-teacher, had pondered in his heart for a decade.
He had first been inspired at a boat show in 2010 after chancing upon Sailing Yacht Vega, a secular community service vessel that brought books, stationary and other necessities to remote islands that are inaccessible by road.
At a church service a few days after his visit, the preacher mentioned that in many of these remote islands, most people living there are unreached.
While there are existing missions ships like the Logos Hope by international missions organisation Operation Mobilisation, these larger vessels are often unable to reach these islands as the river channels are too narrow and the waters too shallow, said Tham, 42.
“That was when the vision started to come to me, to train and equip sailor-missionaries to skipper small boats so they can serve on floating churches and classrooms, and bring the word of God across the archipelago and to the ends of the world,” he said.
At the time, he had just set up a maritime enrichment programme for students called Youth Skipper Flotilla.
Invigorated by this new vision, he obtained a boat, which he named the Spirit of Francis in honour of the man who gifted it to him, and spent five years pulling together a syllabus to train young sailors with the help of his contacts from the maritime industry.
While the maritime enrichment programme was secular, he hoped that someday, somehow, it would eventually transform into a platform where these sailor-missionaries could be trained and sent out.
Meeting dead ends
But by 2015, he was burnt out. Youth Skipper Flotilla no longer had any trainees as Tham was just too tired to keep it going.
“Owning this vision alone and having to cope with work as a teacher, it was taking a lot of my life away,” he told Salt&Light.
“Keep the Spirit of Francis alive.”
Discouraged, he felt that the vision he had received had sputtered and died. For the next five years it remained parked on the shelf as Tham also grappled with a season of spiritual darkness in his personal walk with God.
But in 2019, a close friend’s dying words changed all that. Captain Don Philip Kannangara, a fellow seafarer, had these last few cryptic words for Tham as he lay dying from cancer: “Keep the Spirit of Francis alive.”
Though Tham was confused by these words – the Spirit of Francis had long been dead to him – it prompted him to get his heart right before God by repenting from his “loose life” and turning to God for His grace, said Tham.
With his passion reinvigorated, he reached out to missionaries who helped him to draw up a detailed plan to set up a maritime academy with the goal of training sailor-missionaries.
It seemed like things were finally headed somewhere.
But by the end of 2020, the momentum they had gained began to die down. Was this yet another dead end?
That was when he received a WhatsApp message from his old cell group mate, Tang.
A goosebumps moment
Two days later on Boxing Day, all three of them – Kim, Tang and Tham – found themselves seated around a table at a café in Raffles City.
After exchanging pleasantries and small talk, Tham pulled out a thick folder of documents containing all that he had dreamt up in the past 10 years and placed it on the table.
“I read just the first few lines and literally got shivers down my spine and goosebumps all over,” Kim told Salt&Light.
The introduction read:
Due to the insular nature of these (remote) islands … many communities in these areas have no access to any form of education, communion, word and/or ministry. The mission of (the naval academy) is to train and equip small scale sailor‐missionaries to serve on floating churches and classrooms to bring ministry and the word of God across the archipelago.
“Even when we think He is not working, He is always working behind the scenes, orchestrating things.”
“It almost felt like YWAM Singapore’s ships ministry wrote that,” said Kim in amazement, adding that Tham had exactly what YWAM Singapore lacked – expertise in the maritime industry. In turn, YWAM Singapore had exactly what Tham lacked – expertise in frontier missions.
“It was a perfect match,” said Kim.
As they spoke more deeply about this vision they shared, it felt like each of their parched hopes were finally being watered again.
“Waiting was perhaps the most painful thing. But even when we give up, He never gives up on us. Even when we think He is not working, He is always working behind the scenes, orchestrating things,” said Tham.
By the end of their conversation, they were both in tears, surrendering to God in prayer whatever He would make out of this divinely orchestrated meeting.
Far beyond our imaginings
In the six months since that first meeting, Kim, Tham and other leaders from YWAM Singapore have been working to put together a plan to open a maritime academy that can equip missionaries to be accredited sailors of small ships, so that they can be sent into regions that can only be reached by water.
Sensing a call from God to take the leap of faith, Tham also resigned in May from his job as an educator to join YWAM Singapore full-time.
Giving up his stable and well-paying job was not an easy decision, admitted Tham, who is married with two young children.
“But when we realise how great, how wide, how deep His love for us is, giving up and surrendering what holds us back is never difficult anymore,” he said, adding that it was only after he began making spiritual decisions in line with Christ did he see his long-held vision finally bear fruit.
”We cannot fathom the plans that God has for the salvation of the people in this region.”
“The love, joy, peace and provision that He gives will far, far outweigh what the lust of the flesh or desires of the heart could ever fulfil,” he said.
While they are unable to publicly share more details of the academy at this time, Kim told Salt&Light that all that has happened has far exceeded what he had thought God was going to do in the ministry.
“God has been blowing my mind and just letting me know how limited my perception is compared to what he actually wants to do in this archipelago,” he said.
“I thought the connection with Winston was to get another vessel floating on the river, but God has opened up a brand new door to doing mission work through small ships,” he said, adding that their reach will be wider with the launch of this new academy.
The work is still taking shape, and while Kim said he “totally has no idea” what God’s plans for the region will ultimately look like, he believes it will continue to surpass anything they could have ever dreamt up themselves.
“His ways are so much higher and His thoughts are so much deeper. We will not be able to fathom the plans that God has for the salvation, for the redemption and the restoration of the people in this region,” he said.
Joining the grand vision
Hoping that more professionals – both in the business and maritime industry – will catch on to this dream and volunteer their time, connections and expertise, Kim urged them to partner with missionaries to create platforms that can reach the last frontiers.
“The Bible-telling, Gospel-sharing missionaries need to be partnered up with people in the marketplace. It’s not just the maritime industry. If you’re a financial investor, you are called to be a light in your field and to collaborate with missionaries or a mission field to fulfil God’s purposes and plans together.”
Adding that God calls individuals to partner with Him in the mighty works that He is doing, not just now but throughout generations, he urged: “Don’t take little steps of obedience lightly. They can affect the multitudes and the nations.”
Did you know?
There are more than 6,000 islands in our backyard that have not heard the name of Jesus. If you’re interested in joining what God is doing in the world through maritime and missions, reach out to YWAM Singapore here.
Watch what boat owners in the Pacific Islands are doing for the Great Commission, and the vision YWAM has for our region:
Find out more at their website here.