Tuesday, December 23, 2008


"And here among the bracken the thought came back to me;
that it was the greatest good fortune not only to be fascinated by animals but to know about them.
Suddenly the knowing became a precious thing."
James Herriot, All Things Bright and Beautiful.

Fascination is a wonderful word.
It means there's interest, passion, bright-eyed wonder.
But 'know'?
Here's a different level of meaning: it implies commitment, going further and deeper, asking questions, probing, chasing after the passion, taking the road less traveled perhaps.

Lately I've been studying the book of Isaiah and it seems that repeatedly, God's key charge against His people is they did not know Him.
Isa 5:13 "Therefore My people go into exile for their lack of knowledge - of Him, His ways, His plans, His justice and righteousness."
Sure they were offering their sacrifices and paid their dues. But it was lip-service and practice of 'tradition learned by rote' (Isa 29:13).
You could say they had some kind of fascination with God.

But they did not know Him.

For this Christmas season, "let us know, let us press on to know the Lord. His going forth is as certain as the dawn;And He will come to us like the rain,Like the spring rain watering the earth" (Hos 6:3).

Friday, October 10, 2008


I LIVE in Jurong, known for the Chinese Garden, Bird Park, Science Center, factories and foreign workers.
For the past nine years, I'd seen an increasing number of 'foreigners' in my neighborhood.
I see them during my after-work grocery shopping. I'd wonder how they'd cook the vegetables or meat they chose, and which I never pick simply because I don't know how to cook them.
I queue up with them at the ATM machines, sometimes literally dozens of them during pay-day period. And feel their joy as they banter with one another, wide grins on their faces, as they claim their hard-earned cash.
At times I see some of them making long-distance calls home. From their tone of voice, I could tell the person on the other side of the line would be someone they care about, and probably live for.

MY daughter - who four years ago took the MRT to junior college in the wee dark hours of the morning - told me two weeks ago that during those days, she'd walk past groups of foreign workers on the way to the station.
When I asked how come I never heard her mention this before, her answer was matter-of-fact. "What's there to tell?" she said. "I passed them every morning for two years, they waited for their transport, that's that. It was a non-event."

IN my youth classes at church, I've had many opportunities to refer to the 'aliens' and 'strangers' in our midst.
I'd tell my wards that these are someone's sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, fathers, mothers. That somewhere out there, there are people who worry if they ate or slept well, who pray for their well-being, who love them to bits.
We may not know or understand them, they may look and behave differently from us; but that doesn't mean we should despise or fear them.
After all, we are all created in the image of the same God, we share the same need for air, shelter, love, and kindness.
Will some of them harm our daughters? Maybe. But so will people who live in posh neighborhoods and drive big cars.
Do we need to take caution against these 'strangers'? Sure. But just the same common-sense caution we take anyway with all people we don't know.

James 2:2-10
For if a man comes into your assembly with a gold ring and dressed in fine clothes, and there also comes in a poor man in dirty clothes, and you pay special attention to the one who is wearing the fine clothes, and say, "You sit here in a good place," and you say to the poor man, "You stand over there, or sit down by my footstool," have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil motives? . . .
If, however, you are fulfilling the royal law according to the Scripture, "YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF," you are doing well. But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors.

Sunday, August 17, 2008


I wanted to quit teaching Sunday school at the beginning of this year.
Too busy. Too tired. Too long (I've been a teacher for close to 20 years).
And to be honest, I'd love to have an early lunch and longer fellowship with the adults on Sunday.
But God wouldn't let me. So I stayed.

Today I feel I've seen a tiny breakthrough.
The class opened up, and everyone shared about her struggles - with school work, fear of failure, loneliness issues, and parents' high expectations.
One of them thanked me for being her teacher.
One gal, who never made eye contact with me, told me she couldn't love herself.
Six months ago, I'd never imagine this could happen.
We're, after all, talking about bored, blase, and over-stuffed second, third generation believers.
So what helped?
Not better teaching skill, visual aids, program, or syllabus. Although these can help.

