Faith

She gave $50 to a single mum to learn to sew. This would multiply into livelihoods for 80 more women

Salt&Light rejoices with OM Singapore as they celebrate 40 years of God's unchanging faithfulness!

by Gemma Koh // September 16, 2021, 7:09 pm

women

Photos for illustrative purposes, courtesy of Operation Mobilisation.

She ran away from her alcoholic husband who doused their son in kerosene, trying to burn him alive.

Living in a developing country in South Asia, Dani* desperately needed a job to feed herself and her son. She had some sewing skills.

Then she met Ling* who had left the comforts of Singapore to see how she could help the locals in Dani’s country.

With S$50 of her pocket money, Ling sent Dani to sewing school. She bought materials and gave Dani a prototype of coin pouches to sew. Then Ling would take them back to Singapore to sell as souvenirs.

This one effort would snowball into a business that would provide jobs for single mothers and an enterprise that would bring healing to women who had been trafficked into prostitution.

Encounter in Toa Payoh Garden

Now in her 50s, Ling herself had had a rough and bitter start to life.

Her father had abandoned her in a graveyard when she was aged 9, after her mother left the house.

Ling was raised by her grandmother. She fought frequently with adults at home and was punched by an older male relative.

“I was so surprised because how would he know I was looking for something or someone to change my life?”

When she was 14, she slammed the door and walked out of home after a fight with her grandma. (Though she would later regret being rude to her grandmother.)

That day in Toa Payoh Garden, she told a friend: “I wish I could be changed.”

That very day, they were approached by two men and a woman, who shared with them about Jesus.

“I brushed off what they said. I didn’t think I was a sinner,” Ling told Salt&Light.

But when one of them started sharing his own testimony, she leaned forward.

“He said, ‘God changed my life. So He can change your life.’

“I was so surprised because how would he know I was looking for something or someone to change my life?”

“It transformed me from a joyless person to a joyful person. I felt that God is real.”

Ling accepted the Lord into her life in that garden.

She faced objections from her family who were staunch believers of another faith.

“As much as they were trying to shake Christianity off me, all the more I felt that the faith I found had given me a lot of peace and joy.

“It transformed me from a joyless person to a joyful person. I felt that God is real.”

Ling’s mother threw her out of the house.

She was 17. Ironically, it gave her the freedom to attend church regularly.

She would eventually reconcile with her mum, and grow a heart for single mothers like her own.

Shaking round and round

At age 18, Ling attended a mission conference. The message preached resonated with her.

“I felt it was meant for me. I felt so warm in my heart.”

“I am a logical person – a mathematics, numbers person. What if I heard wrongly?”

Ling tried to resist going forward when the preacher made the altar call for people to give their lives to serve the Lord.

“I am a logical person – a mathematics, numbers person. What if I heard wrongly?”

Afraid of being embarrassed, she tried to sit quietly in her chair.

“But suddenly, I started shaking violently back and forth, round and round. I felt so embarrassed. Little did I know that it was the prompting of the Holy Spirit. So I stood up and, suddenly, everything became very calm and quiet. No one had noticed me shaking.

“Lord, if you call me, I will go,” she told the Lord.

But the time was not yet right. She gave in to family expectations to complete her studies, and later worked to pay back her university fees.

A prayer before landing

Ling kept asking the Lord: “When can I go?”

Ten years after hearing the call, she decided it was time to see “if it is really God’s calling”.

“Before I land, please help me to love the people so that I can serve them.”

“I can’t wait anymore. One day I’ll be 60, and I’ll still be in Singapore regretting I didn’t go.”

She went to a camp organised by Operation Mobilisation (OM) that showcased different mission needs in different countries.

She narrowed down her choices to one country in Europe and one in South Asia.

Praying to God to lead the way, she received a dream of women in the characteristic dress of a South Asian country.

She was disappointed for she had preconceived notions about the country and her people.

Ling would call the land in South Asia her land, and its people her people – even after she was made to flee the country. Photo courtesy of OM Singapore.

