With her darker skin and curly hair, Jemma’s* ethnicity was often questioned by others in her home country of Singapore. “They would make fun of me saying, ‘You’re weird’,” Jemma recounted.
Despite these nasty experiences as a child, Jemma realised that she loved being with kids. Everyone said that she was really good with children and had a way of connecting with them. The younger kids in her cell group enjoyed being around her, and she also enjoyed serving in Sunday School.
Jemma’s work experience at a kindergarten, however, left her hurt and discouraged. She believed that children should be allowed to learn experientially, with the teacher coming alongside them as a guide but her colleagues were dismissive because she did not have a degree in early childhood education. This was followed by many unpleasant interactions with parents. Feeling again like she did not belong, Jemma decided to give up on the industry entirely and soon found herself at a crossroads.
Conflicted, she remembered wrestling with God about how important it was for her to pursue her degree because she wanted to be just like everyone else. All her friends were already in university by then, yet she had been rejected twice.
“Give me one more chance to fit in,” she pleaded. In the end, she surrendered it all to God, praying, “You decide because I can’t decide for myself.”
True enough, Jemma received confirmation from God in the form of a painful rejection letter from the university. Little did she know that God’s healing work in her heart was just beginning.
No stranger to mission
Recounting how her parents frequently hosted overseas Christian workers in their home, Jemma was used to welcoming guests who looked very different from her. She also recalled attending mission conferences in church during her school holidays and reading about the work of famous missionaries like Hudson Taylor and George Müller in the book, Camaraderie of Confidence.
“Missionaries are just regular people who had such a heart to serve God, and in such unique and different ways with the different spiritual gifts that God has given to them,” said Jemma.
“The Lord really convicted my heart to give everything — my one life — to serve Him.
Hoping to begin her foray into missions, Jemma spoke to someone from OM and embarked on a six-month REACH programme in South Africa.
While she thought she had lost her gift of working with children, Jemma’s teammates kept telling her otherwise. She also did not want to deal with the pain she had hidden away, but God constantly brought it to the surface.
Jemma recalled a time she bumped into a boy who was homeless and reading an English workbook he had picked up from the garbage. Striking up a conversation easily, she discovered that he wanted to learn English.
That was when Jemma shared her story of faith and offered him an English-language Gideon Bible. She told him that one day, Jesus would wipe away every tear, and there would be no more suffering in Heaven. At the end of the conversation, the boy gave his life to God.
One year later, this boy bumped into another REACH team and asked after Jemma, excitedly sharing how she was the one who had told him about Jesus. Jemma felt so privileged to have been at the right place, at the right time, with the right opportunity, and to be used by God to show others His love.
“When people remember me, I want them to remember Jesus. When they think of me, I want them to think about Jesus,” she pointed out.
It was also during REACH that Jemma felt the words of Jesus being impressed on her heart.
“I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.” – John 14:18 (NIVUK)
Jemma finally felt like God was saying: “I know you’ve been hurt, but this is the gift that I’ve given to you, and it’s okay if society doesn’t want it. I want it.”
A place in this world
Jemma is doing just that in Eastern Europe, working with children and youth at risk. Confronted with the reality of an orphan crisis in a war-torn region, she is part of a team that reaches out to vulnerable children from broken families.
“There’s little to no support and … there’s no proper system to ease them into society,” Jemma explained. “They end up in gangs … dying of alcohol poisoning or in prostitution. These children have either never received love or have received love in … warped ways.”
Of the many events they organise, the annual theatrical camp is the biggest. Setting up camp somewhere remote, the goal is to make it very experiential. For more than a week, the youth and children will be in a “whole new world”, described Jemma, explaining the effort they take to prepare the props needed. Characters come alive in full costume, and the script is inspired by humanity’s sinfulness, our need for forgiveness from God and what Jesus did on the Cross.
At the heart of her work, it is about journeying with the children and youth under her care.
“It’s really a discipleship process of journeying with someone,” she emphasised, sharing how she mentors a group of teenage girls every Saturday. “I’ve been so blessed by God, to be in that moment, at that time and place, to share my … walk with God — how I grew with the Lord, and how through the ups and downs, He has led me to this point.”
“I never felt like I fit in … So maybe that’s why God wanted me here as a missionary,” she mused, adding how missions workers are often those who stand out for being different. “The work that I do is such a good balance of what I’m good at and what I really love. Even though it has its challenges, I feel like this is where God wants me to be.”
With hindsight, it was clear that God had led and prepared Jemma to do the work she is doing now.
“This is why I can look at my pain and my disappointment from a different perspective. I now understand the heart of my Father,” explained Jemma. “God has done so much healing in my life. He has really helped me rediscover Him in ways I never knew could enrich my walk with Him.”