The writer with some of the young students
Story and pics by Fidella Tiew
My conversion may be similar to many other Methodist Christians – born in a Christian family, was baptized as an infant, grew up in church, involved in church ministry, basically no dramatic conversion experience. Still remember my late grandmother brought my younger sister and me to Sunday School every Sunday. At that time, just like other children, I went to Sunday School because of “other” motives. When I was fourteen, through a teacher in Methodist Secondary School (now Rev. Tiong at Wesley church), I said the Sinner’s Prayer and accepted Christ as my personal Saviour.
In my adolescence, through Bible study classes, quiet time with God, pastor’s pulpit sermons and other church activities, my faith in Jesus grew. Being involved in various youth activities, taking the leadership roles gave me the opportunity to be trained and developed my leadership skills since young. All these experiences not only benefited me spiritually, but also in my career, thus grooming me to be a “useful instrument” for God.
Through ups and downs in my life, I’ve experienced God at very personal level, developed deeper relationship with Jesus, and continued to grow in faith. Through His unfailing love, God has never left nor forsaken me though many times I have failed Him and been disobedient.
The calling of “every Christian to commit one year of their life to mission” by SCAC came to me very strongly as I had been praying to God to show me the way. Praise God, in 2003, He gave me a job at Curtin University in Miri. At that time I had been working in Kuching for more than 6 years and my cell group at Trinity Methodist Church said God was sending me to Miri for a “mission”, i.e. to work among the Curtin students. I came to Miri in May 2003 and in July 2003 GMC started the Campus Gospel ministry at Senadin. Rev. Law invited me to join the team and I’ve been with the ministry until now. Being a lecturer at Curtin I have a lot of flexibility with my time and the privilege to take long leave during the semester break.
However I had never joined any short-term mission trip yet. Being a “city girl” I just couldn’t see myself going to “places lacking in basic infrastructure and amenities” for mission. I had met many brothers and sisters who went for mission trips to Cambodia. Some had life-transforming experiences. Yet I kept giving excuses. Between the years 2004 – 2005 Rev. Law of GMC asked me at least twice whether I had a burden in mission. My answer had always been “no obvious calling from God”. After much struggle and prayers, I committed myself to do the “Disciple course” last year and planned for mission trip after that. Miraculously in April I had the opportunity to meet up with Rev. Lenita in Miri and through her encouragement and sharing, I know God was giving me affirmation that I just needed to go by faith. Christ would be with me and the Holy Spirit would lead me. I was challenged not to worry too much!!
I have always prayed like Jabez in 1 Chronicles 4:10 – Oh God! that you would bless me and enlarge my territory! Let your hand be with me and keep me from harm so that I will be free from pain. For the last fourteen years, living alone away from my hometown Sibu, God has always faithfully protected me from all evils. I believe He will continue to bless me as I take my 1st “baby step” in mission to a foreign land.
So in January 2008 I spent four weeks in Phnom Penh teaching English at the Methodist School of Cambodia (MSC). It was a very enriching and eye-opening experience. Not knowing what to expect and what I would be doing there I went by faith with a very open heart and mind knowing I would be in God’s good hand.
The Methodist School of Cambodia
Mr. Stephen Yeo, my former teacher in Methodist Secondary School is now the Principal at MSC. He assigned me to do team teaching with Roatha in Grade 7 English class (equivalent to our Form One) and afternoon Level 1 English tuition. The English standard of this Grade 7 class varied from very good (90%) to very weak (5%). Those who had completed their primary studies with MSC had better grasp of English, those who just joined the school from the public primary school had nearly zero English. There were altogether 33 students in the class. So, the initial plan was to split the class. I would take the better group and the local Khmer English teacher, Roatha would take the weaker group. However, only after two classes, I was told that the Grade 7 English teacher, Roatha was resigning, giving only 24 hours’ notice. So, instead of having half a class, I had to take over the whole class. I asked Mr. Yeo if he had planned for this. He said no, he didn’t. God just put me at the right place at the right time. Isn’t God’s plan always higher than men’s plan?
R-L Mr. and Mrs. Yeo
So, with the challenge of having to teach such a class, I needed some strategy. I prayed to God for wisdom. I wanted to get to know each of the students in class, I didn’t want anyone to be neglected due to poor English. Finally this was what I did:
• Gave each student an English name from the Bible – Martha, Joseph, David, Joshua, Ruth, Grace, Faith, … so that I can called their names in class.
• Divided the students into groups of four with a leader helping the weaker ones.
• Gave each group an English-Khmer dictionary to check for vocabulary in every lesson.
With the students
It was the most challenging teaching task that I have ever done. Besides the language barrier, the content was a challenge as well. I remember in the 1st class, according to the teaching plan, I was supposed to teach letter writing format. Half way into the class, I realized that most of the students were lost because they DIDN’T HAVE an address and, they didn’t know what a stamp was, why we needed to put stamps on the letter, etc.
In the second week the students were supposed to write about their family, parents, siblings. Some of them raised their hands and asked me “Teacher, no father, no mother” Oh! my heart broke! I was not prepared and I was totally ignorant of my students’ background. I was not sensitive to their situation. Then I went to spend some time with the School Admin Assistant, trying to know my students’ background. I found out that more than half of the students in my class were under the sponsorship of different NGOs and religious groups. 2 Timothy 1:7 – God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power. With God’s mercy and power, I managed the 4-week class, learned many lessons from God. Throughout that period of time, I was clear that God had called me outside my comfort zone to show love and care to those students the Lord brought across my path.
After four weeks with these students, parting was a bit emotional. Many asked when I would go back to see them again. My love for them will go a long way and I do plan to go back to visit them again.
I thank God for the smooth trip. Besides teaching at MSC, I also visited the Community Outreach Service – Immanuel Children’s Village (COSI) and Emmaus Women’s Centre and churches in some provinces. I was able to see and experience what God was doing in Cambodia and get closer to God, while doing something different and meaningful. The trip obviously was an important milestone in my pilgrimage of life.
Thank God for providing a place to stay with modern facilities, good food, and his protection. Despite my nose allergy, I was in good health. I only had flu on the last day. December and January is a good season (cool and dry) to be in Cambodia. I experienced no hardship as described by many other mission teams. Instead of losing weight, I gained weight.
My trip inspired some if not many people around me. I had the opportunity to share with friends and colleagues. Some Christian colleagues from other churches even asked whether they could go or not. I become the bridge for MSC.
All of us can be an English teacher in Cambodia. What we need is a willing and obedient heart when God calls us. Just like in Hebrews 11:8 – By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go. I am very much blessed by the trip, the encounters with the students, teachers, missionaries and God. A few minutes of sharing in church or brief testimony like this cannot do justice to what I have experienced. You have to go and experience it personally.
Singing songs of worship during assembly
Lastly, some of my after thoughts:
- In mission field, some of my capabilities, experience, skill and knowledge are of no use because God has His own way of making things work.
- Mission is a slow and long process requiring lots of financial support and long term commitment.
- Mission is a lonely “journey”, so missionaries need our prayer support.
Reproduced with the kind permission from Fidella Tiew. The story was first published in the Methodist Connection magazine on June 15, 2008.
Note: Stephen Yeo and his wife have finished their ministry term in Cambodia and are now back in Malaysia.