A picture of a sitting toilet confirmed this couple’s call to missions
Salt&Light rejoices with OM Singapore as they celebrate 40 years of God's unchanging faithfulness!
by Christine Leow // September 23, 2021, 7:54 pm
A typical squat toilet commonly found in rural Asia. But Andrew and Cynthia were assured when they saw a picture of a seated toilet in Asia when they were exploring mission fields. Photos courtesy of Operation Mobilisation.
When Andrew* and Cynthia* decided to become missionaries, they picked France as their mission field.
Andrew, 65, said: “We were thinking France has okay toilets.”
It may seem like a frivolous concern, but it was really a practical consideration that drove their decision.
“We were thinking France has okay toilets.”
“In the community programme we attended, we were taught (to consider) the (cultural) distance between you and the place you want to serve in,” said his 61-year-old wife.
“For us, sitting toilets was (our cultural limit).”
But when they went to enquire at a mission organisation about opportunities in France, they were directed to Asia instead.
“They kept talking about Asia and how they had a project there. One of the pictures they showed us of the place showed a sitting toilet,” Andrew recalled, laughing.
That was how the couple ended up spending seven years in that part of the world in marketplace missions, using their decades of corporate experience to train people in tourism.
All in good time
But their journey to the mission field actually started much earlier.
More than 30 years before, in the early 1980s, Cynthia was at a global mission conference for students in the United States when she responded to a call to be a missionary.
“I put up my hand to go full-time in missions.”
She would go on to be involved in missions, signing up for short-term trips and being part of the church’s mission committee. But she never went further.
“How are you glorifying God with your life?”
“I got caught up in the corporate world and once I moved into regional roles, I was too busy to be involved in missions.”
She and her husband, Andrew, also wanted to make sure their two sons grew up well.
“For us, ensuring that our children grew up with Christian values and character was important,” said Cynthia.
Then came a challenge in 2009. Their mentor asked Cynthia one day: “How are you glorifying God with your life?”
Though defensive at first, the question got her thinking hard about the call to missions she had once answered.
At that time, Andrew was also feeling “there should be change” in his life, having been in the same job for 17 years. So, he began considering full-time work in his church. But there were no open doors.
So, as a couple, they began their search for an opportunity to serve as missionaries.
“We talked to many different people and realised that missions is something that we wanted to do,” said Cynthia.
Things fall into place
There were many concerns, though. Cynthia had just begun a three-year contract at her work. Their sons needed financing for their university studies. There were still loans to be paid off.
But, one by one, the issues settled themselves.
Said Cynthia: “Things started happening in the workplace to really push me out.”
A planned family holiday to Australia was delayed by visa issues. On their way back from the Australian High Commission to settle the matter, they chanced upon a residential development being built and decided, on the spur of the moment, to buy a small unit in the property as their retirement home.
The buy was a wise investment.
“God’s retirement has a different meaning for us.”
“When it came time for us to quit our jobs, we sold the apartment and used the money to clear our debts and finance our children’s education,” said Cynthia.
“God’s retirement has a different meaning for us.”
Then, they were told that they had to enrol in a Bible school before being sent into the mission field. The two-year, full-time programme came at a perfect time.
One of their sons was already serving National Service and the other was about to join him. By the time the couple was ready to go into the mission field, both sons would be in university abroad and independent.
So, in 2011, Andrew and Cynthia left their jobs to study at the Singapore Bible College (SBC).
Said Andrew: “We told everybody to tighten their belts. You will not get the usual holiday. We wanted everybody to understand what it meant for us to quit our jobs.”
But nothing changed for the family, not financially at least.
“My elder son said there was no huge adjustment because it seemed like it had been all well planned,” said Cynthia.
Then God made a way
As they did a course in Intercultural Studies at SBC, they also explored possible mission fields.
“In the two years at SBC, we met another missionary couple and asked them for advice. They told us, ‘You don’t have to worry. When the time comes, the Lord will open the door and show you where to go.’”
That was precisely how things unfolded. Though the couple had their hearts set on going with one mission agency, circumstances kept leading them to another.
A planned vision trip with the first mission agency fell through because Andrew became so sick he that he couldn’t get out of bed. Then, a project Cynthia had to do for school led the couple to Operation Mobilisation (OM).
Even when they did go on a vision trip with the first mission agency, they ended up in a part of Asia in which OM had a project. Andrew and Cynthia decided to visit the welfare centre OM had set up there.
The couple also visited some newly built guesthouses in the mountains near the welfare centre. Constructed after a natural disaster hit the place, the development was nearly impenetrable but for a single, rocky road.
