It was with much tears and fears that I stepped on the plane to France for a week of unexpected love and grace from God. A few months back, when I announced my decision to go on a short-term mission trip with Operation Mobilisation (OM) France, it was welcomed with both encouragements and doubts from people around me. The trip – “Retro Extreme” (going back to the pioneer days of OM where OMers had to do outreach by faith, moving into nations with just a truck and Bible literature) was intended to be an unplanned mission trip to central France, one of the most spiritually deprived areas of France. The nature of the trip gives participants a chance to put their faith into a practical and real way by relying on God for provision while doing outreach. Some people had practical concerns for me like whether it was safe, while others questioned why I had to travel that far to spread the Gospel. Surely, there were many people living in poverty that needs to be reached in my part of the world? Some thought it was going to be a “luxurious” (relative) mission trip in which I could enjoy being a tourist with its great scenery and shopping. Many voices often crowded my mind and I began to doubt whether I had made the right decision to go. At the same time, the fear of having to travel alone and do things unknown began to creep in day by day, till I often broke down and cried out to God a few weeks before I left.
I later learned that doubts forces us to seek God with all our heart and mind and soul in order to discern His will and be assured that He is with us and in control. About two weeks before I left, my boss announced that I was promoted to a senior position. Yet ironically, he said he could not let me know what was the pay increment as he had forgotten how much was given to me and the accounts lady was out of office that day. Frankly speaking, I have always been struggling with the issue of always wanting more money and the senior title did not matter as much as the pay increment. I could not concentrate at work the whole day, holding resentful thoughts towards my company for giving less generous incentives and benefits to its employees. At the same time, I am aware of my desire for money and often, I did not like myself for it. After all, I hear people saying all the time how it is wrong to love money. But how does hearing all those help? It does not diminish my love for money any lesser. In fact, I hated myself even more so and thought God would not like that part of me (on top of that, maybe he would punish me by reducing my blessings elsewhere in my life?). However, I remember constant encouragements from pastors and friends that Jesus is like our friend, and we can go to Him like a friend. For the whole of that day, I told God how I did not want to think about the money but failed and asked if He could please help me. Later that evening, I met up with a friend who was going through a rough time in her life. In my own human strength, I thought I was going to be the one ministering to her that night. But God is so good. That evening, she gave me a hand-written card (who hand writes card these days right?) and a sum of money for the mission trip! I had read about full-time missionaries getting financial support from people, but never thought it would happen to me, what more from someone who was going through pain at that point of time! That evening, my boyfriend hand-delivered a gift-wrapped travel pillow (intended for the travel to France) as a random gift. I was shocked to receive it and even though he showers me with little gifts now and then, I thought that was the most apt and romantic gift from him. As I laid down in bed at night, I could not help but feel touched by the acts of two people so dear to me. I think God showed me through a practical way how blessings like that are worth much more than gaining money riches of this world. The next day, I went to work with a peaceful and joyful heart and accepted the decent pay increment from my company graciously, with no feelings of strife or discontentment. Words cannot describe the amount of joy I had as I marvelled at how God could kill two birds with one stone – he had made use of one day to assure me of my trip to France, as well as showed me how His love is greater than none other.
With that, I took the flight to Paris on 10th September 2012 night. I was still gripped with fear. As I sat down at my seat on the plane, I told God that from that moment, I would surrender my all to Him and let Him take over for every single thing that is going to happen from that point of time. You know how it is like when you pray such prayers but yet somewhere deep in your heart, you think you still have to do something? At that time, I did not know how the trip was going to be a practical lesson for what I prayed for.
