The earthquake that shook a Singapore missionary’s faith
by Darryl Lin // March 17, 2018, 6:17 pm
Photo by Sergey Pesterev on Unsplash
“My child, look at the Nepali believers. In danger, your first instinct is to run. Their first instinct is to pray. Sit down, I am here.”
Singaporean Jea Ng was in a Nepal church during a peaceful Saturday service in April 2015 when the ground started swaying. Then shaking.
Registering “Earthquake!”, Ng was poised to flee through the nearest exit when she noticed something she did not expect: Every single one of the Nepali believers was staying put, worshipping and praying even as the ground shook.
That was when God’s voice rose above the turmoil: “Sit down. I am here.”
Tale worth telling
It is now 2018 and Ng, 32, is sipping a a tangerine chocolate coffee latté at The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf.
“Yes, I still order lattés,” she smiles, referring to the title of her book, Latte to Lathi – Finding an Unshakeable Faith, on her time in Nepal including the moment the earth shook.
Because of the inaccessibility of such villages, many people had never even heard the name of Jesus. They would ask, “What is Jesus? A place? A person?”
Ng is back in Singapore, working in the social services sector in civil service.
Before her current job, Ng had taken a year to write Latte to Lathi, which she felt God calling her to do, despite not having experience in writing and publishing.
The honest retelling of her time in Nepal is a result of the weekly journaling she faithfully did during her time there as a missionary, as well as the photos she took mostly with her iPhone 6.
The book is about Nepal and the people who hunger to hear about God. (More about that later.)
But it is as much about the faith journey of an ordinary young Singaporean who leaves a comfortable life of sipping lattés to pick up a lathi (bamboo staff) in Nepal, and going on a journey that taught her to depend fully on God.
In Nepal, she would live through the country’s biggest earthquake in 80 years, sit through 48-hour long bus rides, hike for days to reach the people in the remote west and experience first-hand the effects of India’s oil embargo.
At that time, she took herself off social media and removed herself from WhatsApp chat groups. Communication was limited to personal messages and emails, carefully crafted for fear of prying government eyes.
As her stories and photos “teleport readers to Nepal”, Ng hopes especially for youths and young adults who read her book to be bold in stepping out of their comfort zone to know God as a faithful God.
Call to return
Nepal was unexpected for Ng.
The first child in a family of three, she chose to study a “safe subject”, Economics, at the National University of Singapore.
After graduation, she found herself a steady job in the social services sector, taking frequent holidays and sipping lattés at cafés.
Life was comfortable.
But during a bus ride on the way to work one day, a thought crept into Ng’s consciousness.
I’m so comfortable right where I am. If I didn’t have God, nothing would change.
“Faith is about coming to the end of yourself and just realising that God is sufficient and dependable and He will not fail.”
She was shocked. How could someone who prided herself on being close to God, someone who had been in Youth for Christ for 10 years since upper secondary to university days, end up so apathetic?
She wanted, needed, to encounter God again.
So in 2010 she made the decision to dedicate one year of her life to God in missions.
During a pre-mission preparatory conference, 2 Timothy 1:7-9 hit her with force. It was the same verse in a handwritten card given to her by her ex-colleague.
In that moment, God “removed all my fear”, says Ng.
When the earth shook
Her one and a half years as a missionary included bringing Christian literature to the unreached parts of Nepal, supporting a local church in a remote village, holding Bible study classes for youth and conducting talks for women about family health.
“I remember walking for five days just to arrive in a remote village to share the Gospel,” recalls Ng.
Because of the inaccessibility of such villages and the lack of access to the Internet, many people had never even heard the name of Jesus.
“They would ask, ‘What is Jesus? A place? A person?’
“Because of how deeply intertwined religion and culture is in Nepal, accepting Christ for a Nepali is like leaving one’s family and one’s roots.”
The 2015 earthquake, which occurred just three months into Ng’s term in Nepal, turned out to be the biggest in 80 years. Some 8,800 people were killed and 3.5 million were left homeless.
The faith of the believers who prayed while she panicked, was a defining moment for the young missionary, who learnt from that moment to depend fully on God.
The days and months that followed were difficult ones, with nights constantly interrupted by earthquake alarms.
But when I ask if she would make the same choice to go to Nepal, her unhesitating answer is: “Yes.”
“Contrary to what people think, one doesn’t have to be at their highest faith level to go (for missions),” Ng says.
When she promised God one year of her life to missions, she was actually at her lowest point and broken in her faith.
There is never really a perfect time to go for missions, as we can say: “Oh I’m getting a promotion”, or “I’ve just started working”, notes Ng.
“Faith is about coming to the end of yourself and just realising that God is sufficient and dependable and He will not fail.
“He has saved us and called us to a holy life – not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace, given to us in Christ Jesus.”
Catching the fire
In October 2017, the Nepalese government announced to the world that evangelism and Christian conversion in Nepal is now illegal.
“Often, with great persecution comes great growth. Man can plan to stop God’s work but our God is a God of power, miracles and visions.”
Anyone found guilty will be fined and imprisoned for up to five years. Foreigners included.
With the crackdown on Christianity, the lathi in her book title takes on an ominous note.
While lathi can refer to a walking stick, it is also a club for attacking, used particularly by the police. There is even a name for this kind of violence: lathi charge.
“Anyone who shares the Gospel in Nepal – be it locals or foreigners – must be ready to suffer for it,” says Ng. “In 2016, even before the new law was officially passed, seven teachers were handcuffed, taken into custody and jailed for distributing religious materials to students.
“I also remember my Nepali brothers and sisters-in-Christ who are currently in full-time ministry work in the least-reached districts of Nepal. They reach out to villagers and hold house church services for believers.
“All it takes is for one hostile villager to make an official complaint against them and they would be imprisoned.”
It is necessary for the Nepali Christians to “catch the fire for evangelism themselves”, and to share the Gospel to their own people instead of relying on foreign missionaries, whose role is “equipping the believers in Nepal to reach out”.
But God is sovereign and the work of His Kingdom is unstoppable, reminds Ng.
“Often, with great persecution comes great growth. Man can plan to stop God’s work but our God is a God of power, miracles and visions.
“For every soul in Nepal that earnestly seeks Him, He will reveal Himself to them.”
Ng encourages Christians to continuously have a heart for service that is dependant on the Holy Spirit, whether we are called to serve in overseas missions or our workplaces in Singapore.
“Pray and seek His vision and how He wants to bring kingdom values to the workplace,” urges Ng. “Jesus has already redeemed work.”