For Dr Richard Hui and his family, East Africa will always have a significant place in their hearts. Despite suffering the loss of their daughter Anna at the age of ten, they have continued to persevere in their desire to share the gospel wherever God places them.
A graduate of the National University of Singapore School of Medicine in 1990, Richard eschewed a glamorous and lucrative career for himself yet chose a path that would lead him to be a village doctor in an impoverished East African nation instead.
A decade-long preparation
A year before he graduated, Richard met an OM worker who inspired him to think about using his professional skills to serve others in a foreign country.
In 1994, after marrying Chiew Lian, who had been in the same Navigators ministry and shared his burden for missions, the couple researched potential countries where they could go, before settling on one in East Africa.
But it would take a whole decade of preparation for the couple and their two children before they finally felt ready to go.
In January 2001, the couple decided to bring their children, then four and six, along on a survey trip to explore work and ministry opportunities. But just hours before they were scheduled to fly, they got a call from a Singaporean nurse working there. “Don't come. It's not safe,” she told them. The clinic and church they planned to visit had just been bombed.
Nevertheless, after speaking with a few of OM's regional leaders, they decided to continue their trip and explore other cities and ministries. It turned out to be a divine diversion that helped them to see the bigger picture of what they could do in the country.
“We managed to explore three or four cities and also met with other organisations with a long presence in (the country) in development work. They had different philosophies, different strengths. Meeting them was never in the original itinerary. And it really opened our eyes to where God could possibly put us,” said Richard.
And so in 2004, with peace in their hearts that this was where God was calling their family, the Huis packed their bags and left.
Raising healthcare standards
For the first two years, the couple focused on learning the local language and culture, which at times proved to be challenging. Yet they relished the slower pace of life and enjoyed the locals' hospitality.
Recounting how God provided for their every need, Chiew Lian recalled how the first apartment they lived in looked just like the Housing Development Board flats in Singapore, which was unusual for houses in the country.
“It was so good because our kids adjusted very well. God had already thought of that before we thought of it,” she said.
He also provided a job opportunity for Richard, who became part of a seven-man health development team that scored a development contract with the local government to help boost the standard of healthcare in five rural villages.
Building genuine friendships
Along the way, they forged friendships through day-to-day interactions with locals — a stranger on the bus, the man who delivered gas canisters and their language teachers. Soon, they were invited to baby showers, weddings and friends' homes, which were good opportunities to immerse themselves in the culture and deepen friendships. However, due to religious intolerance in the areas, they did not speak about their faith too overtly.
“Ministry is not getting a tract or handing out Bibles, but meeting with them, getting to know them, sharing your stories, praying with them and, as God leads, sharing more,” said Richard.
“You need to know how to make the gospel part of your life and your life part of the gospel.”
The couple was careful not to see their local friends merely as objects of ministry. Rather, they saw them as colleagues and friends they truly sought to connect with and understand.
Chiew Lian explained, “Having a genuine concern and a genuine interest in people, listening to them, being interested to understand their culture and views are quite important, so you can have conversations that allow a mutual sharing of life and beliefs.”
Their sincerity did not go unnoticed. Some of their friends became comfortable enough with them to have honest conversations about their faiths and beliefs. Richard recalled one particular nurse, a young man in his 20s, whom he would chat with over a meal every week or so when he was in the village. When the man's eight-month-old son passed away from a blood disorder, he reached out to Richard, who went to the hospital and sat with him in his grief. He also allowed Richard to pray for him.
It was these opportunities, created slowly over time and with intentional effort, that had spurred the couple to want to stay for the long term, eight years, at the very least.
A journey of being faithful
However, just four-and-a-half years in, they returned to Singapore following the unexpected death of their younger child, 10-year-old Anna, who had suffered from sudden and severe breathing problems.
Their older son, Andre, also had to return for his secondary school education as they felt ill-equipped to continue homeschooling him.
“If it had been possible to stay or a longer term, we would have preferred that. Four years is just scratching the surface,” said Chiew Lian. “But I believe God is sovereign. His time for us, even though it was only four years, had its own influence and impact. We were part of the whole sowing and planting and watering process.”
“We worked very hard to prepare to get to that one place. And you may think it's the Promised Land,” said Richard. “But like when God called Abraham, it's a journey. It's about walking with God, serving Him and being faithful servants.”
“God calls us to be missional no matter where we are,” Chiew Lian agreed. Since they returned in 2008, she has been busy taking care of the elderly members of her family. “It's more about your being rather than the doing. If it's your being then you will be a witness wherever you are.”
Richard echoes this sentiment as he continues to live a mission-minded life in Singapore. As a senior family physician at Choa Chu Kang Polyclinic, where he was head from early 2013 to August 2020, he tries to encourage some of his Christian staff to meet regularly for prayer. Meanwhile, Chiew Lian will begin her role as the Executive Director of a new non-governmental organisation (NGO), Habibi Singapore, which focuses on relief and humanitarian work. Richard is a member of its board.
From time to time, Richard does wonder when or where God will lead his family next. “But if He says 'stay put', then we will stay put, and our non-believing family members, colleagues and neighbours will be our mission field,” he said.
Wherever God places him, all he hopes is to be found faithful in living his life for Christ (Galatians 2:20).