“Go to those who can only be reached by water!” God’s “impossible” call to sail into a closed country

This Christmas, Salt&Light brings you stories from people who discovered that, even against seemingly insurmountable odds, God Is With Us.

Gracia Lee // December 21, 2020, 5:48 pm


Photo by Maximilian Weisbecker on Unsplash.

Did you know that more than 40% of the world’s people groups have never heard the Gospel of Jesus Christ?

In other words, there are more than three billion people – about 500 times of Singapore’s population – who are unreached, according to the Joshua Project, a research initiative that seeks to highlight the ethnic people groups of the world with the fewest followers of Christ.

“God has given us a strategy that really hits a home run in people’s hearts.”

So, when God opened up the opportunity for Youth With A Mission Singapore (YWAM Singapore) to live out the Great Commission in one such place – by setting sail a medical outreach ship, no less – the team was stoked.

Since 2013, YWAM Singapore has been going up and down a river in a creative access country, providing healthcare and health education to locals, and forging close relationships with them in the process.

(A creative access country is one that does not allow foreign missionaries.)

Their continual presence in the area has built a high level of trust between them and the villagers, said Hudson Kim, director of YWAM Singapore Medical Ships.

Describing how villagers would recognise them and invite them to their homes, Kim said: “This kind of trust is unheard of in this part of the world. God has given us a strategy that really hits a home run in people’s hearts.”

No, Lord!

The call for YWAM Singapore to send out a medical ship, however, was a rather bewildering one, according to Steve Loh, former director of the organisation’s medical ships ministry and Discipleship Training School (DTS).

Loh handed the reins to Kim in 2018 after he left YWAM Singapore to head YMCA as its general secretary and chief executive officer.

It seemed completely absurd – they had no resources, experience or expertise in either maritime skills or medicine.

In 2012, the leaders had received a word from the Lord “that YWAM Singapore was meant to start a medical ship that reached the unreached, those who can only be served and reached by water”, recalled Loh.

At that point, it seemed completely absurd – they had no resources, experience or expertise in either maritime skills or medicine.

“No, Lord!” was their collective response.

But they prayed and prayed. Soon after, they dug up an old, typewritten document from 1973 that stated clearly, to their utmost surprise, that YWAM Singapore was registered all those years ago for medical ships.

“None of us knew this. I was just born!” Loh exclaimed, adding that the leadership was “floored”.

“(Founder of YWAM) Loren Cunningham had sent one of his guys to Singapore to say that it will be a base from where YWAM ships will go out into the world.”

God can afford His plans

This new knowledge convinced them that God was doing something, but it did not change the fact that they had no resources – no expertise, no ship and absolutely no idea where to go.

So, they continued to pray, and God showed up in ways they could not have imagined. For every need they had, He provided in abundance, recalled Loh.

“The Lord was saying, ‘I know you don’t know how to do ships, but I’m sending you people!'”

One evening, as a few of the leaders were praying in a room, there came a knock on the door. A man walked in, expressing an interest in signing up for DTS, an entry-level missions training course by YWAM.

Introducing himself, he said he was the owner of a shipping company.

Just like that, God began sending willing and equipped individuals right to YWAM Singapore’s doorstep, including a retired Navy captain and the chief operating officer of another medical outreach ship, all of whom currently sit on the ministry’s board as advisors.

“The Lord was saying, ‘I know you don’t know how to do ships, but I’m sending you people!'” Loh said, estimating that this all happened within the span of 18 months. 

As word got out that YWAM Singapore was looking for a ship, it also received five formal offers for vessels free-of-charge, Loh said, still in utter disbelief.

They eventually decided to work with a Christian missionary in an Asian country who owned a two-storey medical ship and agreed to lease out operations to the team.

“He can afford His plans and He arms you for battle.”

Finally, the Lord raised up a local doctor, Dr A*, who grew up in the area and quit his job to become a full-time missionary on the vessel.

Looking back on the whole journey of trusting in God’s provision, Loh said in amazement: “He can afford His plans and He arms you for battle.”

He recalled the first time he went to survey the area in early 2013, going up and down the river in a rented speedboat.

“I was in a state of panic. I was so lost – I had no strategy, no inkling of how to begin this ministry, no idea where the money would come from, where we would find the people for outreach.

“Where would we find medical supplies? Where are we going to get the government approvals? When are we going to begin our process of sailing?”

But in time, he learnt to seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and just as God’s Word promised, everything that he needed was given unto to him (Matthew 6:33). 

Sowing relationships

The ship set off on its first sail in 2013, fulfilling its God-given calling exactly 40 years after YWAM Singapore was first registered.

For the next five years, they cared for the villagers and built strong relationships with them, even hiring locals to be part of their crew.

Kim’s experience in the ministry has taught him that God is eager to call others to Himself, especially those who have no knowledge of Him.

“We just need to sow seeds, ideas and love on people.”

“God is really moving his people and using all sorts of people and equipment and technology for the purposes of calling the ones He created to turn to Him and know Him,” he said.

“He is the One who is opening these doors and softening the hardened hearts for his work to move and weave and go on. He’s the One who is moving.”

The ship was decommissioned last year due to its old age, and Kim and his team of seven are keeping their eyes out for a new one to continue their ministry.

Meanwhile, they continue to visit the villages – where they are always warmly welcomed – about once a month and have seen many doors open for them in areas of education, healthcare and business.

Since they cannot share or profess their faith openly, they are learning the importance of testifying of God’s love through their actions – by loving and caring for the locals and each other, and carrying themselves with integrity and uprightness, Kim said.

“We just need pure hands and a pure heart. Then, the locals will become curious and take the initiative to start asking questions. It may take six years, seven years or 10 years, but God has His time and His way of watering and growing and reaping.

“We just need to sow seeds, ideas and love on people. If they see something different in us, then we have done our part.”

This is the third story in our Christmas series: God with Us. READ THE “GOD WITH US” STORIES BELOW and check back for more stories every day till Christmas!

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About the author

Gracia Lee

Gracia is a journalism graduate who thoroughly enjoys people and words. Thankfully, she gets a satisfying dose of both as a writer at Salt&Light. When she's not working, you will probably find her admiring nature or playing Monopoly Deal with her little brother.