Love them, just love them: The missionary couple who prayed their prodigal children home
by Janice Tai // November 10, 2020, 5:05 pm
“There were seven years of hell" when their children spiralled into darkness, June Chuah told Salt&Light. But deep down she clung to the belief that God would work it all out for good. June and her husband Kari (far right & left) at their daughter Molly's wedding in Switzerland in 2018. All photos courtesy of June Chuah.
June Chuah had a childhood like any other Singaporean child in the 1980s. She grew up in Thomson and studied at CHIJ on Victoria Street. Later on, her good grades would get her into Raffles Junior College and then to University of Bristol in England where she studied economics.
Unlike other Singaporeans, however, she did not return to Singapore nor plunge headlong into establishing a career.
Instead, she went on a mission trip to Greece that would change her life’s trajectory. There she met her Finnish boyfriend, now husband, and it was also during the trip that God revealed to her that she would be a missionary.
Their challenges as missionaries paled in comparison to the heartbreak and brokenness in their own household.
She would come to spend the next 10 years of her life as a missionary with her church planter husband and two children in Uruguay, South America.
Subsequently, they moved to minister in Spain for seven years. Upon the Lord’s leading this year, June and her husband shifted again to Montenegro, a country in the Balkans, to serve its people.
Yet the hardest challenges for June and her husband Kari over the last two decades was not in assimilating into the different cultures or learning new languages. The difficult moments also did not revolve around church planting nor raising enough money for their ministry work – challenges faced by many missionaries.
All those struggles were significant for the globetrotting pair, but they would pale in comparison to the heartbreak and brokenness they never thought they would experience in their own household – over their own children.
“Those were the seven years of hell. During those dark nights of the soul, Kari and I had conversations that would seem like spiritual suicide, on hindsight,” June told Salt&Light.
“We would talk about wishing we were in heaven, preferring that over the lives we were living. We were so tired that we figured our children would just have to find their own way by themselves.”
Uruguay: Poor and rich
After completing her studies, June married Kari in England and the couple settled down in Finland to have children. The family moved briefly back to England, where they were then sent out as missionaries to Uruguay by Frontline Church in Liverpool, the local church they were attending.
In January 1999, the family of four – now with their seven-year-old son Joshua and five-year-old daughter Molly – relocated to a foreign land where they felt God had called them to serve.
The first order of the day was to pick up Spanish and enrol their children in a school. A private school education was expensive, so June took up part-time work as a classroom assistant in a private school. Taking on the job enabled her children to get scholarships that covered most of the cost of their attending the private school where she was working.
During their first year there, Kari partnered another missionary to visit and distribute food and drinks to prostitutes and transvestites on the streets. Later that year, God directed Kari to start a church in a crime-ridden inner city where residents dabbled in drugs and witchcraft. Kari later realised this was where the people he was visiting in the streets lived. Rooms were rented out on a daily rate so it drew the poor and the marginalised.
June and Kari set up a soup kitchen there and cooked for the residents. They gave the street people a place to shower and wash their clothes. Some 20 people from their street outreach began streaming in for their Sunday school on the weekends.
Thus, their children grew up with the poorest of the poor, becoming good friends with the children of the street people, all of them hanging out in the same youth groups.
God directed Kari to start a church in a crime-ridden inner city where residents dabbled in drugs and witchcraft.
When the Argentine economic crisis was brewing in 2003, June and her husband heard God urging them to buy a building for the church instead of continuing to rent shop spaces. Though it was a financially tumultuous time for the country, they obeyed and God supplied them with USD$60,0000 to buy a building where they would run children and youth ministries, as well as leadership training programmes.
While their parents were occupied with working with drug addicts and the poor, Joshua and Molly were not having an easy time adjusting to the different schools they were placed in.
After attending the bilingual private school their mum first worked in, they continued their education in a British school that was filled with children from established Uruguayan families. Joshua did not fit in with his peers and was severely bullied.
He also went through three traumatic experiences of being robbed of his belongings while held at knifepoint as the crime rate in South America was high.
After hearing about an American school that had more international students, June enrolled her children there instead. It turned out that the crowd there was either made up of the richest of the locals or foreign children whose parents were working at embassies in the country.
