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Chua Kim Chye (right) and his wife, Jenny, spent two years on OM ship, Doulos. Having retired, he waited for her to quit her job before they devoted themselves to the work on the floating library. All photos courtesy of Chua Kim Chye.

When he retired at 52 after two decades as a welder at a shipyard and another seven years as a caretaker, Chua Kim Chye did not take things easy. Instead, he and his wife, Jenny, then 49, spent two years on board the Doulos.

It was Kim Chye’s (left) dream to share his faith with the nations and when Jenny agreed to go with him, they signed up with OM to be part of their Ship Ministry.

It was one of Operation Mobilisation’s (OM) fleet of floating libraries that sail from port to port carrying Christian literature and resources, to share God’s hope with people all over the world. They joined volunteers from different countries with diverse skills and life experiences who signed up with the OM Ship Ministry to serve God in various roles.

At every port, crowds would line up to go on board Doulos for a visit.

For Kim Chye, now 70 years old and a grandfather of two, working on Doulos was “a calling” he could not ignore.

“My desire has always been to sail and do God’s work. I told my pastor I want to go here, I want to go there. I want to go to Vietnam, Philippines, India.

Kim Chye (third from right, standing) and Jenny (far left, seated) fellowshipping with other Asians on Doulos.

“He said that the best thing was for us to serve on board an OM ship because they go to so many places.”

“My wife was seasick every day for two years.”

So, in 2005, with their two sons already in their 20s, Jenny quit her job as a draftsman and joined Kim Chye on the high seas.

Said Kim Chye: “She was doing well in her job. Her friends thought she was crazy to leave her job – give up everything and just go.”

They would indeed get to share their faith with more nations than they cared to count. But they would also encounter their fair share of challenges.

“My wife was seasick every day for two years,” Kim Chye revealed.

Yellow, yellow dirty fellow

Kim Chye came to the faith late in life. He was 40 before he decided to become a Christian.

“My sister became a Christian, then my wife became a Christian. They were always telling me about Jesus and inviting me to church. But I didn’t believe.”

Finally, after several entreaties, Kim Chye relented and went to a church retreat. At a group activity, participants were asked to select a piece of coloured paper. He picked yellow.

“There were so many people there who did not know Christ. The desire to reach out to them just came.”

“You know the children’s chant, ‘Yellow, yellow dirty fellow?’

“When it came to my turn, the leader of the group prayed for me: ‘Thank you for this guy who came here to say that he is a dirty fellow.’ That was not what I meant at all.

“But the Holy Spirit was working in me. In another group later on, when they asked who wanted to believe in Jesus, I put up my hand to say: ‘Yes.’ ”

Shortly after, he joined his church on a trip to India. It was during that trip that his desire to share the Gospel with the nations developed.

For the next 12 years, however, Kim Chye had to be content with short trips because he wanted Jenny to come along with him but their children were too young to be left on their own.

Finding sea legs

When the Chuas eventually signed up to be part of OM’s Ship Ministry, they had to spend two weeks in the Netherlands training to better understand the ministry. Only thereafter did they sail with Doulos.

Kim Chye was assigned to the engine room while Jenny became secretary to the chief engineer. With his experience as a welder on ships, he found the work of maintaining the nearly 100-year-old ship comfortingly familiar. 

It was Kim Chye’s job as a welder to repair different parts of the ship while he sailed on Doulos.

From day one, many on the ship experienced seasickness. Jenny was one of them. The nausea from the constant motion never dissipated for her throughout the two years that they sailed.

“For the first year, she wanted to go home because the sea was very rough. But she never blamed me for asking her to come along.”

The toughest part of their journey was when they sailed from Africa to Madagascar. They experienced the worst storm ever, which lasted days. The waters were particularly turbulent where three oceans converged – Indian, Pacific and Atlantic.

Storms at sea were not uncommon but the ship was always safe from harm.

“It was the worst sail ever. But God was with Jenny and she just took it, endured throughout,” said Kim Chye.

“On board Doulos, we always say, ‘Without God, we cannot sail.’ ”

On another occasion, sailing to South Korea, they encountered fog so heavy that “you couldn’t see anything in front of you, even if you put your hand in front of you. 

“We almost hit an island.”

Knowing that Doulos was old, constructed in 1914 and equipped with only an outdated radar system for navigation, all 350 on board prayed for the safety of the ship.

“The next thing we knew, the fog disappeared. We were able to sail off again. It was a miracle.”