When I reached Paris, I was still worried all the time. No doubt I had been to Europe for 6 months during my university exchange program 3 years back. But as a student, no matter what overseas programme I took part in, I was always surrounded with friends. Thoughts of being lost or being kidnapped gripped my mind constantly. I was also worried about what would happened over the next week. Would I be able to fit in with team members of different nationalities? Would I be of use to the team? While travelling to the OM France base in Paris, I met a French lady of Chinese descent who did not have small change for taking the bus. She wanted to change US dollars with me, but I could not do a conversion of USD to EUR off my head. I felt led to bless her with the 2 Euro ticket. Later on the bus, the lady asked me for my purpose of visit. As I shared, she became curious about Christians and that opened the door to share the Gospel! She had asked about the difference between Catholics and Christians as she had encountered many Catholics in France. This was exactly what I had been struggling with back in Singapore prior to the trip. I never did find a perfect answer to accounting for the difference between Catholics and Christians. Yet at that moment, I was not tongue-tied for words. I simply told her that as long as people believe that Jesus died for our sins and that we are freely forgiven by His grace and not by our good works, and accepts Him as our Lord Saviour, then they will have eternal life and not perish (modified version of John 3:16!). I am not sure how much she could fully comprehend that but I believe God is the one who will work in her life from there. There in that conversation, the gospel was preached through the question that I initially struggled with. She even initiated to exchange phone number and email address so that I can still send her some “interesting stuff” about the Bible when I get back home and can still be in touch with her! What a thoughtful heavenly Daddy! Despite my fear of travelling alone, God not only eliminated that fear but showed me how I can be used despite fears.
Finally, I reached OM France base and met the rest of the team. Here’s a picture of the team!
We set off to the first town in Central France in 6 hours van-journey! This was the castle of Fontainbleau which we saw along the way.
I was having such bad motion sickness throughout the whole journey that I questioned God how I am ever going to be able to do mission trips if I were to have motion sickness that easily! Finally, we reached the first Protestante Evangelique church in the evening. It seemed to have slipped my mind that French do kiss greetings. Upon arrival, I felt completely out of the place and awkward having to kiss everyone I met twice on the cheeks on both sides! However, I would agree that it was precisely this culture that made me enjoy the warmth and hospitality of French. One missionary we met later joked about how there are no mega churches in France as it would be impossible to do kiss greetings for over tens of thousands of church members in that one church!
During that evening, we sang with the congregation on a weekday evening service, as well as shared our testimonies. I have never been one enthusiastic about public speaking. If anyone knew me long enough, they would know how I easily turn as red as a tomato and shiver when I speak on stage. However, somehow, I naturally volunteered to share my testimony of how I came to France for the outreach. Looking back, I know it is because God had intended for me to experience His love so greatly prior to the trip, that it was just naturally exciting for me to share about His great love with others despite my inadequacies and fears! Such is the amazing power of experiencing the beauty of Jesus! Here’s what Martin, my Austrian team mate wrote about our sharing (he was the other who volunteered to share testimony that night – it’s interesting how I did not see it the way he did):
“On the first day, during a stop on the way from the OM office to Tulle we were standing around chatting, then Paul asked two members of the team if they could share how they came to be on this mission trip. The same day, in the evening, we participated in the service at the church in Tulle. Two team members shared – the same two that Paul had asked before, during the stop. It seemed to me that God had planned all this in advance, and that in retrospect He was announcing beforehand what He was going to do. What a great example of how God leads a team through a team leader.”
The next morning, our team set off to do street evangelism at a street market. I found the way how OM France does street evangelism very interesting. What we were asked to do was to go into pairs as only 3 of us on the team speaks French. The other partner who does not speak French will be the prayer supporter. We are given a survey with 10 statements on it. Statements such as “We are saved by our good works”. The person who we are “reaching out” to would choose “True”, “False” or “I don’t know” for each statement. We would then use these as a conversation starter to share with them what the Bible says about those topics.
Back in Singapore, I have done community outreach with my church by visiting residents and blessing them with a gift while trying to reach out to them through invitations to events or just starting a conversation. We also did our community outreach in pairs. However, as both speaks the local language English and/or Mandarin, both people would usually be trying to help each other talk to the residents. As I started doing outreach at the street market with Jennifer that morning, I began to feel useless. I felt like I was a statue that could do nothing as I could not converse with the locals in their local language French. It then dawned on me what my role was in the two-man team – the prayer supporter. To be honest, I have never been a great fan of praying for others. I often do it because I was told to do so. More often than not, my prayers were for myself or at least for people who are important to me. It was there and then that God reminded me to depend on the Holy Spirit, to be sensitive to Him and follow His leading and promptings as I pray. As Jennifer reached out to the locals, I began praying for the people, inviting the Holy Spirit to come touch these people. It was interesting how the French are so well-blessed with the basic necessities of life such as food, housing and clothes, that it seems normal that many thought having a religion was unnecessary. One of the guys we spoke to started a debate on evolution theory. However, he was also curious about why I was there and that opened door to sharing my personal testimony of coming to know Lord Jesus Christ with him. One old lady whom we approached brushed us off by saying that she’s simply too old for such religion stuff, and that we should approach young people.