From growing up with the disadvantaged, Joshua and Molly were suddenly exposed to the affluent and lavish lifestyles of some of the local South Americans. There was one weekend when a classmate invited Molly to her grandmother’s house. When Molly arrived at the house, she saw flamingoes basking in a lake that was encircled by a hotel-like compound. The residential grounds were so big that they contained a helipad, with bicycles scattered all over as its occupants had to cycle to get around the place.
Uruguay: Depression and near-disaster
“During those times, Josh and Molly often told us that they wished they lived in one country, go to just one school and have the same group of friends, like the childhood I had in Singapore,” said June.
Joshua was especially distraught when his best friend, whose father was a gunnery sergeant at the American embassy, had to leave the country one day because his dad’s work contract was up. The community at the American school was a transient one.
With change being a constant, the lack of stability led to adjustment issues for the children. Joshua began acting up and having fights in school. He had anger issues and his parents were often called up by the school.
One morning, June woke up to discover that Joshua had attempted to kill himself by overdosing on medication and alcohol.
June and Kari did try to set aside time to be with their children. The family went on farm holidays together and they supported their children’s interests – music school for Joshua and horse jumping training for Molly. Kari would accompany and wait for Molly while she trained in the stables, and he traveled with her to Guatemala and Ecuador for competitions whenever she represented Uruguay in the sport.
In 2007, the couple also supported Joshua’s desire to head back to Finland to live with their in-laws and join a specialised music school as he was passionate about developing his musical talents.
Barely a few months later, the school called and told June to take him back as they could not handle him. He had a drinking problem and was often getting into fights. When he returned to Uruguay, the semester at the American school in Uruguay had started so June arranged for Joshua to attend a sound engineering and mixing course at a private school instead.
Joshua, then 14, went back to the American school when the semester started, only to be booted out shortly after having an altercation with another classmate in the playground. Though he was doing well academically, he had not yet finished grade 10.
“Overnight, he was put out of school and he felt his whole life was taken away. A sense of loss and injustice overwhelmed him,” said June.
He spiralled into depression. His parents listened to him, prayed for him and tried to encourage him. On the nights when he would ruminate on negative thoughts, June would stay up with him to watch television together.
One morning, however, June woke up to discover that Joshua had attempted to kill himself by overdosing on medication and alcohol. She was alerted to it by a Finnish missionary who was living with them then, who noticed the pill boxes were flung open. Joshua was rushed to the hospital to have the medications pumped out of him.
In her distraught state, she could only cling to the words that Joshua had whispered to her the night before.
The surreal experience left June in a panic.
In her distraught state, she could only cling to the words that Joshua had whispered to her the night before. He had gone into her bedroom and told her: “I want to thank you and Dad for being fantastic parents. I am proud that you both are missionaries so don’t stop doing it. I love Jesus and also want to give my life to Him.”
He cried and she prayed for him that night.
Later she realised he could have planned it as his farewell speech. But she was grateful for the insight that his words gave her.
“I believe he meant what he said and so God was gracious to give me those words to hold on to. Otherwise, I would have drowned in self-blame and guilt,” June said.
Having found a good psychiatrist for him in Singapore, Joshua was sent to Singapore to live with his grandmother and receive treatment for his mental health.
While in Singapore, he discovered the School of Audio Engineering. His parents agreed that continuing his studies would give him some form of stability. However, the entry requirements for the school was a minimum of three ‘O’ Level passes. Joshua flew in to England to take his ‘O’ Levels as a private candidate before enrolling in the school in Singapore.
Spain: Parties and drugs
While Joshua was in the United Kingdom and Singapore, the rest of the family had moved to Spain in 2009.
Kari and June felt God’s direction to head to Spain to plant churches. They also ran a mission training school there and they led a team of 10 missionaries to plant four churches in four towns in Spain.
Molly attended a British school in Spain and by then, she had drifted from God. She had some terrible boyfriends and lying became second nature to her whenever her parents asked about her whereabouts. She partied hard and did drugs, sometimes with the young people from church.
When Joshua finished his diploma and returned to Spain from Singapore, June and Molly ironically moved to Singapore the year after.
June and Kari thought the “safe” environment of Singapore would do Molly good and they signed her up to study mass communications in a private school. But in Singapore, Molly refused to study and insisted on going back to Spain to be with her boyfriend. No one could change her mind and she just packed up her bags and left. When she was back in Spain, no one could reach her as she had cut off all contact with her family.