It's the basic things.

Like praying for the girls faithfully.
I read somewhere that if we prayed for someone for 10 mins, or even 5 mins, a day, something will change. Something's bound to change.

Loving them genuinely.
Remember birthdays; send a text message to say, "I'm praying for your test"; say, "I like your outfit."
Kids today are measured, accessed, criticised and judged constantly.
They thirst for acknowledgment, praise, and sincere compliments.

Being audience-focused, rather than syllabus-focused.
I believe in syllabus (I'm working in a seminary); but syllabus can't be a one-size-fits-all.
We must tailor, apply, and make lessons relevant to our listeners' needs. Real needs like how to face my parents when I didn't do well, how to say "No" to sexual temptations, how to love myself when I'm not tall, smart, or skinny enough.
We must teach looking at their faces, not our class notes.
We must touch hearts, not cover lessons.

Being vulnerable, honest and open about our own weaknesses and struggles.
One girl told me that when I shared with the class some time ago of my fears to go to Mongolia but went anyway by faith, she was encouraged. And she found the courage to trust God in overcoming her fear of going to a new school.

I read Howard Hendricks' Teaching To Change Lives 20 years ago.
His encouragement to teachers still rings loud and clear in my heart today.
In his opening chapter, the former professor at Dallas Theological Seminary talks about his own Sunday school teacher. This woman's ministry resulted in 84 young men going into full-time ministry.
Here's what he says:
"If you ask me the secret to this woman's impact, I'd give you a totally different answer today from what I would have said twenty years back.
"Back then I'd have credited her methodology.
"Now I believe it was because of her passion to communicate.
"My heart's concern for you is that God will give you a passion like that . . and never let it die.
"And I hope you never get over the thrill that someone will actually listen to you and learn from you."

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Crouching Tigers, Hidden Dragons

YOU ARE at Watsons. You see yourself in the mirror and smile.
That’s when she pounces on you.
“Hi!” Her high-pitched voice startles you. “Slimming tea for your tummy and butterfly arms?”
Meet ‘Sale-by-Insult’, one of Singapore’s illustrious crouching tigers and hidden dragons.

INSULT' has a second cousin: ‘Smooth Operator’.
Now, this tiger does not tear you to bits. He flatters, and comes bearing a gift.
And when your senses are numb with delight, he operates - on your brain - and smooth talks you into buying something to deserve that gift.

is a shoppers’ paradise.
But with our tigers and dragons breeding profusely like rabbits, we’re fast becoming paradise lost.
Seriously, how did we get here?
What happened to 22 years of courtesy campaigns? Why do the rude, bad, and ugly continue to reign in our service industry?

YOU KNOW the culprits.
The ‘Unsmiling dragons’ at check-out counters.
The ‘Circling Tigers’ who stop their taxis only for angmoh tourists.
The ‘Illusionists’ who trail you around in departmental stores like blood-hounds, then vanish like ninjas when you finally need something.
And what about the ‘What-You-See-Is-All-You-Gets’? Ask them for anything - stockings, sandals, salted fish - and they give you the same classic answer: “See lor. Got, got. Don’t have, don’t have.”
Finally, ‘The Terminators’, who disguise themselves as manicurists but are really agents with lethal weapons of precision timing.
These dragon ladies are ruthless. They only unsheathe their claws to terminate - your ego no less - only after your fingers are wet and immobilized, and your toes freshly painted and all clamped down.
“Tsk, tsk, tsk,” they hiss at you while you sit trembling, like some little trapped creature.
“Dry skin, enlarged pores, crow’s feet. How about a S$599.00 miracle-cure treatment?”

I FINALLY figured out why despite the good work by the Tourist Promotion people our tigers and dragons are still alive and well.
Here's the secret: Singaporeans are just too polite!

