“Singapore was once an unreached people group too. He is a God who longs to be known”: YWAM Singapore’s Joseph Chean
by Gemma Koh // February 7, 2022, 5:17 pm
"It was the Lord who came and found Singapore," said Joseph Chean. "He highlighted this tiny island to the nations of the world and that's how missionaries came to our shores." Screengrabs taken from the N5 Conference.
Stumbling upon a shop in Asia that sold tribal carvings, Joseph Chean struck up a conversation with the carver.
The artisan told Chean that he could carve out any phrase in his tribal language that Chean requested.
It was the year 2000. Chean was in a country located in the “10/40 window” – the area between 10 and 40 degrees north of the equator, stretching from North Africa to South Asia. The “10/40 window” is where 95% of people with the least access to Christian messages are located.
“Lord, what do you want him to carve to get to know You?”
So Chean prayed: “Lord, what do you want him to carve to get to know You?”
Youth With A Mission (YWAM) Singapore, where Chean would subsequently step up as national director, had been training and sending workers to this tribe for 10 years. There were no known Christians among them.
“Ask him to carve My name,” came in answer.
Chean then commissioned 10 copies of the phrase: The Lord is my shepherd.
The carver exclaimed: “I know what it means to be a shepherd. I used to be a shepherd!”
To Chean’s delight, the carver wanted to know more about God the shepherd.
As there were other customers in the shop, Chean was unable to share more because of local sensitivities.
“Do you know how hard it is to make a sheep lie down in green pastures?”
“So I took out my Bible and tore out Psalm 23, and circled the passage and gave it to him,” said Chean.
“This passage talks about who my God is, and my God’s name is Jehovah,” he told the carver.
When Chean returned the following week to pick up his order, the carver invited him to sit down, and made him a pot of tea.
The carver told him: “Do you know how hard it is to make a sheep lie down in green pastures? Do you know what time the shepherd needs to wake up to find quiet waters? And do you know how hard it is to restore the soul of a sheep? It’s so difficult. That’s why I didn’t want to be a shepherd. So Jehovah, your God, He’s a very good shepherd.”
Chean had to leave for the airport to catch a flight, but promised to return to share more about the good shepherd.
A church is born
Six months later, when he returned to the shop, Chean saw that copies of the plaques he had commissioned were displayed for sale. They described how God cares for us like a shepherd cares for sheep.
“I thought to myself, ‘This guy took my idea and turned it into a business. I should charge him royalties for the copies that he sold’,” he told viewers in jest.
It turns out that a few months earlier, a local man from a big city in that country had seen the plaque. He’d asked the carver how he knew about the Shepherd.
The carver told him: “I think I am the first to hear about Him in my tribe. But I don’t know how to be a Christian. Would you like to come and stay with me for three months? I will feed you and house you. You can work for me. And you can teach me.”
The local man agreed and eventually led the carver to the Lord.
This carver then led his wife to Christ.
“Both led the whole family clan to Christ. As a result, a church was born,” said Chean.
The first missionary
Fast forward 21 years to 2021.
Chean shared about his encounter with the carver during his talk at the 2021 N5 (Nehemiah 5) Conference. The conference aimed to equip believers to steward personal financial resources according to God’s Word and for kingdom purposes. Speakers and panellists included well-known names from the Church, the finance industry and missions.
A couple of weeks before the N5 conference, Chean invited some YWAM staff to his house for lunch. Among his guests was a woman.
“When I found out that she’s from this tribe and she’s a missionary, I had a shock.”
She came to Christ around the year 2010.
She told us: “In my village, there are churches and we are translating the Bible into my tribal language. I’m the first missionary that comes from the tribe.”
Chean pumped his fist in the air as he recalled the story to the N5 audience, acknowledging Jehovah’s “fantastic work” of raising Christians in the tribe. “Wow, God has done it … 21 years from a point of no Christians to this!”
Singapore, once unreached
“We can’t do all, we can do some,” Chean told the N5 audience, in his address titled Our Antioch Call.
“Singapore didn’t call on the Lord. He highlighted this tiny island … and that’s how missionaries came to our shores.”
“The task is so great, it requires the whole world to collaborate together to fulfil God’s desire to go and make disciples of all nations.
“He also promised us that only after we accomplish that task will we receive the blessing of His return.”
Chean urged his audience to always recall that Singapore was once, too, an unreached people group (UPG).
