Words and Photos by Ronald Lim
It has been almost a decade since I’ve left the country for a trip other than a holiday.
Conveniently-crafted excuses have always worked in sweeping aside the idea of going for a mission trip. I did not think I would be a missionary; I did not feel called nor have I wept at an altar call when others were praying in desperation for the nations. Missionaries do what they do best, and I had reasoned that I would be happy funding them via bi-annual church donation drives.
It is peculiar how insular we can get when we choose to limit our ministry to only the areas we feel strongly for.
Nearing the end of 2014, things started to change. I decided to go on a trip to wherever God would call me. He did, as a few months later, my pastor gave me a personal phone call. Surprised that my prayer was answered, the doors to Myanmar opened to a small team for a pastoral-level ministry. I went, not knowing anything apart from the fact that I was making good on my promise to God.
In the few days in Yangon, the capital city, my worldview changed. I had thought that this trip would make a good sabbath from the hectic life I left behind in Singapore, but I couldn’t be more wrong.
One has to take on a sharp mind and spirit during a mission trip; every decision and action must be made with careful intention. I observed how my pastor detailed his every decision so that he could get to the different churches in the shortest time possible, thereby ensuring that ministry time would be maximised.
He told me that he was not going to spend 200 days away from his wife and sons every year just so that he could eke out mediocre work on the field. Every day away from his family needed to count; every day on the field needed to be his best. This man was intense.
I was reminded of how Jesus was deliberate in his every action during his three brief years in ministry. From the routes that he chose to the conversations he made, nothing was left to chance. Every day on earth meant that no moment was to be wasted. It struck me that I was nowhere as intentional in my living or ministry and this had to change.
Mission work was never about comfort. What you typically get from it is spiritual dissatisfaction and a huge timeout in a strange land with none of your daily routines to fall back on. It may be uncomfortable, but a short-term mission trip makes for an excellent start.
The children taught me so much about submitting to God’s timing. They were never in a rush. They did as they were instructed not because they had to, but because they wanted to. Our trip did not always go according to plan and we may be frantic for a while, but then we learnt that there was a better timing than the plans put on paper — much joy is to be found when we walk stride by stride with God.
The children painted crosses on clay backed rocks during our visit to the tuition centre. They were thrilled by the sight of paint; we, on the other hand, were thrilled by the simplicity of their hearts.
It was humbling to see how hungry they were for the Word of God. Most times, we fail to recognise how much we take things for granted until we see how much they would give up for every available teaching session.
In a country where the income disparity is high, chancing upon a golf course for the country’s elite was slightly disconcerting. It brings perspective to how much we are used to the wealth around us back in Singapore.
Everyday, these youth pastors would dress their “Sunday Best” when they came to church for our meetings. This was something that my pastor told us: Even the poorest would don their best when coming to the House of God. I’ve seen a homeless man wear the cleanest flannel collared shirt he had during one of our outreach services. I would never forget this. He could not afford to give a tithe but he had already given to God all the reverence he could afford.
We need to step out beyond our shores if we want to see the work that God is doing in the nations. While we do our best to bring the lost to church, let us not forget that Jesus first called us to go and make disciples of all nations. We were called to go out to the nations.
I remember leaving Yangon feeling that this was no longer just a fulfilment of my promise of a trip to God. Rather, He has revealed to me a larger picture of His promise to the lost; us. And for me, this spelt the beginning of many more trips to come.