Oh we do stick out our don’t-mess-with-me ugly kiasu heads, but only when junior comes running home wailing over unfair PSLE Math questions, or when someone cuts into our Changi Village nasi-lemak queue.
Most of the time, we simply shrug and ‘take it’; or if we are very brave, ‘leave it’.

WE ARE so pathetically polite that we reciprocate freebies we don’t need by paying for stuff we don’t want.
After all, our mothers taught us to be grateful and say, “Thank you”, didn’t they?
We are so embarrassingly polite that we clean up our plates in restaurants like silenced lambs — even when they come late, cold, and, nothing like what we were promised.
Our mothers taught us that too, remember?

WITH DUE RESPECT to all our long-suffering Singaporean mothers, I say it’s time we stop being too polite.
It's time we stand as one united people, regardless of race, language or size or shape; and insist on decent manners, resist traps, and persist in saying, “No!” “Leave me alone!”
Let us resolve to report the villains, reject the insults, and refuse to pay the service charge when no service is due.
Only then can we extinguish the crouching tigers and hidden dragons from our concrete jungle.
Restore our self esteem.
And save our paradise.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008


FLIGHT delayed. Bummer.
After 18 hours of flying from Singapore, and five hours of waiting at Chicago’s Ohare International, I was more than ready to get going.
Then the announcement came: “Flight to Orlando delayed for four hours.”
“Lord!” I cried. “This is so purposeless! I’ve a meeting to attend, people to meet, the Great Commission to fulfill!”
As I sat there leafing through my Bible, fuming, the Lord spoke to me,
“Waiting is part of the going,” He said, “the transit—is also the journey.”

THAT was a ‘moment’. One to which I’d return again and again to revise the lesson I learned that day. Like when my husband stepped down as national director two years ago.
On 1 July 2006, we left the local office of Singapore Campus Crusade and began our new assignment at EAST, the East Asia School of Theology.
We were in transition.
It wasn’t sudden. As early as two years before then, we started to prepare for the change.
It wasn’t like we were stranded. We were sought after by north (Japan), south (Australia) and EAST.
It wasn’t as though we’d missed a step. We took time to inform, announce, prepare others. Everything was thought through, and unhurried.
Yet, on moving-out day, I didn’t feel ready.

HERE’S what I learned about transitions.
I learned that even with the best preparations, transitions are hard things to do.
It’s saying “goodbye” to the familiar that’s hard.
I remember waking up in the middle of the night and thinking the strangest thought: “I won’t see so-and-so at the zerox machine anymore.” I cried.
I wasn’t even close to so-and-so.
One day, while clearing my drawers, I suddenly realized I’d be giving up my parking lot, and the tears flowed.
The emotions weren’t always logical but they were real.
I learned that though I’d said my goodbyes verbally, emotionally I was hanging in in-between for a while longer. I was where Linus was, as writer Marilyn Ferguson put it, “when his blanket is in the dryer. There's nothing to hold on to.”
It’s the indefinite waiting for things to pick up that’s hard.
The first week at EAST, my husband and I wanted to jump right in and become instant insiders. But we couldn’t.
There were boxes to unpack, emotions to sort through, and new routines to remember.
Our engine was stuck in second gear.
It’s not being able to skip any step that’s hard. Because transitions—getting out of, getting used to, getting there—take time. There’s no short cut. Whether it’s overcoming a heartbreak, or adjusting to a new culture, new job, new cell phone—it takes time.
And time won’t be rushed. Time moves at its own pace and rhythm; time keeps us humble.
So I learned that it’s wise to leave transition alone.
And while it’s working out the process, fret not but soak in all that God wants to teach us.
For me, one key lesson was a refresher course on self-worth.

