Faith

This little light of mine

Dr Tam Wai Jia // February 4, 2022, 12:04 pm

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When a call came for Dr Tam Wai Jia to serve in Africa during the Covid-19 pandemic, her first reaction was to dismiss it. But then the thought niggled: "If I'm a mother who claims to model faith for my children, why do I justify my lack of availability with my need to steward my children?" All photos courtesy of Dr Tam Wai Jia.

“You’re getting deployed to where in Africa?”

“Eswatini.”

“What?”

“NO, MAMA! NO GO!”

Of course, my children’s response was a vehement “no”. I was their world, and my departure would be like the sun leaving its place in their universe. It would be wrong, overturning the immutable laws of the cosmos.

When I first got the email, my eyes glazed over.

Something in my spirit stirred. Could I preach a sermon on “Will you risk?” if I myself had lost the willingness to risk?

“Wanna go to Africa for six weeks?” my professor wrote.

I chuckled. How ridiculous. “I’m a mom now,” I thought, “surely he knows that!”

The bold letters stared right back at me: Global Outbreak Alert Response Network Call for Humanitarian Assistance in Africa.

I clicked the window shut. Case closed.

Weeks later, while preparing for a sermon called “Will you risk?” something in my spirit stirred. How could I preach this if I myself had lost the willingness to risk?

If I were a mother who claimed to model faith for my children, why did I justify my lack of availability with my need to steward my children?

The email, buried dead and deep in my inbox, began to turn and lurch.

The together-plane

I searched for the email.

It hadn’t changed. There were the same words. A call for humanitarian assistance.

For the first time, I showed it to Cliff.

“Of course, you should say yes. At least offer yourself, no?”

“What? Do you know what you’re saying? What if I actually do get picked?”

A week later, at dawn, I went for my early morning jog, a fresh email weighing heavy on my heart. I did not want to tell Cliff the news.

As soon as I walked in through the door, he called me out: “The email came, didn’t it. Spill it out. So where is it.”

“God spoke to me today: How can I not let you go, when the needs are so great and He’s opened the door?”

The air froze like cracked glass.

“It’s Congo,” I said.

“What?!”

Silence.

We parted ways that day. I took the kids to the zoo while Cliff spent the day with God.

In the afternoon, as he picked me up, I saw his eyes glisten with tears.

“I know that people will ask me how I could possibly let you go to such a dangerous place. But God spoke to me today: How can I not let you go, when the needs are so great and He’s opened the door?”

Tears glistened on two faces.

We began to share the news with our little ones.

Vehement protests – “No!” – gave way to curiosity – “Where is Africa, Mama?” – which gave way to openness: “Are you taking a plane, Mama?” 

One day, during homeschooling, my four-year showed me a picture she had drawn on an exercise book. “Look Mama, this is Papa, Meimei (little sis) and me on a plane. Papa is taking us to have fun somewhere. And that is you, going to Africa.”

Four-year-old Sarah-Faith’s drawing showed her Mama that “though we were heading to different geographical locations, we were on the same vehicle, the same united mission of obeying God”.

I teared.

For months, I had taught my children a little rhyme I had made up for them:

“Even though we may be far apart,

We are always joined heart to heart.”

Her plane drawing encapsulated the spirit of the rhyme. Though we were heading to different geographical locations, we were on the same vehicle, the same united mission of obeying God.

“I will miss you Mama. But God and Papa will take care of me and Meimei here in Singapore.”

Two days later, I was informed that the deployment wasn’t a good fit. My specialisation was in health communication and not being able to speak French was a major disadvantage.

“We’ll rematch you to a different place. But no guarantee.”

Bracelet for Africa

No guarantee.

One Friday evening, as I was scrolling through social media, I came across a quote and felt fresh words drop into my spirit: Make room for what you pray for. 

A physical sensation overcame me. I knew it was the Holy Spirit.

As I was scrolling through social media, I came across a quote and felt fresh words drop into my spirit: Make room for what you pray for. 

The next day, as if in universal conspiracy, my parents, who had not known a thing about these happenings, showed up with bags of my old belongings from their home. I opened them in shock.

There before me lay all my clothes I had packed for mission trips since 2006. My African wear, clothes I had bought during our time of serving in Uganda in 2015, lay neatly folded in a stack.

Make room for what you pray for.

I started packing.

Christmas came and went. No deployment news. I smiled a big, wide smile of relief inside.

Maybe they’ve forgotten me. Maybe there’s just no match. Maybe it was just a test of my faith and I passed. Great.

On Boxing Day, came the warning shot.

“BNLS* countries are interested.”

I felt God say: Get ready.

Then no news again for days.

When the email finally came, our hearts had made space for the life-changing news.

At breakfast the next week, my four-year old looked at me and said: “Mama, before I slept last night, Jesus told me this.”

She took a deep breath, and wagged her right index finger: “Sarah-Faith, don’t worry about your Mummy when she’s in Africa because I will take care of her, okay?”