But she obeyed. She wound up her accounting and hamper businesses in Singapore and got on the plane to South Asia in 1996.

She prayed: “God, give me a compassionate heart. Before I land, please help me to love the people so that I can serve them.

When she landed, she started to “fall in love with the people and really love them”.

God would also lead her to ponder over James 2:16: “If one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and well fed’, but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?”

The land would become her homeland for the next 15 years. The people would become her people.

Natural businesswoman

In her new home, Ling started learning the language and quickly made friends with the locals.

Then she met Dani, the single mother whose son was almost burnt alive by his father.

God was using her “natural gift for business” to restore the dignity of women who had been at a disadvantage.

With the S$50 in her pocket, Ling sent Dani to sewing school. She bought materials and gave Dani a prototype of little pouches to sew. Ling would take them back to Singapore to sell as souvenirs.

God multiplied her efforts.

Demand for the souvenirs grew beyond what Dani could manage.

To the team she added more single mothers. Many had been abandoned by their husbands. Their repertoire was expanded to include bags and clothes that were soon sold to more countries.

The women earned enough to pay for lodging, put food on the table, and pay for their children’s school fees.

She started an enterprise in 1997 offering hope to these women.

God was using her “natural gift for business” that He had given her to also provide emotional support and restore the dignity of women who had been at a disadvantage.

Ling and her team provided a livelihood for 20 women – mainly single mums.

“At that time, I was very stretched as I didn’t have anyone to help. I was doing everything myself,” she said.

Helping single mothers

She did not realise it then that she could be stretched even further.

When an American OM worker visited the enterprise, he had this proposal: “If my wife were to teach you to make aromatherapeutic products, will you hire more people and help more people?

At that time, Ling was nearly burnt out. “I said, ‘No, no. no. I don’t want another business. I don’t think I can manage.’

“But the idea about helping more people got stuck in my head. Because a lot of ladies who come to me cannot see properly, and therefore cannot sew and cannot get a job with the enterprise.

“But with this new business, I can hire ladies who cannot sew.”

“But the idea about helping more people got stuck in my head.”

She prayed about it, and started the business in 2001.

To her surprise, the sale of herbal aromatherapeutic products became more successful than the handicrafts. These products showcased nature’s bounty nurtured by the country’s climate and soil.

Devotions and prayers were part of the team’s daily routine.

An onsite crèche provided care for their children while they worked.

Over 15 years in that country, Ling employed 80 women – mostly single mothers.

Blinding their eyes

In 2008, Ling had to let go of a staff who had been stealing from the business.

“She was very unhappy and reported me to the police. She told them that I was a missionary and I was not there to do business.

“So I was blacklisted.”

Ling went back to Singapore to lie low for a while.

When she felt it was safe for her to return to South Asia, she found two male travellers to accompany her.

She saw two immigration officers interrogating the travellers: “Where is this lady Ling?”

“I usually like to tongpang people (ask for help) to bring used clothes to the country to distribute.”

Her travel companions were seated in economy, while she was seated in business class. She had been unable to get an economy class ticket that trip.

Ling was the first to disembark from the plane. The sleepy immigration officer stamped her passport and let her though.

She collected her bags – including the ones with the used clothes – from the luggage carousel.

Her fellow travellers were nowhere to be seen. She backtracked to immigration.

“I was very gung-ho and thought that since I could speak the local language, I would see if they were stuck and needed help.”

There, she saw two immigration officers interrogating the travellers: “Where is this lady Ling? She is not supposed to go through.” Her fellow travellers were stunned and clueless.

She quickly turned around and slipped out of the airport – old clothes and all.

“God blinded their eyes,” she said of the officers.

She exited the country and headed for India.

A suitor

Ling still had a heart for the people she had served for 15 years, and found many of them in India. She told God that she wanted to continue to serve them, for she knew their language and was familiar with their culture.

Among “her people” was a pastor, whom she helped become self-sufficient by imparting some business skills to him.

“I would like to, but there’s no one in the horizon. Maybe you can pray for me?”