In the afternoon, our team had planned to practice miming for performing it in the evening service as well as the next day at another street market. My team leader Paul had asked for volunteers to learn miming. I was apprehensive as I knew I was never a natural performer and deep down in my heart, I thought it is best that I had no part in it else I might ruin the performance. As my other team members volunteered, I realised I was the only one who would have no part in the miming performance. Thoughts of self condemnation began creeping into my mind. What was I doing? Why didn’t I make myself more useful? Paul also asked for volunteers to share their testimony that night. I was upset and angry with myself and decided that I would not volunteer myself. While the rest were practicing, I began praying to God and rebuking the negative thoughts of the devil in the name of Jesus. During dinner, I told Paul that I did not mind sharing my testimony in the evening. However, I was still stubborn and said I would be sharing the same testimony as I did the previous night as I did not want to put in the extra effort to come up with a new testimony.
Later that evening, before the evening service started, I asked Marsha, my female team leader whether she knew if there were more pre-believers or believers at the congregation that night. She said she had no idea. I felt prompted to share the testimony of how I was saved and how I backslided and later went back to the Lord again in 2010. I shared with the congregation how when I backslided, I did all the fulfilling things by the world’s standards such as striving to do well in school, joining a cool school activity – cheerleading, going on overseas exchange programs and overseas internship. However, in 2010, I sank into depression because of my boss at a small company which I worked for upon graduation. It was then that my mom, who used to be against my faith, who brought me back to church. I shared about how I felt like I was like the lost prodigal son in the Bible, who was unfaithful, yet God is faithful and welcomed him home with open arms. Later on, Paul had to preach a message and it turned out that his message was on the lost prodigal son! It was amazing and we could see the Holy Spirit moving as both of us did not know what we were going to say at the service!
On the third day, we set off to do street evangelism at another market in the morning. It was raining that day and our efforts in trying to evangelise through songs and miming failed. We then decided to go into pairs and invite someone for a cup of coffee.
On the first day of the street evangelism, the first person Jennifer and I spoke to was actually Lorenzo (selling tablecloths s and napkins). Lorenzo told us that his wife attends church and he owns a Bible himself, but does not find it useful. By divine appointment, we saw him again immediately when we reached this second street market. Initially, when we split into pairs to look for someone to invite for a cup of coffee, Jennifer and I roamed around for a while and could not find anyone interested. Then we remembered Lorenzo, and decided to buy and bring him a cup of coffee. Lorenzo and his brother Scotti were happy to see us, and Jennifer chatted with them again. I silently prayed alongside that God would soften their hearts and asked the Holy Spirit to reveal what to pray. Jennifer asked what prayer requests they had and they said generally they are happy. Lorenzo’s cute and cheerful little brother Scotti said he just wants to be happy everyday. I prayed for their business, that they will not have to worry about food or lodging and that they will receive so much that they can be a blessing to others. I also prayed that God would touch them in simple ways daily, and that even though Scotti could not attend a proper school, God would add knowledge to his life by His creative ways. They then both agreed to accept literature from us, and Scotti even took two copies of a cartoon story of Jesus so he could give one to a friend. Contrary to his resistance towards Bible on the first day we met him, Lorenzo asked if we had a Bible to offer after we prayed for him! At that point of time, I was ashamed of myself for not bringing along one as I was in charge of taking the Bible literature and tracts and I had thought that there would be no need for us to give out a Bible since the response wasn’t that great on the first day of street evangelism! Just then, Bekah and Marsha appeared and Bekah asked if I needed a Bible. Praise God! Even though I belittled the opportunities we had to reach out to the people, God turned it around and provided by divine appointment because of His love for Lorenzo and Scotti. Such is our Father in Heaven, who would go to great lengths just to seek His lost sheep and bring him home. Because of Bekah and Marsha’s appearance at the right place and right time, we were then able to explain to him where to start reading, and told them that we could continue to pray for them even after we go back to our home countries!
Our next stop was to Aurillac where we would help a church do some repair works as the area was hit with a flood awhile back. This is the wall before we scrapped it and repainted.