Such is the child-like faith of a four-year old.

Such is the opportunity we have to impart a faith by leaning on the One who gives us grace to ask for the faith we do not have.

When the email finally came, our hearts had made space for the life-changing news: Urgent Request for RCCE Specialist deployment for COVID-19 Outbreak Response.

Suddenly, I remembered a prophecy shared with me four years ago by a pastor: “You will work one day to save the lives of millions of children.”

I had scoffed in tears back then. Me? The one who scraped through medical school? Yeah right. Millions of children? Please.

Now, through being mistaken for a cartoonist during the Covid-19 outbreak (that is a different story for another time), my life was rerouted. Even when I tried to plan my own ways, God redirected my path.

“Mama, I will miss you. I made this bracelet for you to wear in Africa every day.”

A few short weeks later, I left for Eswatini for nearly two months. I missed Chinese New Year, my firstborn’s 5th birthday and my own birthday.

I was grieved, nervous, excited and petrified all at once.

Always enough

Before I left, my heart broke, knowing that my almost three-year-old would not fully understand why she would awaken one morning to find me gone on a 1am flight.

Whenever I had shared with her that I was leaving for Africa and there would be adjustments, she would throw a fit.

“God, how will my two-year-old ever understand? I need Your peace, a clear sign.”

“No Mama! No go!” She would bury her head in my neck.

Day after day this happened. While my nearly-five-year-old had her own breakthrough, it felt like too much to expect my less-than-three-year-old to accept this unimaginable news.

With only days to go before my departure, I became desperate. “God, would you take away any sense of abandonment? You have reassured my almost-five-year-old, but how about Esther-Praise? How will she ever understand? I need Your peace, a clear sign.”
Then one night, before bedtime, as we lay in bed in the darkness, we went through the same sequence that always triggered an explosive “NO!” and fits.

“Esther-Praise, so this is Mama’s last few nights with you. And then there’ll be one night coming soon, when I’ll put you to bed, but when you wake up, Mama will be gone for a long time. And then, if God wills, I will come home.”

Tears filled my eyes. My voice broke. 

He has been faithful. When He calls, He provides. His grace is always enough.

“No sad, Mama.”

What? I did a double take. Did I hear correctly?

I asked the question differently, certain that I had been misheard.

“When Mama’s gone, how will you feel?”

I expected the usual whimpering outbursts of “SO SAD!”

This time, however, came the words loud and clear: “Happy. No sad, Mama.” 

“What will you do when I’m gone?”

God’s grace is enough, discovered Wai Jia when He answered her prayers for two-year- old Esther-Praise.

I sank into the mattress, expecting her usual vehement head-shaking, the usual answer: “Sad, Mama, Esther-Praise so sad!” 

Instead, came the biggest, widest grin peeking through the darkness, declaring: “Eating pizza! Eating pancakes! Riding bikes! With Papa! With Jiejie!” 

My heart swelled.

He has been faithful. When He calls, He provides. His grace is always enough.

One Light for one step

In my last sermon before leaving Singapore, I preached a message called “By faith”, based on Hebrews 11:8-10.

There are many times in our lives God may call us into the unknown, and we falter and fumble. We might feel like Abraham, who “went out, not knowing where he was going”.

If we can trust God for the next step, we need not know the complete blueprint.

The truth is, in the context of the Bible, Abraham did have a general sense of direction; he knew God was calling him to the Promised Land. Yet, truly, he did not know how to get there.

Similarly, while God may have given us dreams and hopes, it may be hard to trust Him for the next step. When I surrendered myself for this deployment, I lost sleep and found myself wide-eyed at 4am on many mornings, wondering where it was God might send me.

Psalm 119:105 reminds us, that His word is “a lamp to our feet, a light to our path”.

If we can trust God for the next step, we need not know the complete blueprint.

Friends, if you sense God calling you to uncertainty and the unknown, take heart. He shines just enough light for the next step ahead, and the next.

As I step into the unknown, I know the prayers of family and friends around the world will sustain us. As you step into the unknown, I know God will see you through, too, one step at a time.


*The BNLS group comprises Botswana, Namibia, Lesotho and Swaziland, all of which – alongside South Africa – together form of the Southern African Customs Union.

Thank you for upholding Wai Jia, Cliff and their two daughters in prayer.


IF YOU LIKED THIS, READ:

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“True courage stems from my hand in His”: Missionary Jemima Ooi on being tender-hearted to those who hurt in Africa

“I want you to know I am here for you”: He spent 14 years caring for China’s left-behind children

About the author

Dr Tam Wai Jia

Wai Jia is a humanitarian doctor, author, international speaker and the founder of Kitesong Global (https://www.kitesong.sg). To read more about her reflections on life, you can follow her on Instagram (https://www.instagram.com/tamwaijia/) and on her blog (http://blog.kitedreams.org).

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