WHERE do I find my self-worth? Is it from the number of people who report to me or the title that follows my name?
Or does it—as I always preach—come from Jesus and Jesus alone?
I wrestled with these questions. I asked myself if I honestly believed in my own answers. And God directed me to the life of John the Baptist.
John the Forerunner was the kid “most likely to succeed.” He had a job description and title before he was born, and he fulfilled it. So perfectly that many of his disciples left him to follow Jesus.
At the prime of his life, his term ended and he decreased, as he himself had predicted—right into Herod’s prison.
From the world’s standpoint, John’s life might be considered an anti-climax. But in God’s eyes, his was a life lived well.
During John’s dark night of the soul, he sent his disciples to ask Jesus if He was the One. And this was what our Lord said, “ . . . among those born of women there is no one greater than John" (Luke 7:28, NASV). What a compliment!
Here’s the point: John’s glory wasn’t found in what he did or where he set up his office. His glory came solely from Jesus’ nod of approval.
So where does my self-worth come from?
It does not stem from position, power, or people; but from my Lord and Master.

COMPARED to what I’ve learned, and am still learning, through the transition, what’s convenience, familiarity and a shaded car park?
While his blanket was in the dryer, Linus must have finally discovered he could survive without his false security, and grew up.
In due time, the coast will clear and my flight shall take off. Meanwhile, I’ll stay put in the transit lounge, enjoy the coffee, and smell the flowers.

Thursday, June 19, 2008


ONE OF OUR two cats is named Fiver.
He's adorable, won't hurt a fly (literally), and looks really cute.
But he's short-sighted, is a true scatty cat (jumps at the slightest noise), and eats too much.
He's so greedy that we used to think he lives to eat.
Until what happened a few years ago.

One day, Fiver swallowed a 1.5 m rope I left on the floor.
It was too late by the time we noticed it. He had to pay for it painfully.
He hid in a corner with a sorry look on his face, and didn't ask for food for two days.
Finally, we took him to the vet.
Usually he would struggle and cry a lot when we took him out.
But this time he just sat in the car, didn't move and didn't complain.
It was sad.
The vet said we needed to leave him in the hospital for 'observation'.
"If he still looked bad after two days, we'll have surgery," she said kindly.

At around 4 PM the following afternoon, I received a call from the nurse.
"You cat may be dying," he sounded urgent. "Please come."
And he added, "When an animal has given up, it has a look; ma'am, your cat has been sitting in a corner all day with that look."
It took 15 excruciatingly long minutes to race to the animal hospital which, to my horror, was a very noisy place.
There were rabbits, some cats, and a huge Alsatian barking its head off.
As the nurse brought me in, he kept saying, "Your cat has given up."
Oh Lord, don't let him die. I prayed desperately.

When I reached Fiver's cage, I cried.
He was parked in a corner, facing the wall, with his eyes closed. And shivering.
Then I called out, "Fiver . . . ."
Before I could repeat his name, he sprang around and ran to me.
And cried out his usual Fiver-wants-food cry (Fiver doesn't know how to purr or meow).
At this point, the vet and four nurses were crowding behind me.
O look, Fiver is back. He's come out of his look!
Everyone spoke at the same time.
One of the young nurses clapped her hands.

As I carried him in my arms, Fiver started to vomit strips of what-was-once-rope.
Finally, I took him home that day.
That evening, Fiver vomited the rest of the rope and was fully recovered by the following afternoon.

We learned several lessons through this episode:
1. Fiver is not a very smart cat.
2. Fiver is a very greedy cat.
3. But Fiver doesn't live for food.
4. He lives for us, his master/mistress.

We are not very different from Fiver.
Like him, we sometimes pay for our foolishness painfully.
And like him, we live - and could only live - for our Master.

