Her heavenly Captain

Four years and 31 countries: The fresh grad who exchanged the safe path for a journey on the seas

Psychology graduate Jiamin Choo-Fong found herself sailing across continents, preparing meals and washing dishes for 350 crew members on board Doulos, a historic vessel built in 1914, just two years younger than the Titanic.

But this incredible story started before Jiamin entered university. 

“I thought going on a missions trip was one of those things to check off on the to-do list of a good Christian,” she confessed.

“I also thought it was payback time. God had been so good to my family ever since my father passed away when I was in Secondary 1. So I desired to give two months of my break after A-Levels to serve Him in missions as a way to thank Him.”

Unlike 18-year-old Jiamin, who had only committed to two months on a short-term mission programme, most of the young volunteers had set aside two years of their lives to serve as an expression of their personal relationship with God.

“That example of young people serving God in missions awakened something in me. That there was more to life than the safe path I knew back in Singapore. I began to ask, 'What is Your will for my life, God?'”

A glimpse of heaven

Being a volunteer meant that crew members not only didn’t get paid – they had to raise funds to cover their costs of serving on Doulos. In addition, they were responsible for the ship’s upkeep.

Crew members were grouped into different departments, such as accommodation, book fair, catering, deck and engine. Once assigned, everyone worked an eight-hour shift for five days a week.

However, what amazed Jiamin was the faith and unity of the international community onboard, with Jesus followers from all over the world. 

“I was surrounded by people from 50 different nations, and yet we could live, work and play together, and worship and sing in one voice. We praised the same God. It was like Revelation 7:9-10 in the Bible was coming alive,” she recounted.

During her two months onboard, along with other crew members, Jiamin visited villages, slums and the streets to serve the local communities in the Philippines.

“For the first time, I felt the immense joy of sharing God’s message of love and hope with people outside Singapore. God broke my heart to care for those who were different, forgotten and marginalised,” Jiamin said.

Slowly but surely, her worldview shifted, setting the stage for her to commit her youth to serve her Heavenly Captain back on the seas.

The journey back to Doulos

The decision to rejoin Doulos after graduation did not come easy. Among her concerns were worries about her family. As the eldest child, she felt responsible for her widowed mother and siblings. But after she returned to Singapore, Doulos was often on Jiamin’s mind, especially whenever she saw the sea. 

As God’s call on her life to serve in full-time missions became clearer, the pull became stronger.

“For me, specifically, life’s purpose has got to do with so much more. It’s about serving God, touching lives and remembering the nations. It goes beyond Singapore, beyond the four walls of the church.

“So what really drew me back was God’s call to serve Him in the strength of my youth, to make Him known among the nations. I was thankful to have my family’s blessings too. My mother said, ‘If God is calling you to go, just go.’”

From strangers to sisters

Even after Jiamin took a leap of faith and left the safety of her harbour after university, the journey wasn’t smooth sailing. Homesickness crept in from time to time, especially during festive seasons.

But she was not the only one.

“I had three cabin mates – Roze (Netherlands), Eliane (Switzerland) and Ria (South Africa),” she said.

“When we first got together, we dedicated our cabin to God, asking Him to bless it as a place of refuge and rest. We also said this cabin would be our home. We could relax, laugh, keep quiet or talk as much as we wanted. And if one of us was feeling homesick, had a bad day or quarrelled with a crew member, we would cry together. And we prayed for each other.”

From strangers, they became sisters. They were each other’s family when home was far away.

But one big challenge Jiamin would face was the challenge of extending her term of service for another two years to join another department.

“I could make every reason why I should go home – and the list was long,” Jiamin admitted. “But on the other side, why stay? Because God said so.”

She continued, “What God was asking from me was obedience. Would I trust Him to take care of my family for another year? Trust Him enough to offer another year of my youth to serve Him on His ship?” Eventually, Jiamin decided that one reason from God was enough; everything else paled in comparison.

It was worth it

Looking back, Jiamin has no regrets. In fact, one of her most memorable moments was forged during the additional two years she spent onboard.

Her ministry team has visited a prison in Papua New Guinea. There, Jiamin befriended an inmate Anna*, and prayed for her. Upon returning to Doulos, Jiamin heard a prompting that went, “Anna, Anna,” while walking past the Bible section of the ship’s book fair.

“I wasn’t sure if Anna knew God personally, so I thought, why not get a Bible for her so that she can read?” Jiamin explained. Together with a letter and some other books, Jiamin passed the Bible to a ministry team visiting the same prison on Sunday morning.

That evening, she received a letter pinned to her cabin’s door. It was from Anna.

She wrote: ‘Dear Jiamin, what a blessed day today is, and words cannot express enough how grateful I am for the gifts… I’m sorry I have nothing to give you in return. But I know in my heart, the most high God our Father in heaven will bless you a thousand times more than I could imagine… Take care of yourself, be strong in faith, and see you in heaven one day. Love always, your sister in Christ, Anna.’

“Towards the end, she said, ‘P.S. Only last night, I prayed to God asking for a new Bible. I guess my prayer was answered today!'”

Teary-eyed, Jiamin added: “I got the chills. God had spoken to me about Anna and the Bible even before Anna prayed. One would think that behind bars, people are locked away and forgotten. But God loves Anna and remembers her. His love knows no boundaries. What a privilege to be used by God to bring His written Word to His child in prison.”

“If the whole purpose for me to extend the additional years on Doulos was to be used by God to bring that Bible to Anna, it was worth it.”

No regrets

Jiamin completed her faith journey on the seas in 2009. Doulos has since ceased operating, but her sister ships, Logos Hope and Doulos Hope, continue to sail for God’s glory.

She concluded, “If I could live my life all over again, would I have chosen this path? Yes, if this is what God has planned, I wouldn’t want it any other way. There is no greater joy than obeying my God, being where He calls me to be, doing what He calls me to do.”

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