Missions is often associated with overseas trips. For Siew, her mission field is the streets of the red-light district in her home country of Singapore. For the last six years, Siew has been going on regular walks in the island’s underbelly.
Her team from OM in Singapore’s local ministry chats with pimps and ladies who work in brothels and on the streets. They also hand out gift bags that include notes of encouragement and Christian messages translated into the various languages spoken by the workers. Siew shared how it all began way back in 1996 when she was serving on board OM's now-retired ship, Doulos.
“A team had gone out to the red-light district in Subic Bay, Philippines, and I bought a lady a drink and listened to her story,” Siew said. “After that, some of the sisters on the team shared how the Lord was placing this particular group of people on their hearts. While I didn’t sense anything at that time, I hoped for the Lord to continue to reveal something, whether this might be a ministry I could do in the future.”
'I could not forget her face'
When Siew heard that OM in Singapore was starting a red-light-district ministry in 2015, she remembered that experience in 1996. Feeling like God might have been preparing her for it, Siew decided to join the team for their first walk with an open mind and heart. All it took was one encounter.
Siew recalled meeting a girl who reminded her of her own daughter, who was 18 at that time. “It was very obvious that she had not been in this area for long. When we locked eyes, I saw a kind of fear in her.” Striking up a conversation, Siew got to know her name, but the girl had trouble saying anything else.
“Her friend answered my questions for her instead,” recounted Siew, adding that the friend had pointed out that the girl was very new to the trade. “When I looked at her, all I saw was a young girl who was the same age as my daughter. I wondered whether her mother knew that she was here in Singapore. It was from a mother’s heart that I felt for her very deeply.”
Filled with compassion, that first walk turned into many more for Siew, who decided to join OM in Singapore’s cross-cultural mission work that was just beginning.
“Our purpose was to show God’s love through our interactions with them,” she said. “If we were able to offer them a prayer or blessing and they were glad for us to do so, we would.”
Siew realised the team was able to meet the girls’ need for genuine friendship. “When we talk to them, they begin to feel that … the purpose of their evening is not just to serve customers.” But Siew was also quick to caution that such friendships could only be formed over time when trust is built.
Friendships, family and faith
Siew shared about a lady from East Asia whom she continues to connect with today.
“Girls were often not allowed to step out of the brothels, but after we befriended the caretaker, he allowed us to personally hand the gifts to this lady,” she said.
Siew once asked her what she’d like to do if she returned home. “She told me she will never be the same girl that she used to be. But I told her, ‘You will always be a girl who is loved by God.’”
She told me that she felt loved by what I said. “I thank God for that,” said Siew, acknowledging the work of the Holy Spirit.
Sharing about another friend with a traumatic past, “She once told me that she did not see herself as anyone important or of value. But she found friends in the red-light trade who accepted her. She was also motivated by the quick money since she had little formal education and couldn’t find a job that paid her well enough.”
Siew and other volunteers also found opportunities to meet this friend outside of the red-light district. “We went out together. She was really happy that day because no one talked about her job.”
A picture of success?
After six years, Siew has picked up many lessons, one being: It’s not about making big promises; sometimes, it’s about doing small things in love. “I may not be able to give solutions, but if my presence can minister to them, then that is something I hope to do. We meet ladies who are addicted to drugs or gambling. Some of them had been abused. How far are we willing and ready to walk with them?”
Another lesson that she has taken to heart is the definition of success. “I used to think that every year I can bring one person to the Lord, and I can bring one person out of the trade. But that hasn’t happened.”
Eventually, she realised that “success is also when I’m able to forge a relationship with a person, and maybe one day they will recognise that this God in my life has given me meaning, purpose and hope. I will be happy if she or he tells me that I showed me what the Christian life is. It is the Holy Spirit who will touch their lives and bring them to faith. I’m just an instrument.”
During the Mid-Autumn Festival in 2019, she saw success differently. Her team was distributing mooncakes, and as Siew was speaking to a brothel caretaker, the candle in her paper lantern went out.
“I was casually just saying, ‘Oops it went off’ and laughing about it, but then the caretaker unexpectedly told me, ‘You have the light in your life.’ I was surprised and took the chance to affirm him … before asking him if he would like to have the light of God in his life too. He just laughed it off … but he didn’t say ‘no’ either!”
The caretaker’s comment was especially encouraging because Siew had been wondering about the impact she had left on him after three years of friendship. Siew recalled a line by Mother Teresa that has stuck with her for years: God has not called me to be successful; He has called me to be faithful.
“I’m just happy doing what I’m doing for the Lord,” she declared. As far as missions go, Siew says believers don’t have to look far. “I hope more young people will see missions as also reaching out to the people around them, which can be somewhere as close as next door.
“Be aware of the people in your communities and their brokenness. We ourselves were also broken, but we have been embraced by God.”