Friday, June 13, 2008


AFTER Ulaanbaatar, Julienne and I spent two nights with our friends in Beijing.
Here's what we learned:
  • When you arrive in China, you must register yourself at a police station (unless you stay at a hotel, which will do that for you). At the police station, I chatted with a Chinese American who had a 'warning' because he registered himself only after nine days in the country.
  • The city is ready for the Olympics: very clean, I hadn't noticed anyone spitting, and people were very friendly to foreigners. Talk to any taxi driver about the coming Games - and you could the people's expectant spirit.
  • Silk Street - a popular shopping place for tourists - wasn't our thing. Julienne was actually terrified by the overly friendly sales people.
  • But the Great Wall was magnificient. If you go, you must not miss the cable car up and tobbagon ride down. (It felt dangerous!)
  • The Forbidden City was over-crowded with tourists, but Julienne and I enjoyed the dressing up in costumes. I was some famous empress and she was Mulan.
  • Visited a local market and bought four bags of nuts home. We were impressed that it was very organized and clean (compared to our Jurong East wet market). Shame on us.
  • Had a $1 wash at a hair salon. It's hard not to laugh when things are so cheap.
  • Sales people asked the most personal questions. Two Starbucks gals found out where I was from, whom I traveled with, why I went to Mongolia, and how old my daughter was all within seven minutes.
  • When people are tired, they just sat down anywhere, we noticed. I saw a man stooping down in the middle of a bridge, and another sitting on a highway - out of the blue.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008


THE MONGOL workers are hungry.
They’re hungry for reality in their walk with God. They’re hungry for transformation in their country and personal growth.
So hungry that from four mornings of training, my schedule was stretched to five-and-a-half full days of teaching, counseling and speaking.
And from writing and design skills, I also gave the devotions – on Jesus feeding the multitudes – and team building workshops to the 26 Campus Crusade workers.
I also spoke to journalism students – twice – on how they could be gatekeepers of change in their country. After my talk, a group cornered me and I ended up giving them a message on boy-girl relationship.
BECAUSE they were hungry, they absorbed everything I taught. One staff with the Teachers’ Ministry (which has 600 disciples) typed out my devotions everyday and emailed them to those who couldn’t come.
On the second day, the leaders asked, “When can you return to train us again?” (I have a date for April 2009.)
EVERY NIGHT Julienne – my faithful prayer partner, encourager and helper - and I went to bed bone tired. But God taught us afresh that when we give our five loaves and two fish to Jesus, our baskets would never be empty.
Indeed our hearts were always full.
Our joy was complete.

Highlights in Mongolia
  • The SKY: think sparkling blue swimming pool in the air.
    Mongolian SPRING: sunshine, showers, sandstorm, and snow – all within one week!
  • SURVIVING Ulaanbaatar’s traffic: some cars have right-wheel drive and others left wheel drive! Go figure.
  • SHARING and praying with Boggii’s (staff worker) mum, a Buddhist, who served us home-made cheese, and dumplings boiled in milk tea.
  • STAYING in a hotel that made us feel like being in a Bourne Identity movie. But the toilet worked, the bread was great, and the room was warm (it was May but the temperature was still below 10 degrees C). We also got to play with the owner’s handsome black-and-white mongrel, which we called ‘our dog’.
  • SALADS – lots of it (surprise)! And we enjoyed the food (surprise!). PS: I only had two close encounters of the mutton kind.
    STANDING on Ulaanbaatar’s highest point and holding an eagle (I saw a photo of that 15 years ago and always wanted a go at it). The 11 kg beauty belonged to a Kazakh nomad with a black berry in his pocket.
  • Mongolia was my favorite James Herriot’s STORIES come true. When a one-week-old lamb fell asleep in my arms, I looked up to heaven and prayed,“Thank you Jesus. My life feels more complete.”
  • SUPPORT: Your prayers and gifts made a difference to the team of laborers I trained. These people are committed to bringing the gospel of hope to their country, where 99% of the 2 million people do not know Jesus.

Thank you.