“My children were always my priority even when we were doing our ministry work … How did things end up like that?”
Molly’s grandmother managed to convince her to return to Singapore, but she continued drinking and partying hard when she was back. Despite the late nights she pulled, she still turned up early in the morning for her horse-riding training and competitions every weekend.
Like her brother, she was far from God at that time.
However, she had been a “seer” since young, able to see angels and demons in the spiritual realm. Once she overdosed on drugs and felt herself slipping away in the toilet. She saw the spirit of Death approaching and begged God to give her one more chance. It was a near-death experience but she survived.
After Molly completed her diploma in mass communication, she pleaded with her grandmother to let her go back to Spain to visit her boyfriend, her fourth, who was a Satanist. They travelled around Spain for two weeks and were physically intimate.
When the time came for her to return to Singapore to continue her studies for a degree, she cried all the way back on the plane. She could not study and all she wanted was to go back to Spain to be with her boyfriend. She could not function in daily life and went for psychotherapy sessions.
During the time when Molly ran away to Spain to be with her boyfriend, June attended the Kingdom Invasion conference in Singapore and heard the speaker talk about chasing one’s dreams.
“Now is the time to go,” said the Holy Spirit.
At that time, June was burnt out and in despair.
“My children were always my priority even when we were doing our ministry work. We also prayed with them and for them constantly. How did things end up like that? Christian friends and leaders also did not help. One of them held my hand and sincerely asked me if I had neglected them. Of course, I also blamed myself,” said June.
While listening to the talk on dreams during the conference, the Holy Spirit reminded June that she had always had a dream to visit Heidi Baker’s Iris Harvest School for Missions in Mozambique.
“Now is the time to go,” said the Holy Spirit.
She told her husband, who was in Spain then, and he told her to proceed – though Molly was still not contactable in Spain and Joshua was living a drunken and violent lifestyle there while he worked with recording artists and rappers.
June called up her pastor in England to get a recommendation referral from him so that she could attend the Harvest school for three months. She hoped to find rest and healing for her fatigued spirit while encountering the power and presence of God there.
But her pastor refused to recommend her to Harvest school. He told her to get her own household in order first.
A prophet at the Harvest school told her that her daughter would also attend the same Harvest school in the future.
Crying in her room in Singapore at 3am that night, she told him on the phone: “Pastor, I love you, but I think this time you are wrong.”
A few moments later, the nature programme on her television screen flashed the word “Mozambique”. She knew she had to go.
With the help of some pastors in Singapore, she got her referral letter and went to Mozambique to spend time with the Lord. A prophet there told her that her daughter will also attend the same Harvest school some time in the future.
The word gave her hope, but Molly was so far from the Lord at that time that the disheartened mother just filed the word at the back of her mind. June also went to Bethel in the United States to undergo deeper inner healing for her broken spirit.
She was in America when she received a call from Molly who was in Singapore. Molly was in a bad shape and had frequent episodes of sleep paralysis. She was also troubled because she would see demons surrounding her when she had sleep paralysis.
June flew back to Singapore immediately and arranged for leaders from their church, New Life Community Church, to minister to Molly and pray for deliverance.
Seeing that Molly was in no state to continue her studies, June urged Molly to find something she enjoyed doing instead. They tossed around a few ideas and settled on going to an Australian college to study horse management.
Australia: Breaking point
Within two weeks, both of them found themselves in Australia. By then, Molly was constantly finding any occasion to fight with her mother. She was sick of having her mother follow her around. When Kari flew in from Spain to spend time with her during Christmas that year, she told both of them that she did not want them with her in Australia.
Wanting to give her the space that she asked for, they agreed. When they left, Molly flew her boyfriend in from Spain to live with her.
Things worsened, as Molly became emotionally and mentally distraught and went back to doing drugs. School was stopped as she could no longer function. Her mother took her back to Singapore to seek treatment from a veteran psychiatrist.
The psychiatrist noted the severity of Molly’s addiction and recommended that she seek treatment at a well-known private rehabilitation treatment centre in Thailand. It was there that Molly finally recognised herself as a drug addict.
She would also realise that, in spite of her tumultous life, God had never forsaken her or her family. This is Part I of the story. Carry on reading Part II here.