…And this is how it looks like after the repair work!
Paul and Martin also did a great job at fixing the telephone lines! Paul shared with us how he could not sleep the whole night trying to think of how he could set up the telephone system. It then occurred to me what great pressure would fall upon the leaders especially since it was an unplanned trip and we were supposed to depend on God for provision, not just in material sense but also in terms of wisdom and knowledge! As team members, the impact of the uncertainties of this trip certainly did not fall that greatly on us.
Our dinner was at flunch. And at flunch, Kyle, our Irish team mate shared about his thoughts on grace message which I thought was really thought provoking and would like to share it here. Prior to the trip, I have been hearing quite a bit on grace message and was struggling with whether too much of grace message would have its bad effects. Kyle said that the second greatest commandment we are called to do is to love our neighbours as ourselves. He said some people could do “good deeds” to people around them but do them without love. For example, you could be helping someone sitting next to you because you were told to do so, and doing it out of strife and resentment, with no love for that person. Without the grace and love of God, “doing good deeds” which seems on the surface like we are loving others, would be purely out of human’s strife and efforts to “do good” without truly loving. Remember, we love because He first loved us.
Mark 12:30-31: “The most important one is this: Love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your mind and all your strength. The second is this: Love your neighbour as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these.”
1John4:19: “We love because he first loved us.”
And this is us in front of the church which we did our repair works at! Before heading off to the farm…
Here are some pretty pictures I took as I had the privilege of sitting in Jennifer’s car while travelling between towns. Oh, how I love these roads as we cross mountains! The scenery was simply breathtaking!
Our next stop was to the farm which belongs to the family of a missionary Alain. There, we helped to pick potatoes! Jennifer said she could not understand how it was possible for Bekah and I to go into the squatting position for a long time while picking the potatoes. It amuses me so much that I still wonder to myself if it’s in the genes of the Asians or Chinese that we are able to squat for longer period of time? After the experience of picking potatoes, I think I will appreciate my food more.
Look at the amount of potatoes we collected!!!!
Shepherding the sheeps home…. Does this reminds you of our best shepherd Jesus? It was so interesting to see the Bible come alive at the farm!
We were told that this little sheep called Bebe was abandoned by the mother and so they had to feed him with milk. This reminded me of how some of us can be abandoned by our earthly parents, or be in situations of insecurities where we have no one to look to for love and security, and our Good Shepherd Jesus would seek us (His sheeps) to lead, guide, feed and protect us.
John 10:3: “He calls His own sheep by name and leads them out.”
Luke 15:4-6: “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.'”
Isaiah 40:11: “He shall feed His flock like a shepherd.”
The next day, we went to another small town for our last street evangelism. It was about 10~11 degrees celsius that morning. I felt so thankful for Adora’s GAP pullover that saved me from the cold which I do not experience in sunny Singapore. I was walking around with Bekah looking for a toilet and saw a man with his dog begging for money on the street. Later when I was with Jennifer again, I asked if people do reach out to such homeless people on the streets. She said people in France generally do not bother about such people as the welfare benefits in France is considered good and people would usually associate pure laziness on the part of such people and would not be willing to help them. Upon hearing that, I brushed the thought of the man off my head, as we went around again. Looking back, I believe it is due to what I have been taught about how people who do not want to help themselves cannot be helped by others. Later, we felt so cold and wanted to invite someone for a cup of coffee in a cafe to keep ourselves warm. We then happened to walk past the man with the dog I had saw earlier and Jennifer turned to me and suggested that we invite him for a cup of coffee. At that moment, I felt amazed at how God had brought the man to my attention initially and I had brushed him aside, yet God used Jennifer to give confirmation about us reaching out to him. It felt so natural for Jennifer to sit there and talk with him, even if the didn’t’t know each other. I truly believe God has blessed Jennifer with a gift of being able to connect with others easily, and it is my prayer that this gift will continue to flourish and bring glory to God’s kingdom! He told Jennifer a little about his life. He talked about how he travels around and he is waiting for his application to be approved before he can go to another country again. He said that the administration in France is taking some time and he is stuck there at the moment. As they talked, I began praying in my heart for God to touch this man as I felt strongly that God wanted to work something in this man’s life. We then asked if he would allow us to pray for him, and he said yes! In my spirit, I did not felt the prompting to pray for God to bless him in terms of material needs, but felt prompted to pray for a new direction in his life. After the prayer, immediately, the verse about how God feeds the birds, what more us came to my mind. I wanted to share the verse with him so badly. I did not carry my English bible with me and was trying to access the Bible on my smartphone but did not have 3G connection. I felt upset with myself that I had not been diligent in memorising verses and hence, missed the opportunity to share this verse with him. Just then, God prompted me to look at the screenshots of daily devotionals which I often do in the mornings to send to my friends for sharing. The first screenshot I opened up was about the following verses:
Ephesians 2: 8-9: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.”