“We were not a nation. We were people that were broken. We were people that were poor.”
He quoted Isaiah 65:1: “I reveal myself to those who did not ask for me. I was found by those who did not seek me. To a nation that did not call my name, I said, Here am I, here am I.”
Chean added: “God does not wait for the people to call on Him; we didn’t call on the Lord.
“He is a God who longs to be known.”
“It was the Lord that came and found us. He highlighted this tiny island to the nations of the world and that’s how missionaries came to our shores.
“So He is a God who longs to be known.
“Singapore is where she is today because God has helped us, because God has blessed Singapore and made Singapore from a third-world to first-world nation in one generation.”
Singapore, therefore, has a responsibility to do what she can to fulfil the Great Commission, which comprises “three strands woven together as one”:
- Bringing the Gospel of salvation to all human beings.
- Bringing change into communities. “The Word of God has the power to transform nations,” said Chean.
- Bringing the Gospel of service to the poor and the marginalised.
“As the Antioch of Asia, it is Singapore’s responsibility to be a blessing, to be part of the Ezekiel 43 picture, to be part of the Habakkuk 2:14 picture.”
In all tribes and all tongues
Chean highlighted areas of need through two videos by Global Frontier Missions.
The statistics are sobering. Almost 3 billion people in the world are considered unreached.
- 7,000 out of 16,000 distinct people groups in the world’s 196 or so countries are UPGs (unreached people groups). Fewer than 2% evangelical Christians makes it a challenge to evangelise and disciple their community.
- Out of the 7,000 UPGs, 3,000 are considered UUPGs (unengaged, unreached people groups – with no churches, no believers, no missionaries, and no one actively focused on engaging them)
- 350+ UPGs are living in the United States as immigrants, refugees and international students.
Resources sent annually to reach the unreached are just as sobering.
- Less than 2% of income (US$700 billion out of US$42 trillion) earned annually by Christians is given to Christian causes (including Christian non-profits, churches, youth programmes and missions).
- A little over 6% (US$45 billion) of funds given to all Christian causes, is given to missions specifically
- Only 1% (US$450 million) of all missions money goes to the least reached people in the world. (To put that into perspective, Americans spend more money annually on Halloween costumes for their pets.)
- Only 3% of the cross-cultural missionary force of 400,000 worldwide is going to the populations who do not have a chance to hear about Jesus. (72% of all missionaries go to parts of the world that have Bibles and established churches, and 25% of all missionaries are sent to areas where there is already some access to the church and to the Bible.)
One out of every four people (around 29%) on this planet of 7 billion have never heard of Jesus. They have no access to the Gospel, no Bibles, no churches, no believers nearby, no chance to learn about Jesus.
In summary, less than 3% of the total cross-cultural missionary force, armed with 1% of missions giving, will reach two billion people who are still waiting for the good news of Jesus Christ.
“So here’s a question for you: What are you going to do to change that?” Chean challenged viewers.
“We must think about how we use our resources and where we plough our resources into so that the Gospel can reach the whole world.”
Chean pointed viewers to Antioch 21, LoveSingapore’s global missions arm, which was relaunched on November 25, 2021, at Church of our Saviour. It was founded in 2003 by the late Pastor Rick Seaward, and was put on pause after 10 years.
Aiming to catalyse local churches in obedience to the Great Commission, Antioch 21 also seeks to be a bridge-builder for innovative ideas, helping businesses and social enterprises become missional.
“It will marry the local church, the missions agency and marketplace to work together to commission and send Singaporeans out into the nations where there are unreached and where they are unengaged … so that the glory of God can be filled and to be known in all tribes and in all tongues,” he said.
“Would you go to hard places with no Christians and no churches to reach the unreached?”
A bun for the homeless
While Chean shared during the N5 Conference of the paucity of funds being sent to the unreached, Abraham Yeo, co-founder of Homeless Hearts of Singapore, highlighted the “forsaken and forgotten” in wealthy, first world countries.
He was in Japan on a mission trip when his heart was moved for the homeless.
Yeo had bought himself a bun. But he had felt God’s prompting to give the bun to an elderly man he saw counting the coins in his hand.
Subsequently, two missionaries in Japan separately invited him to join their outreach to the homeless.
“Beyond the giving of food and resources, what matters to them is going where they are, sitting down and talking to them one-on-one, treating them as fellow human beings.
“Jesus loves them and wants us to go out with them.”
