Once a migrant worker, he is now a pastor to them

Gracia Lee // March 26, 2020, 9:58 pm

Once a migrant worker from India himself, Ps Selvasingh is now a pastor to many others like him. Photo taken from GEMS Tabernacle's Facebook page.

Yovan Selvasingh has spent the last 18 years in Singapore reaching out to migrant workers from India, pouring his life and resources into caring for both their needs and their souls. Photo from GEMS Tabernacle Singapore's Facebook page.

When Yovan Selvasingh arrived in Singapore from Tamil Nadu in March 1997, he wasn’t planning on staying for long.

He was 24 years old, and his plan was straightforward: Spend five years in Singapore’s petrochemical industry, save up some money and head home to India to do missions.

God knew his heart for the Gospel and his burden for his own countrymen.

But little did he know that the Lord had other plans. God knew his heart for the Gospel and his burden for his own countrymen. And He was about to use it for His Kingdom – just 3,500km away from home.

Pastor Selvasingh, as he is now known, has spent the last 18 years in Singapore reaching out to migrant workers from India, pouring his life and resources into caring for both their needs and their souls. 

He graduated from theological institution TCA College in 2009, and in 2016, started a church, GEMS Tabernacle. It now has two branches – one in Bukit Batok and the other in Pioneer. They are close to many large dormitories for migrant workers, who form about 80% of his congregation. 

Because their time here is often transient, many of them bring the message of hope back to their communities when they leave Singapore,” said Ps Selvasingh, now 47, a Singapore citizen, and married with three children. 

A prophecy

The life he is now leads is vastly different from what he would have imagined in his younger years. But it is more fulfilling, he admits. 

Born into a Christian family and serving in church since he was nine, Ps Selvasingh always knew he wanted to use his life to serve the Lord.

“He prayed over me and prophesied that God will give me a ministry in Singapore.”

He was figuring out how to do so when he arrived in Singapore. At a Christian conference here, he met Brother Augustine Jebakumar, the founder of Indian mission organisation Gospel Echoing Missionary Society (GEMS). 

The evangelist’s life and preaching inspired him. The young Selvasingh told him that he wanted to return to North India with him to be a missionary at his organisation. 

“But he prayed over me and prophesied that God will give me a ministry in Singapore,” Ps Selvasingh recalled. 

“I wanted to go back to India because the culture here is different. And my parents and siblings are back in India. But once I heard the prophecy, I felt joy in my heart and I decided to stay,” he said. A dream of himself serving the Lord in Singapore also confirmed this calling.

The open field

In 2002, with three friends, Ps Selvasingh decided to reach out to the Indian migrant workers.

Every Sunday evening, they would visit a cafeteria frequented by migrant workers and strike up conversations with them. Over a meal and a drink, they would ask them how they were doing.

“It was easy for us to approach them. We speak the same language and our culture is the same,” he said. Through this, he also learned more about their needs.

“Many of them are in a lot of debt and are struggling to settle their payments of agents’ fees. Some aren’t paid well. They have health problems.

“They need healing, they need peace. So we share Christ’s love, comfort their hearts and counsel them.”

So Ps Selvasingh helped them in whatever way he could. He even lent them money, a few thousands of which never ended up being repaid.

“I lost count already,” he said. “But I have, so I help.”

On learning that the workers weren’t familiar with using computers which were becoming commonplace, or good at spoken English, Ps Selvasingh and friends started weekly classes for them on these subjects. They were held at the home of a volunteer. 

They also began holding Sunday gatherings for the migrant workers at an open field, where they would sing songs, listen to God’s Word, pray and fellowship with one another.

At the open field ministry every Sunday, Ps Selvasingh sees up to 65 participants. Together they sing songs, read the Bible, pray and have fellowship. "They need healing, they need peace," said Ps Selvasingh. All photos courtesy of Ps Yovan Selvasingh.

Ps Selvasingh (standing) at an open field ministry session in 2013. Photo courtesy of Ps Yovan Selvasingh.

The Sunday gatherings started with just seven or eight people in attendance. But now up they see up to 65 workers each week.

Rain or sunshine, these outdoor sessions have been going on over the past two decades.

Regardless of the weather, Ps Selvasingh (in stripes) will share God's Word with the workers every Sunday.

Even in the rain, Ps Selvasingh (in orange and white) shares God’s Word with the workers every Sunday, like at this Christmas gathering. Photo courtesy of Ps Yovan Selvasingh.

“We openly share the Gospel. The workers are under tremendous stress because of work and family problems. They need healing, they need peace. So we pray and share Christ’s love. We comfort their hearts and counsel them.”