Sunday, April 6, 2008


IT IS THE rainy season, not the best time to go to the beach.
But we did it anyway.
Took two days off to Bintan to enjoy the sand and sun (well, some of it).
Had we gone snorkling, which we didn't as the sea was too choppy, it would have been perfect.
There's nothing like 'crossing to the other side'.
Away from the hustle and bustle of Singapore city life, somehow everything looked different.
Less complicated.
It was calming to sit for hours on the beach (it rained some but we survived), read, take long walks, pray, with no schedule to follow, no deadlines to meet.
I particularly enjoyed watching a couple of guys fishing when the rain finally stopped.
We were all strangers on the shore but each time their lines came back with fishes, we all rejoiced.
We even discussed how each type of fish should be cooked.
It's been a long time since I woke up that early to catch the sunrise.
And played ping pong at night.
I didn't come back exactly totally rejuvenated--the lady who massaged my shoulders on the beach said I was too tensed, "Must relax more, madam," she said (good advice).
But I came back grateful.
For the chance to slow down.
Change pace.
And breathe in life--slowly.

Sunday, February 17, 2008


I'M READING a book on biblical leadership by Timothy Laniak.
Entitled While Shepherds Watch Their Flocks, the book is a gem for people in ministry.

Basically the author talks about what shepherds should be, drawn from observations while living in Israel.
The first thing that strikes me is the work of the shepherd is never done!
Besides making sure his flock is well--free of disease, danger and mischief--one of his most challenging roles is to feed the sheep. All the time.
I mean these creatures eat - and drink - all day long.
The very young ones need soft and new grass. The older ones something more mature and solid.
And the shepherd needs to find safe clean water for his sheep.
And when they have grazed enough in one place, he moves them to another for the same thing, the same routine.
Grass. Water. Grass. All year long.

Shepherding is back-breaking work.
There is nothing glamorous or easy or painless about the job.
And the sheep doesn't say, "Thank you."
And sheep business doesn't pay either--not enough for that kind of labor.
You got to love the job--and the sheep, the author adds.

I asked myself many questions as I read the book:
Do I love my sheep?
Do I have passion for what I do?
Am I shepherding or am I just organizing or lording over the flock?
Am I feeding my sheep all the time?
And with the right food, making sure God's Word is simple, palatable, and delicious enough for them?

Saturday, January 26, 2008


DURING THE LAST week of December, we went to Tokyo to speak at a Japan Campus Crusade retreat for more than 100 workers.

We received many blessings. Here are 10 of them, not in any order:

1. Just being in Japan is a blessing. The cleanliness, the trains that never failed to arrive on time, people in colorful scarves, boots, and mittens.

2. It was minus 3 degrees C the morning we left. But we loved the change from Singapore's heat and humidity!

3. Getting to know the Japanese workers. Their sincerity and warmth surprised me. (Confirmed. Japanese people are not all cold and reserved.)

4. Meeting Keiko Kawagami again. We met five years ago on a mission trip to Tokyo. She visited us later in Singapore and accepted the Lord. She served us a Japanese tea ceremony before we left; it was completely charming.

5. Going to Harajuku one afternoon. We felt we had landed in Manga-land.

6. Dawn, Julienne's friend who came with us. She enjoyed our worship and talks (she's a Roman Catholic), she said. That makes me very grateful.

7. Almost every restaurant and cafe we went to, there was always very nice jazz music playing. That's a treat to us.

8. The sushi and sashimi in Japan are fresh and surprisingly affordable. Our hosts took us to a place where sushi is half the price of what we get here in Singapore. Shocking, isn't it?

9. Staying with Patrick and Estella Low, Singaporeans missionaries, and their three kids. I learned from them how to extend hospitality, enjoy udon in five different ways.

10. Celebrating our daughter's 21st birthday on our final night with the Lows and Dawn. What can I say? It was an evening of good company, great Japanese food, and tons of gratitude. God is good.

love the ocean - God made it for Himself

About Me

In the Old Testament in the Bible, there was a man named Jacob who "wrestled with God and man." He wouldn't let God go until God answered his prayers. God admired that and renamed him Israel, "the one who fought or wrestled and prevailed". He fought with man--his inner man--and conquered his own weaknesses. He's my hero. He is what I hope God and man see me to be.