“If we would just say ‘yes’ to God, He will send us to different places and different areas of need.”
In Singapore, Yeo started visiting the homeless in 2014 “without a plan or strategy”. He could not find any resources online at that time.
Seven years later, by the grace of God, resources have multiplied and Homeless Hearts has partners in the government and peer networks.
“It started by listening to the Holy Spirit, stopping for the one in need, seeing him through the eyes of Jesus and realising that it is ultimately Jesus whom you are feeding,” said Yeo.
Said Spencer Mok, Yeo’s colleague at Homeless Hearts: “The challenge for believers, especially in Singapore, is we romanticise the idea of service and ministry.
“Sometimes we want to find the perfect ministry and we say, ‘I don’t have affection for this area’.
“But the question is whether we want to avail of ourselves and say, ‘Here I am. Send me’.
“All of us have so many talents, giftings and resources – financially, mentally emotionally. I think if we would just say ‘yes’ to God, He will send us to different places and different areas of need.”
Mok counts as rewards “not financial blessings per se”, but seeing a homeless person find long-term housing, for instance.
“Blessing them and seeing them get blessed makes you feel blessed. It is like you are participating in their joy and reaping their rewards.”
Project Providence shared how “the oil never runs dry in His Kingdom”.
The teams from Homeless Hearts and Project Providence also spoke at the N5 panel discussion on Financial Well-Being for the Lost, the Least and the Last.
The spokesperson of Project Providence shared how “the oil never runs dry in His Kingdom”.
She said that, when they were called to put roofs over foreigners stranded in Singapore, the team never hit the target amount they aimed to raise. Yet they had enough to help more than twice the number of people they had initially intended to.
“The mathematics doesn’t make sense. It is the economy of God that doesn’t make sense to our rational minds,” she said.
She has seen resources multiply, beyond what they could imagine, through the family of God – churches, Christian ministries – and through brothers and sisters who share their homes, business contacts and finances. To the point that, when funds were running low, even non-Christian friends would ask them: “Can you guys pray?”
She shared: “The Lord changed my heart, mind, emotions, attitudes towards finances and resources because of volunteering with Project Providence.”
A God who provides non-stop
“It was overwhelming how God used us when we surrendered everything, including our debts, to Him,” added Frenchman Denis Kugler who started the Siem Reap Prayer House in Cambodia with his Singaporean wife, Charlene.
For almost a decade, the couple have been taking in people in need – widows, orphans, the poor, the mentally and physically ill – and caring for them.
He was one of three speakers who spoke at the N5 panel discussion, Going: Beyond Money: Faith and Finance for Missions.
“The first few years were very, very difficult. But as we put our trust in Him, God supplied.”
He revealed that for the last six years they have not needed to ask for financial support. Up to 60% of their needs are covered by five friends – including groups he has not met – supporting their ministry.
He estimated that they have given away about 500,000 meals to the poor and needy over the years, and 77 tonnes of rice.
Covid has exacerbated needs in tourist-dependent Siem Reap. Denis estimates that 70 to 80% of people are jobless, and a similar percentage of businesses have shuttered.
“The first few years were very, very difficult. But as we put our trust in Him, God supplied.”
He shared the joy of how they were able to help one woman thought to be on death’s door to recover from Covid because they gave her some funds for medication, “and of course because we prayed”.
He has story after story of how the Lord has miraculously provided “non-stop, non-stop, non-stop”. Even at an ATM in Singapore when he had forgotten to bring his bank card, the person behind turned out to be someone who knew him. He handed Denis $500.
“When you do good, God is very, very gracious. The more you give, the more you receive.
“It has been a difficult journey, but it is so cool! Before, when I was in business, I had a lot of money, but I could not sleep at night.
“When you do good, God is very, very gracious. The more you give, the more you receive.”
“Now, sometimes I don’t even have $5 in my pocket; it’s okay, it’s His problem,” Denis said in jest, gesticulating upwards.
“I always say I have an ATM in heaven! The only problem is sometimes the Lord changes the PIN and forgets to tell me,” he joked, then adds seriously, “All our needs, He knows even before we ask.
“Missions is so much more fun than business, especially with hundreds of people coming to Christ,” he said. They have, to date, planted 35 churches.
“We just rest, He is doing the things for us, and we move with Him.
“There is nothing at all to be fearful about,” he concluded.
MORE FROM THE N5 CONFERENCE:
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