Faithful friendship

One of the many who have come to know Jesus more deeply through Ps Selvasingh’s ministry is Indian national Xavier Edwinraja Francis, 36. He came to work in Singapore in 2005.

Even though he had attended Sunday School growing up and knew who Jesus was, he admitted that his life was “far from Him”.

When he first met Ps Selvasingh, who invited him to the Sunday gatherings, he declined the invitation initially as he was not comfortable with meeting so many people. 

But about three years later, he hit a rough patch. He could not find a job in Singapore and lost his support system after his close friends returned to India.

“He encouraged us and always motivated us to live holy lives.”

“I felt like I had no hope and I feared for my future,” said Edwinraja, who has a wife and two children back home. In tears one night, he opened his Bible and God spoke to him from 2 Chronicles 7:14, urging Edwinraja to turn back to Him.

That week, he decided to attend a prayer session held by Ps Selvasingh. 

“He encouraged us and always motivated us to live holy lives. It stopped me from going down the wrong way,” he said. He was also ministered to by the testimonies shared by others about God’s goodness in their lives.

Edwinraja subsequently became more active in the ministry. He eventually rededicated his life to Jesus and was baptised. He is now an elder at the church, GEMS Tabernacle.

Edwinraja is thankful for the faithful friendship and guidance that Ps Selvasingh has given to him over the past 12 years.

“I share most of my things with him. Ps Selvasingh always calls me or messages me to ask if I need any prayer. He encourages me and prays for me,” he said.

Open doors

Ps Selvasingh counts these breakthroughs as victories not by his own efforts, but by the hand of God. His ministry has always been undergirded by prayer.

Even before he began reaching out to the migrant workers, he would hold regular prayer meetings at his rented home in Bukit Batok on Saturdays, praying for God to soften the ground and give his friends and him opportunities to share His love.

As they prayed, the Lord opened doors.

Prayer meeting at Ps Selvasingh’s rented home in Bukit Batok. When he got his own home in 2003, these prayer meetings went from being monthly to weekly.

Every year from 2007 to 2019, during the Chinese New Year holidays, they held two- to three-day outreach and fellowship sessions, which were attended by up to 500 workers each time. 

“God is doing all these things for us … At every step, I strongly believe that He’s leading us.”

Today, Ps Selvasingh’s ministry includes running up to 15 types of programmes for the workers. They range from counselling sessions and sports events to English classes and health screening. 

“Through much prayer, we have managed to do this,” he said. “God is doing all these things for us. It’s not by our human effort but by the hand and plan of God. At every step, I strongly believe that He’s leading us.”

God in action

It was also out of fervent prayer that his church, GEMS Tabernacle, was birthed.

Its name was inspired by the mission organisation that Ps Selvasingh had wanted to join. It has no direct affiliation to the ministry.

After praying for three years for the opportunity to better shepherd and disciple his flock, Ps Selvasingh secured a location at two industrial buildings which he uses to hold equipping sessions like discipleship training classes.

He established the church in 2016. It was funded by at least $50,000 of his own savings, along with contributions from other volunteers.

Congregants at the GEMS Tabernacle's inaugural service.

GEMS Tabernacle’s inaugural Tamil service. Photo taken from GEMS Tabernacle Singapore’s Facebook page.

His congregation of just 80 people are cared for by him and four elders. But he believes his mission field extends further than that.

“We just preach and help them if we can, and the joy comes!”

“These workers stay for a few months to a few years. We want to make them strong so that when they go back, they can influence their own community. That’s our hope,” he said, adding that some former members are now serving in the ministry after returning to India.

After close to two decades, Ps Selvasingh remains passionate about preaching the Good News through word and deed.

Last July, he quit his job in the petrochemical industry to become a programme manager at Sojourn, a unit set up by The Salvation Army through which it supports the Migrant Worker Ministry Alliance.

“We see that God is in action so we are really enjoying doing ministry.”

GEMS Tabernacle is one of the co-leaders of the alliance, a network of organisations and churches that reaches out to migrant workers.

The journey has not been smooth-sailing, but the joy of service makes it worth it, he said.

“Sometimes we may be discouraged, but when it comes to the ministry, the joy of the Lord comes in. We just preach and help them if we can, and the joy comes!

“Every disappointment and negative feeling is gone because people are accepting Jesus. People are being delivered.

“We see that God is in action so we are really enjoying doing ministry. The most important thing is that we are fulfilling God’s vision and His heart.”

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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.