I asked Jennifer to ask the man what the word “grace” means. He smiled and said that it means God will always look after us and not leave us! I explained to him that “grace” means it God’s favour to us that is unmerited (we do not work for it). It is freely given to us, not just for salvation but in our everyday lives! The man even took out a pen to mark down the verses which we shared! I then shared my story and asked simply at the end if he wanted to accept Christ – and he agreed! He accepted a Bible from us and Jennifer began sharing with him about the story of the lost prodigal son. We told him that as he said the sinner’s prayer earlier, we are like the servants in the story of the lost prodigal son, rejoicing for the return of our Master’s son. At that time, all the angels in heaven are singing and rejoicing for his return. Immediately, we saw the expression on his face softened and filled with joy. Hallelujah! It was amazing to meet someone, talk with him about Jesus and see the expression on his face change!
I am truly grateful to God for giving me the answer to which I have been asking prior to the trip, through reaching out to the man. This answer also came when I could not remember the verse which I wanted to give to the man. Often, people say that as children of God,we have to keep to His commandments. We also know that faith without works is dead. I often find myself trapped because I felt like I was leading a harder life than people who are non Christians. Yet, people tell me that as Christians, we are called to face trials and tribulations. How were all these possible? Often, I give up, giving myself the excuse that I am no saint. If I don’t feel like helping someone who doesn’t help herself, how does telling me to love that sister more and help her make me love her a little more? I just could not do it. Even if I were to do it, it would be simply because I felt obliged to do it and live up to the expectations of a good Christian. And the more I realised I was acting like a hypocrite, the more I felt angry with myself. Have you ever felt like this?
Look at the verses again, with additional verse 10 from Ephesians.
Ephesians 2: 8-10: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”
As I shared with the man who accepted Christ, we are saved by God’s grace. It is something unmerited – we do not work for our salvation. This is so that no man can boast. Now, if we were saved by God’s grace, by Jesus dying for us on the Cross, what makes us think that God’s grace ended there? Does Jesus have to die many more times for us? Would not God’s grace follow after our salvation? Would not God’s grace be upon us everyday? For His mercies and grace are fresh for us every morning. Why is it that we as humans accept God’s grace for our salvation, but think that we have to work (depend on ourselves and do “good works”) after that? Is not God’s grace sufficient for us each day to carry us through? Will we not come to realization that we are nothing and that as we depend on God’s grace, we may testify of His love and grace? “So that no one can boast”? “For we are God’s handiwork, created IN Christ Jesus to do good works” – we are created IN Christ Jesus to do good works! Our righteousness, our wisdom, our strength are IN Christ Jesus to do good works. Even Jesus depended wholly on the Father for all that He did. Now, what makes us think for once that we are more self-sufficient than Jesus to do good works by our own strength and wisdom? Yes, indeed God has prepared us in advance to do good works such as loving others, being a witness for Christ and preaching the gospel to the world, but take heart today that we are created IN Christ Jesus, and that we can depend on God wholly like Jesus Christ did for living a r adical life for God, giving all glory and praise fully to God alone! Yes, there will be trials and tribulations, but in every trial and tribulation, God’s grace is still sufficient. If we will look to Him, ask Him and depend on Him (faith). At the end of the tunnel, when you finally see light, who will you sincerely give praise to?
It is my prayer that we as children of God will encourage our brothers and sisters in Christ to continue to seek Jesus and see and experience Him in His beauty and fullness. As we are filled with God’s abundance of love and grace, may we depend on Him to allow us to be used as vessels to the people around us. May you and I be filled so abundantly with joy, peace and love that they overflow to others. Amen.