“The God time may not be a good time”: A missionary looks back on her season of waiting
Ting Siew Lee // February 22, 2022, 2:24 pm
How can missionaries-to-be navigate the season before being launched into the mission field? The author, who spent 14 years in Timor-Leste, looks back on her own journey. Photo by Marco Lopez on Unsplash.
Waiting before one is launched into the mission field can be most challenging when one is between 25 to 35 years old.
So shared veteran missionary and medical doctor Dr Tan Lai Yong, a panellist at the inaugural Goer Missions Forum. The event focused on how to steward well this waiting season. It drew 200 attendees – mostly young adults.
The mid-twenties is when young adults work hard to get ahead in life.
Facilitator of the programme, Ting Siew Lee, could not agree more with Dr Tan’s analysis. Siew Lee is also a member of the Antioch 21 taskforce that organised the forum.
Siew Lee spent her twenties preparing to be sent out to the mission field. After 14 years in Timor-Leste, she is back in Singapore after handing over the ministry she co-founded to a team of homegrown Timorese leaders.
Below, she looks back on her journey. She shares with Salt&Light how prospective goers could learn to navigate the tension that comes with waiting.
“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”
“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat.
“I don’t much care where –” said Alice.
“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” said the Cat.
There’s a lot of truth expressed in the above exchange from Alice in Wonderland.
When we don’t quite care where we want to end up, it does not matter how we live, and what decisions we make.
But the moment one does care – all of life changes.
Becoming a missionary is a dream that can only be fulfilled if one veers sharply away from the typical path.
This is especially so when being a missionary is the the hoped-for outcome. It is a dream that can only be fulfilled if one chooses to go on a journey that veers sharply away from the typical path.
I came to know Christ at 19.
By 21, I decided that I wanted to be a missionary.
Two years into my working life, I became a little distracted, and questioned if I was really cut out for missions.
Then at 24, I went on a short-term mission trip to East Asia.
On that trip, I hiked up mountains with toothless old ladies who overtook us effortlessly, drank potent homemade alcohol on behalf of the helpless minors in my team, and hitched rides in rickety wagons that rattled down gravel paths.
As I shared the gospel with the villagers we met, I felt an incredible joy that had eluded me in my working life so far.
I knew then that cross-cultural missions was what I really wanted to do, and nothing else would satisfy me. I returned to Singapore, with a laser-like determination to become a missionary.
The path less taken
The waiting season can be especially tough for adults in the prime of their lives.
The mid-twenties is when young adults work hard to get ahead in life. It typically includes getting married, buying property, moving up the career ladder and generally making lots of money.
Deviating from this trajectory is to go down the path less taken, which can be a lonely experience.
I decided I could not be tied down by debt once I was launched into the field.
The decision to prepare one’s self to be a missionary unleashes many practical ramifications in so many areas of life. How you spend your time for example.
I signed up for Bible school to prepare myself for the mission field, and for three years, it felt like I had no free time at all. I had to juggle part-time theological studies in the mornings, with full-time work stretching late into the night, and intense commitments at church over the weekends.
Then, there are financial considerations.
While many young working adults are relishing their financial freedom and indulging in the so-called finer things in life, a prospective missionary often has to come to terms with an impending loss of income and begin saving earnestly in preparation for what could be a big pay cut.
I also remember making a conscious decision to be debt free, knowing that as a missionary, I would make less money than I could otherwise. I decided I could not be tied down by debt once I was launched into the field.
The decision to pursue missions also radically changes one’s thought processes about relationships. Suddenly, many people who might be considered eligible and attractive life partners by many aren’t so anymore to a prospective goer, because they may not have an interest in missions.
Suddenly, many who might be considered attractive life partners aren’t so anymore.
A prospective missionary is aware that he or she is signing up for life experiences that are contrary to what many Singaporeans aspire to. Who else might be ready to embrace such a different way of life while holding fast to the marriage covenant?
The stories vary as God leads. Some go out single and meet their life partner in the field. Many raise children overseas, and experience God’s incredible provision and protection. A good number also remain single.
Whatever our station in life, God has promised peace and joy as we abide in Christ. Ultimately, there is no more marriage in Heaven, for we shall be in perfect union with the eternal Bridegroom.
What then are some practices we can adopt, to hold these tensions as we navigate the season of waiting?
Pegged to the Word
Much like how a tent needs to be securely pegged to the ground, we need God’s word to ground our faith in the waiting season when nothing may appear to be happening. Looking back, there were several scriptures that were very significant in strengthening my resolve as I waited.
One was John 10:10. The promise of abundant life captivated my heart then, and still does today.
What an enigmatic offer! Fullness. Purpose and meaning. Joy. Impact.
Was the day’s labour merely dust and ashes to be blown away by the winds of time?
Jesus was offering me all that we long for, and more, beyond what my finite human understanding could grasp. The longing for such a life kept me holding out for more as I traversed that space of waiting. In my case, it spanned seven long years.
John 6:27 was another peg in the ground that anchored my faith in God’s perfect timing to send me out.
“Do not labour for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to everlasting life …”
This verse would repeat in my mind endlessly, as I looked out of the cab window on the way home after yet another night shift at the television station where I used to work.
Almost every night, I asked myself if the result of that day’s labour would endure to eternity. Or was it merely dust and ashes to be blown away by the winds of time? I did not want the latter to be the verdict of my life’s labour.
If today you are in the same place that I was almost 20 years ago, I invite you to search the scriptures earnestly and allow God to deposit in your spirit key promises to ground you as you pursue His will, no matter how long and challenging the wait may be.
Whatever storms may come our way, God’s word is steadfast and unchanging. He will hold on to us, as we hold on to His word.
There is never a good time to go
Missions is disruptive and costly. There is no way around this.
If we find ourselves questioning when is a good time to go, we need to take a step back and consider the example the incarnate Christ set for us.
It was not a good time to go, but it was God’s kairos time.
It cost Jesus everything to be fully obedient to God’s mission of saving us. We should not think that the “right” time for you and I to go is when all the stars align in our lives and when all the pieces fall into place perfectly.
The God time may not be a good time by human standards.
I left for the mission field about six months after a personal tragedy had hit my family, and arrived in Timor-Leste as civil unrest, gang conflict and post-election violence was rocking the country. It was not a good time to go, but it was God’s kairos time, and that is what I had to embrace.
So, if you are at that place of weighing your options and discerning the times and seasons, draw close to Christ. Immerse yourself in the gospel. Incline your heart to truly know Him who became flesh and walked amongst us. He has not called us to do anything that He Himself has not modelled for us. Let the obedience of Christ inspire you as you live out your days in humble submission to His highest calling on your life.
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