“It was as if the Scripture had been talking to us throughout the vision trip.”
As a result of that visit, the person in charge of the area’s rejuvenation went to Andrew and Cynthia on their last day in the country and asked them to work on a project to revitalise the area.
“I told her, ‘There is potential in that area. It’s possible, but the road is terrible.’
“The lady (in charge of rejuvenation) said, ‘We will build a new road up and a new road down’,” said Andrew.
Throughout the trip, during their devotions, Isaiah 49 had “come up a few times”. That morning, Andrew and Cynthia had just read Isaiah 49: 8-12. The passage seemed to describe to a tee the area they had visited – desolate and mountainous, yet full of promise.
Said Cynthia: “In this welfare centre (which OM had built), they had started to use the natural farming method. They were rearing pigs and chicken. They were so plentiful at that time.”
There were also plans to run a leadership training programme within the centre for people from the “north, east, west and coastal region”. This was, to Andrew and Cynthia, the very scene in Isaiah 49:11-12 they had already been meditating on:
I will turn all my mountains into roads,
and my highways will be raised up.
See, they will come from afar –
some from the north, some from the west,
some from the region of Aswan.
Said Cynthia: “It was as if the Scripture had been talking to us throughout the vision trip. It just fit. We took this into our hearts.”
When they returned to Singapore, two other mission field possibilities opened up. From not knowing where to go, they now had three choices.
They sought the counsel of their pastoral group at SBC and “prayed about it with our friends and with different people”. Everything seemed to point to the work in Asia.
In 2013, after they had settled their sons at university and graduated from SBC, they packed their bags and headed for the mission field.
Unlike traditional missionaries who plant churches or trained pastors, they would be using their industry skills to build up the local community so doors could be opened for the Gospel to be shared.
Provision in unexpected ways
Their first task was to work on a manual of the greenhouse farming-cum-welfare centre. The booklet was to be a guide for those interested in running such a business and in using it for outreach within the community.
Andrew and Cynthia had just months to complete the task because they were due to start a two-year course at the local university to learn the native language.
“We had to go to the place and talk to the people and interview them about their work (to write the manual),” said Andrew.
But their lack of a good grasp of the local language was a major barrier. Even with a translator, many things were “lost in translation”. Thankfully, while at SBC, they had taken a course in International Development.
“We had gone (to a local community in Southeast Asia) to learn about the work in one of the villages and the lesson was on natural farming. The lesson was very good and I took super good notes and I did research,” said Cynthia.
“As the Lord opened the door, we did different things.”
So, they ended up relying on those notes, Cynthia’s drawings and the photographs Andrew took on-site to write the manual.
Then, the welfare centre asked them to run leadership and management training for the staff. Falling back on their years in the corporate world, they developed a curriculum.
But there was no one to translate the material. Said Cynthia: “We prayed, ‘Lord we need translator because we could only write in English’.”
Someone at their local church’s 40-day prayer meeting heard about their need and volunteered to do the work.
“The Lord just kept providing along the way,” marvelled Cynthia.
They also facilitated the building programme of the welfare centre, helping them to manage the funds.
More opportunities would pour in. Their church asked for help and the couple ended up running an Alpha course exploring the Christian faith as well as a mentoring group for women in the church.
“As the Lord opened the door, we did different things.”
This was exactly what they had learnt to do at Bible college – meet local communities at their need, and equip and empower them to take the initiative and ownership.
“But this has to be done with Christ-likeness. If you have no Christ-likeness, it is just pure humanitarian work.
“But when you put Christ in the centre of this, the Gospel message is worked out in word, deed and your actions,” explained Cynthia.
New opportunities, old vision
As Andrew and Cynthia went where help was needed, God opened doors for them to use their knowledge gleaned from years in the tourism industry. So for a year in 2016, they helped to set up tourism training centres for the locals.
Then, an opportunity arose for them to equip local missionaries with the skills to run a business.
“It was something we had wanted to do in the first place. Now, there were local people who wanted to take ownership (of the project) and run with it,” said Andrew.
Explained Cynthia: “When Christian missionaries go to a country, they don’t have an identity or a skill to help them stay in the country beyond learning the language.
“Some run small businesses to stay on and they need the skills to do this.”
Excited but unsure, they turned once more to prayer.
“This time, the passage that came to us was about Jacob’s well,” said Cynthia.
Coincidentally, the mission group keen to work with them on the training programme was named after the well.
“We prayed very hard. And the Lord provided this lady up in the mountain.”
