Written by: Kenji Liew (Photo by: Lemuel Teo)
The mission trip that changed my life
I may have grown up in church, but my life was no different from many of my peers. Having grown up in a broken family, my concept and perception of love was tainted. As I did not find the warmth and concern in my family, I tried to fill the void of familial love with friendships, smoking, and drinking.
But these did not satisfy me for long. The pleasure was so temporal that it amplified the lack of purpose and significance in my life. Suicidal thoughts swirled around in my head frequently. I remember the many occasions where I stood atop a block of flats asking my friend if today was the day I was going to jump.
My love for the world and everything in it outweighed my love for God. Going to church therefore didn’t help either — I felt like church services were simply “mass therapy” and were ineffective in treating my afflictions.
Things started to change in 2014, when I went for my very first mission trip. As a student in Temasek Polytechnic, I went to Thailand with a team from Cru Singapore and RADION (a Christian organisation that equips and trains Christians for missions).
Somehow, by God’s grace, I found myself at the frontline of RADION’s work in Thailand. They were running a rehabilitation centre for children from broken families with backgrounds of drug abuse. I could really identify and relate with the children there.
It astonished me when I saw how they loved each other and my team of fellow volunteers; they genuinely cared for and opened up to the people around them. Each of their lives told a story of restoration in and through Christ, despite all that they had gone through in their young lives.
The love that was evidently emanating from the children’s lives made me question myself: Why was I still living in darkness even though I had known about God longer than they have? I had come to another moment in my life where I came face-to-face with the choice to either reject or accept this scandalous love — a love so free yet so costly.
During the mission trip, I also had a serendipitous conversation about the prophet Hosea and his relationship with Gomer. God called Hosea to take Gomer — a prostitute — as his wife. She was unfaithful to him and went back to other lovers who gave her the pleasures of life, completely forgetting that Hosea had already given her everything. She disregarded the fact that she belonged to him.
Yet, Hosea restores their relationship and forgives her. Even so, Gomer went back to her old ways, and Hosea had to buy her back (Hosea 1–3). It was a story of betrayal and restoration, emerging from a convenantal love that comes from grace and not by works.
As a lukewarm Christian, I felt like I was Gomer and God was Hosea. He simply would not give up on me and would continually love on a whore like me who betrays him all too easily.
Through that conversation, I came to understand that, despite my harlotry and idolatry, God brought me to a place to rebuke me gently so that I could be loved by Him and love Him back. Like Hosea, all God wanted was for us to be together. The price was paid — Jesus was the price — and I was redeemed by Him.
As I sat down, processing what was running through my heart, one of my team mates told me, “Kenji, God wants me to tell you that He brought you all the way from Singapore to Thailand to tell you that He loves you.”
This was the turning point of my life. I wept at how I did not deserve God’s grace and love. That day I looked to the sky and said, “I have decided to truly follow Jesus. No turning back, no turning back.”
I have come to understand that the reason why we really serve and obey God is simply out of the love He gave us first on the cross. The posture behind serving God is to serve and love the people humbly, and not serving to convert others but because we are converted.
As I continue loving God and growing, God has shown me that He demands a radical commitment following Him — one that will die to self to follow Him. We have to live out the Great Commission wherever God may call us.