“The best place is where God wants you to be”: Parents of a third-world cross-cultural worker
Rachel Phua // August 15, 2019, 5:16 pm
Ironically, it was a visit to their daughter in war torn Central Asia that reassured Fred and Kai that she was where God wanted her to be. Photo by Yulia Agnis on Unsplash.
When their daughter* told them she wanted to serve God in the nations, both Fred* and his wife Kai* were taken aback, if not dismayed. But even more surprisingly, they gave her the go-ahead.
Inside, though, they were concerned that she would not survive, not in the war-torn Central Asian country she had left Singapore for in May 2015. They were a well-to-do family. She grew up with a helper who did the housework and carried her schoolbag for her, to the point where her teacher had told her parents off for it.
Three months passed. There was no sign of her at their doorstep, luggage in tow. No cry of regret even, on the phone. It finally hit Fred and Kai, both accountants, that their daughter was serious, and they had to gradually come to terms with her leaving.
But God gave them more than just tolerance. They saw their daughter anew, resilient and benevolent, and their own understanding of who the Lord is, began to align with His nature.
Serving God in the nations
Fred and Kai weren’t Christians when their daughter first brought up the idea of becoming a cross-culture worker in 2013, though they knew she was one.
“We were hoping that after going to such a beautiful place as Hawaii, she wouldn’t feel like going to (the other country*)!”
Their daughter was a government scholar with a solid future in the civil service, but she left two years after her bond was up. Taking six months of unpaid leave, she attended Youth With A Mission’s Discipleship Training School in Hawaii in April 2013.
“We were hoping that she would go to such a beautiful place she wouldn’t feel like going to (the other country*) afterwards!” Kai said. “I wanted my daughter with me.”
But their daughter returned more determined than ever to serve God in the nations. Knowing she would be gone indefinitely, and deeply desiring her parents to come to faith, she enrolled Fred and Kai in an Alpha course organised by Barker Road Methodist Church in 2014, where they accepted Christ.
They became Christians, and even volunteered to facilitate the subsequent Alpha run, but Fred, 67 and Kai, 66, still had far to go in their understanding of the faith. Three months into their daughter’s departure, they grew worried; there was no word about whether she had given up. Like any parent, they wanted her to settle down back home, start a family, look after them as they aged, they said.
Change of mind
In March this year, the couple went to visit their daughter, where they got a culture shock.
The moment they arrived at the airport, their driver ran out after picking up their luggage. When he got back to the car, he realised he had locked the car from the inside. Immediately, he smashed the glass window, and asked a child nearby to climb in to grab the keys. Once Fred & Kai were on board, he sped off. They found out later he was afraid of any potential attacks. Every minute they were out in the open, they were in danger.
When they got to the city, Fred and Kai were in for another surprise. There was a lift in their daughter’s apartment building, but she told them they risked getting trapped inside if they took it. The power supply could be cut off anytime. So the 60-plus years old lugged their bags up three floors.
Exploring the city required patience. The police would routinely come forward to inspect them.
Here was a family who could have thrived back home, but who had chosen to sacrifice stability for Christ.
Yet, it was through this trip that they were reassured of their daughter’s calling.
After about four years living in the country, she was able to communicate with the locals smoothly. When the police stopped them, she knew how to assuage them calmly. When they visited a village she served at, they met believers with whom she had the privilege of journeying with.
One of them was an impoverished grandmother, whose ill-stricken grandson Fred and Kai’s daughter had helped to raise medical funds for through her home church in Singapore.
When grandmother and grandson first came to the capital to seek medical help, they were not believers. Through the love and prayers of an expat doctor, they came to faith.
Sadly, the grandson died, and their daughter was close enough – through hospital visits and prayers – to console her.
The boy’s father, who had seen the love and care the expats had for his son and family, had also come to faith.
On a different occasion, they visited another family who was there for cross-cultural work – a couple and their seven children.
Their home was bare, and the children were overjoyed when they saw the boxes of Oreos and cereal that Fred and Kai had brought for them at their daughter’s behest.
The mother was thankful for the shampoo and conditioner and coffee beans, as these were precious items that are not to be found in the village they stayed at. The family was struggling to make ends meet, but considered it a joy to suffer for the Gospel.
It got Fred and Kai thinking: Many Singaporeans were miserable and grouchy, though they have all the conveniences. Yet here was a family who could have thrived back home, but who had chosen to sacrifice stability for Christ.
Even the lack of reliable cellular network came to have its advantages.
The relationship between Fred, Kai and their daughter grew stronger, since their daughter would call whenever she could, sharing openly about the hard conditions living there. In Singapore, everyone at home was so busy they never found time to properly interact.
Kai remembers when their daughter, who as a child used to be afraid of the dark, experienced her first winter in the country. The major power sources to the city had been bombed out, leaving the capital in months of darkness. Lonely, scared and cold, the weight of the task suddenly upon her, their daughter had spent many depressing nights in tears, crying out to God and asking why He sent her there, she told them.
“God sent her there for a purpose, so we also pray for that purpose.”
Earthquakes and kidnappings are prevalent in the country their daughter is in. So are power outages, which means getting information or a phone call about whether their daughter is safe, can take a more than a couple of nerve-racking hours.
One early afternoon in late-2015, a strong earthquake shook the country and its neighbours and killed hundreds. The first phone call Fred and Kai got wasn’t from their daughter, but from a Ministry of Foreign Affairs officer in Singapore asking whether they had received word from her. Outbound news was scarce.
No, they said, still frantically trying to reach her. Fred and Kai kept getting phone calls only from the Ministry official, until around 8pm Singapore time, when the first words they heard from a muffled call was: “I’m safe.”
Their daughter’s precarious situation has taught Fred and Kai a lesson: As parents, they were undeniably reluctant to let their daughter go, what more stay on, but really, “you’re in the best place if that’s where God wants you to be”, Kai said.
After coming to terms with the fact that God is sovereign over their daughter’s wellbeing, Fred and Kai have changed their prayers from praying for their daughter’s safety to praying for the countrymen’s salvation.
“God sent her there for a purpose, so we also pray for that purpose,” Fred said.
Fred and Kai empathise with parents, even Christians, who are unwilling to let their children go into uncharted territories. They had grappled with their daughter’s career choice. They, too, had thought that the best for her was to have a thriving career and family.
But Fred advises parents to turn back to the simplest of Bible verses, Matthew 22:36-39, which says that the greatest commandment is to love God and your neighbour.
Put Him first, and all of what a parent wants for their kids – their wellbeing, their happiness – will be given, in what the Father deems as blessings (Matthew 6:33).
It is the Holy Spirit that shores up joy (Galatians 5:22), not subpar, human constructs of pleasure.
Do we want our children to invest in what gives them “temporary material returns, or everlasting spiritual ones?” asked Fred.
*Fred and Kai’s names, as well as the name and country-of-residence of the worker have been withheld to ensure her safety.