On their way from India to the Middle East early in their two-year stint, the ship was hit by something that ripped into its hull. Till today, no one knows what it was.

Kim Chye hard at work on Doulos.

“When we arrived, the ship had a hole in the side. All the while we were sailing, water didn’t go in. On board Doulos, we always say, ‘Without God we cannot sail.’ ”

Seeing God’s handiwork

The Chuas also saw God in the people they met. Though the crew hailed from some 20 nations, their common faith and purpose made them one family.

Kim Chye (bottom, in red) and Jenny (standing, in floral dress) celebrating Jenny’s 50th birthday on board Doulos with the international crew.

“When my wife was feeling seasick, there were a lot of young people who came to talk to her, encourage her. They told her, ‘You are okay, you are strong.’

“We were close to a couple from Korea who had two kids about five or six years old. Friendship is very important.”

The Korean family the Chuas became close to during their two years on Doulos. They remain in touch till today.

In the two years, the Chuas visited 36 ports in 18 countries, including Africa, Madagascar, Seychelles, Mauritius, India, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Malaysia, Philippines, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Korean and Japan.  

Kim Chye (second row, far right) and Jenny (second row, third from left) in India.

Kim Chye and Jenny in Thailand.

“In the Philippines, we shared the Good News with a group of children and prayed with them. It was something very meaningful.”

“Seeing the beautiful scenery does make me feel like God is a great Creator to create all these things.”

In Japan, they were hosted by a local medical doctor who took them to his holiday home in Choshu constructed out of pine wood.

It was only at the ports that they could call home or email their sons. “In those days, there was no Wifi on the ship.”

Asked if his experience brought him closer to God, Kim Chye said: “My belief is that God is always there. You draw yourself closer to Him by acknowledging Him and reading His Word.

“But seeing the beautiful scenery, especially when the sea is very calm, does make me feel like God is a great Creator to create all these things.

Dolphins came to swim alongside the ship.

“We saw dolphins and whales. We saw a rainbow end to end once. And at night, the whole sea would become luminous because of sea creatures, and we could see the whole galaxy of stars. It was so beautiful.”

A life of purpose

A year after Kim Chye and Jenny returned from Doulos, they left again — this time to Timor-Leste, where they lived for the next four years.

“All the while, I had the desire to serve, to reach out to people,” explained Kim Chye.

While Jenny taught children, Kim Chye shared the Good News with anyone who would listen.

“I only have simple faith. I just trust in God, that’s all.”

“There were a lot of Chinese diaspora who had gone there to do business, open small shops and grocery stores.

“I just talked to them. I only have simple faith. I just trust in God, that’s all.”

Two years ago, Kim Chye was diagnosed with Stage 4 lymphoma. It started with a bee sting on his neck. When the swelling refused to subside, he went to a GP who prescribed him antibiotics.

“But it became worse so I went to see a specialist.”

It was then that a biopsy was ordered and the results indicated Stage 4 cancer.

“It had spread to my lungs and my spine.”

Six months of treatment – 13 chemotherapy sessions and 20 more of radiation therapy – and he is now cancer-free and has returned to ministry on OM ships.

Mini trips

Because Jenny has to be home to care for the grandchildren, Kim Chye goes only on short trips.

He spent three months on Logos Hope travelling to Chile and Argentina. He recently came back from a stay on the new Doulos Hope in Penang. He was assigned to the galley as a cook, as well as to help out in ship maintenance.

“God has given me a second life. I will do whatever I can to serve Him.”

He is waiting to go on another three-month stint on Doulos Hope.

“At this age, God has given me a second life. I will do whatever I can to serve Him. I encourage young people to serve the Lord. Just go. Don’t need to think too much.

“Everything is in God’s hands. When we serve God, He will bless us in ways beyond our expectations. I will continue to serve until they say I cannot work anymore. As long as God is willing, I will go.”

In conjunction with the launch of Doulos Hope on May 5, 2023 in Singapore, saltandlight is running a series of stories on the men and women who have served or are serving with OM Ships.

To view opportunities to share God’s hope around the world, visit OM Ships at www.om.org/ships or follow OM Singapore on Instagram and Facebook or check out www.sg.om.org/go


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About the author

Christine Leow

Christine believes there is always a story waiting to be told, which led to a career in MediaCorp News. Her idea of a perfect day involves a big mug of tea, a bigger muffin and a good book.