“We said, ‘Alright, by faith we go’,” said Cynthia.
That decision meant the couple had to move across the country. They did, packing all they had into one truck.
But in the months to follow, the partners who had promised their cooperation in the project dropped out one by one.
“The guy who was supposed to provide the location for the training didn’t fulfil his promise. The education partner also didn’t fulfil his promise.
“Someone who was to go there to run the business didn’t,” said Cynthia, counting off the disappointments one by one.
Yet, the mission training school they were working with still wanted to see the training through.
“We prayed very hard,” said Cynthia. “And the Lord provided this lady up in the mountain.”
The woman had space on her property that could be used for training as well as a dormitory for the students.
“She had been praying too, ‘Show me what You want me to do’,” said Cynthia with a smile.
“We came in and realised we had the same vision of training local missionaries with livelihood skills to enable them to stay in other countries.”
Andrew and Cynthia set about writing the curriculum and getting the place ready to receive students.
Said Andrew: “They had no proper electricity. We had to build a substation.”
Leveraging their network of contacts from their work in Singapore, Andrew and Cynthia brought in trainers from polytechnics, top schools and even cooking schools.
“They were all friends who came in to support us and do pro bono training work,” said Cynthia.
“I realised that the Lord was answering my prayer by giving this ray of sunshine. I cried because it was so amazing.”
“Not all, but most, were Christians who believed in the vision and mission. It was not us. It was the Lord establishing the work of our hands.”
They even managed to get an organisation to offer internship stints to graduates of their training programme.
“The Lord put us in touch,” said Cynthia.
Their work in Asia was the fruition of a promise God had given them even before they had left for the mission field, said Andrew and Cynthia. They had been on a silent retreat before they left Singapore.
Cynthia was reading Psalm 90.
“Those words in verses 16 and 17 jumped out at me, ‘May your deeds be shown to Your servants, Your splendour to their children. May the favour of the Lord our God rest on us; establish the work of our hands for us – yes, establish the work of our hands’.”
Fearful that she was “putting words in God’s mouth”, Cynthia asked for a ray of sunlight as a confirmation though the day was gloomy and overcast.
Said Cynthia: “At the 59th minute of the second hour, I was looking up at the thatched roof and I saw this orange light.
“I realised that the Lord was answering by giving this ray of sunshine. I cried because it was so amazing.
“I shared this verse with Andrew and we claimed it till this day. It has carried us through.”
Partners in mission
The business training project has since developed further. Andrew and Cynthia are planning to use an actual guesthouse and café as part of their training programme. Until the Covid-19 outbreak put a stop to plans, they had been looking for a place to set those up.
Last Chinese New Year, the couple came home to spend time with their family. They have since been unable to return to the mission field given all the travel restrictions because of the pandemic.
“We got to a point that even in our own home, I’m on this end and he’s on this other end, really far apart.”
So, they have been using the time to re-look at the curriculum and to rest.
Said Cynthia: “The Lord has helped us complement each other’s giftings in ways that make us complete and stronger as a couple.
“But it has not been without heartaches because we can also get on each other’s nerves being opposites in temperament. I’m Type A. He’s Type B, very patient very calm.”
Often, Cynthia admitted, she would be too quick to speak her mind and would end up hurting Andrew’s feelings. There have been times when disagreements became so bad, cold wars would follow.
“It’s a struggle. We got to a point that even in our own home, I’m on this end and he’s on this other end, really far apart. That was the lowest of the low and it happened a couple of times.
“The last one, we just cried.”
Said Andrew quietly: “Meltdown.”
Continued Cynthia: “That one time, we had a meltdown. He was crying, I was crying, we just cried. It was a long cry. We just hugged each other, and we prayed and we committed it to the Lord.”
“Sometimes, out there, there is no one else to go to except God. But He always comes through.”
The fact that there was no escape from each other contributed to the stress as well.
Said Cynthia: “We only have our apartment. There is nowhere for you to leave and go to. There is no one else.”
When they came back to Singapore, they sought help. “We told the mission organisation and we told our church.”
Asked how they would rate their marriage, Cynthia looked at Andrew: “I love you more today than yesterday.”
The willingness to admit mistakes and ask for forgiveness have helped them weather the worst, said Cynthia.
“And the ability to laugh and find humour in life,” she added. “The most important foundation of all is to be rooted in God. Sometimes, out there, there is no one else to go to except God. But He always comes through.”
*Names have been changed for security reasons.
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.
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 Cynthia and Andrew, 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.