Yvonne's simple faith and reliance on God were nurtured during her younger days when she left for mission work at the tender age of 19. Then, she had packed her suitcase to fly to Belgium to board Doulos for a two-year training programme when God diverted her to a South Asian country instead.
At the airport, she gave to OM all the angpaos (red packets filled with money) she had received for her travels and left with not even five cents in her pocket.
“I took God's word that He would provide for me literally and obeyed OM's rule back then to hand over all donations. So, when I was overseas, I would just pray for whatever I needed and He would have to come through. He always did,” said Yvonne.
In obedience to God's instruction to not charge or raise her own funds for her work, she does not include any fundraising details in the newsletters that she sends out to her supporters to keep them updated on her whereabouts and work. She rests securely in trusting that her Abba Father will provide and care for her needs.
Missionary to the missionaries
Mention the word “missionary,” and common stereotypes or impressions surface. Some view them as selfless do-gooders, while others regard them as spiritual heroes who often overlook their own welfare to reach others with the good news of the gospel.
Not many people consider that the missionaries, too, have their own unmet needs, unresolved hurts and other baggage they carry with them to and from the mission field.
“All of us are works in progress. To be an effective people helper, we need to look at our own unfinished work and be set free from bondage. Otherwise, the mission field is a tough place where we will learn a lot about ourselves, and that may open a can of worms,” said Yvonne, who was an OM counsellor to missionaries for more than seven years.
Yvonne, now 64, has counselled missionaries all over the world, such as those serving in East Asia and Southeast Asia, after having been a missionary herself in a South Asian country for about a decade. Some mission workers need to be debriefed after traumatising experiences like natural disasters, while others are embroiled in conflicts with teammates or family members. Yet others face ministry-related trauma due to cultural differences, persecution or leadership mismanagement.
“Family of origin issues that in turn affect one's identity are very common. Some people go into the mission field thinking God had called them. But they may actually be running away from their homes or reality,” said Yvonne matter-of-factly.
Some wounds bore by missionaries are also inflicted by the culture and traditions of the family and country they grew up in. Yvonne once counselled a woman from a South Asian country who was a prominent leader in the church and community. Often, she would cook and host dinner gatherings at her home. Over time, Yvonne noticed that she had a habit of only eating the worst parts and cuts of the meat she served at the table.
“She had a hard time taking any choice pieces of meat because women were considered non-entities in their culture. She felt that she did not deserve the best parts of the meat as she came from a culture where even in a poor family, when others are starving or dying, the son will still get the last bowl of porridge,” said Yvonne.
If left unaddressed, these issues may impact the effectiveness of one's ministry. Conversely, once they are tackled, the fruits seen in their lives may multiply and benefit one's family or ministry life.
Yvonne uses a variety of approaches — a mix of academic knowledge, spiritual direction techniques, inner healing and deliverance — when counselling mission workers. In a South Asian country where earthquakes were common, Yvonne used dance to debrief the OM mission workers. They were not used to talking about feelings in their culture, so she decided to use movement as a form of relaxation and expression for them.
Waiting on Him
Despite facing difficult moments through the years, Yvonne persevered in her missions work because of her certainty that it was God's calling for her life. In Singapore, God spoke to her in 2001 to do her Master of Counselling.
“You will finish your studies, but you will not use it in Singapore. You will use it in the field,” God told her then.
“The Master's degree is so expensive. Can I charge for my counselling services in the future?” was Yvonne's practical reply to God. He answered firmly in the negative.
Through distance learning, Yvonne graduated with a degree from an American university in 2003. That year, God told her to spend the following year waiting upon Him, for He was about to set her life in a new direction.
“I will tell you what to do at the end of 2004,” He said.
In late December 2004, a magnitude 9.1 earthquake struck beneath the Indian Ocean near Indonesia, generating a massive tsunami that claimed more than 230,000 lives in 14 countries. It was then that Yvonne knew God wanted her in one of the countries affected by the tsunami. Within a few days, she got all her vaccinations, packed vitamins, hydrating salts and medications for others and left.
She arrived in South Asia in January 2005 and worked with American teams of doctors in the medical camps. Over the next eight years, Yvonne set up OM's counselling division in the country and teach at its Bible school. She also started feeding programmes, helped with fundraising efforts, ran youth and medical camps and hosted visiting teams who supported work in the slums.
In 2019, Yvonne left OM but continued her work with other mission agencies, such as Asia Pacific Mission. During the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, Yvonne rallied people to raise more than S$70,000 to feed the hungry and poor in the South Asian country that she was once based in. When borders open, the spritely 64-year-old looks forward to returning there.
“God has given me a renewed heart and a fresh, burning desire for the country and its people.”