Like most from his culture, he was blunt in his curiosity. He wanted to know why Ling was not married.

She told him: “I would like to, but there’s no one in the horizon. Maybe you can pray for me?”

The pastor took her request very seriously. He prayed and, after six months, found a man to introduce to her.

Ling made a polite excuse not to meet the man. She was afraid he might have been someone who wanted to marry a foreigner as a ticket to a better life.

Three months later, the pastor asked her to visit him in his city. The pastor said he wanted to learn more about business from her.

But when she met up with him, “he seemed not to understand what I was teaching him. I was getting frustrated”, she said.

Then the pastor admitted: “Sister, my real intention is for you to meet this brother.”

This brother-in-Christ was Thomas* – the same man the pastor had wanted to introduce to her three months earlier. 

Thomas met her criteria for a potential husband: To “see that helping the poor is a form of ministry”.

From the moment he saw Ling, Thomas was “100% sure” she was the one for him.

Ling was not so sure. “I’m a typical Singaporean. I have to know a person for at least two years first.

“Let me pray about it,” she told her suitor.

She heard God say: “Nothing is impossible.”

Thomas met 9 out of 10 of Ling’s criteria she had for a potential husband. They included an ability to preach, as well as to “see that helping the poor is a form of ministry”.

God provided the independent woman with a life partner in more ways than one. Four months after they met, they tied the knot in 2011.

Thomas would also be her protector, and when they eventually fled to India, he would front the business in a culture where women were often considered invisible.

Running for their lives

Thomas had been the co-founder of an NGO that provided livelihood projects for believers of a certain religion in India.

But God spoke to him to leave that to accompany Ling back to her host country in South Asia.

After their honeymoon in 2011, they returned to a country in upheaval. A group of rebels, trying to overthrow the ruling party, were extorting money from the community.

On Sunday, the couple ran for their lives and boarded a plane to India.

One day a mob of 80 people armed with weapons jumped over the gate of their factory. They banged and threw things around. They threatened to kill Ling and Thomas.

Heartbreakingly, the mob included some single mothers that Ling had helped. They had been lured by the promise of S$10,000 if they joined the rebels.

But God protected them.

“Thomas was a very good negotiator,” said Ling. He stalled their demands for money and told them: “It is Friday. We are very tired. Let us not talk now. Come back on Monday and we’ll talk about it.”

On Sunday, the couple ran for their lives and boarded a plane to India.

Later that year, they wound up the businesses and compensated the workers.


*Names have been changed and details omitted for the safety of the interviewees.


This is Part 1 of Ling’s story of how she grew a heart for women in South Asia who had been battered by abusive men. Check back next week for Part 2 of Ling and Thomas’s story in India, where they would provide a livelihood and hope to women who had been trafficked into prostitution.

God has a good plan for your life. Join OM in bringing His love to those who do not know Jesus. Explore opportunities here: www.sg.om.org or drop a note to [email protected] if you would like to be equipped and mentored for missions.

Follow OM Singapore on Instagram and Facebook.

40 God Stories

To commemorate their 40th year, OM Singapore has published a book, Unchanging: On Mission With a Faithful God, capturing 40 God-stories of Singaporeans, including Ling and Thomas, who love God and His mission in many parts of the world.

“The quintessence of OM rests on the premise that God can use anyone, anytime, anywhere, whenever one hungers for Him. It is about giving God a chance to work in and through us,” said Rev Keith Lai, President of National Council of Churches of Singapore (NCCS), who served on board OM’s Logos ship.

“The 40 curated stories in this book testify to this truth. What a motley bunch of most unlikely individuals. What diverse and interesting backgrounds. But all with an underlying common thread – a touch of God’s grace stirring in their hearts to leave home and venture into the fathomless unknown.” 

To purchase the book for yourself and your friends, click here.

About the author

Gemma Koh

Gemma has written about everything from spas to scuba diving holidays. But has a soft spot for telling the stories of lives changed, and of people making a difference. She loves the colour green, especially on overgrown trees. Gemma is Senior Writer & Copy Editor at Salt&Light.