Spotlight: Jemima Ooi’s Story On Missions In The Congo

As a 14-year-old, Jemima already knew that her life’s journey would not be an ordinary one. Fast forward 16 years and she is living a life few Singaporeans would imagine: sleeping in mud huts on hard-packed earth with rats crawling all around, making fires every night because there is no electricity to speak of, running for her life from rebel armies… these are but a few experiences she’s had in her past seven years as a missionary.

Besides her primary work in the Congo with Justice Rising, Jemima currently oversees two slum schools in India, is helping to develop a large refugee settlement in the central Kenyan desert while working with survivors from the genocide in Rwanda, and is supporting a Burundian refugee community. With such an array of experiences, we know she’s got stories to tell!

Hi Jemima! Was going to the mission field always a part of your life’s plans?
I’ve always liked helping people, but I had a life-changing encounter when I was fourteen. I was on the upper deck of a bus that was going along the Farrer Road flyover. I looked out of the window and suddenly all I could see was red clay soil, white tattered refugee tents and an older version of me working with the refugees! I was freaking out because I didn’t know what this meant then. The image came and it left and I was suddenly in the bus again. I went home immediately and told my mum, “I feel like my life isn’t going to be ordinary”. My mum responded by telling me to hide this in my heart. From that day, I knew that my life was going to be different. It was only after I graduated from university that God specifically started to call me out to the mission field.

How did your family react to your decision to enter the mission field?
My parents had their own journeys to go on. They needed to hear from God for themselves, that He was calling me to the field, and I wasn’t merely fantasising. I knew that I needed to demonstrate wisdom for my parents to trust me. I decided to work with my parents for two years in their restaurant and I endeavoured to show my wisdom and maturity in all my undertakings and dealings with clients and customers. I believe that gave them some peace of mind in releasing me; knowing that I would be prudent, not reckless or ditzy and end up in unnecessary danger.

I had done well in school and people questioned whether I was more suited for the marketplace instead. I also had family friends who were talking about my decision and in my first year in the mission field, I was really discouraged when I came to know of their doubts. Words like “She’s not going to get paid for this; she’s throwing away her life. She has so much potential, she did so well, why would God want her to waste her life away?” weren’t easy to swallow.

What you can find in Jemima's bag when she's out on the mission field

What about your friends?
They were reluctant to see me go, but what touched my heart was when they said that they knew God was doing something in my life and they wanted to share me with the world. God also spoke to my senior pastors’ wife and said to her “This one (Jemima) is set apart for me”and she blessed me to go ahead as well. It was tough because I was just starting out on my missions journey and I struggled to provide answers for everyone. But I knew God had called me to this and He will provide the time and space for people to slowly understand my decision. It was probably only after the third year that tangible fruit could be seen, and people realised that this was truly God’s long-term call for my life and not just a phase.

SHE HAS SO MUCH POTENTIAL, WHY WOULD GOD WANT HER TO WASTE HER LIFE AWAY?

When you first became a missionary, what did you not expect to be difficult but actually was?
The realisation that we are so sheltered in Singapore! I’m not just talking about living conditions. But when I go to the United States to train missionaries-to-be, I hear about how 8 out of 10 people have been raped or sexually abused. When there are rape cases in Singapore, they appear in the papers and there are court cases. But there, victims don’t report them because such news is no big deal anymore. This realisation gave me a desire to learn how God can heal a broken heart and soul. This was critical for me to know and learn before I was even able to reach the refugees that I was called to serve.

The other is not being able to shower when I feel dirty! Once I was caught in a drought and I didn’t have much water to shower with for weeks! My wet wipes became a black market commodity. Even if I wanted to bathe, I could only do so with two 1.5 litre water bottles. I had a friend who didn’t shower for six weeks!

I'M NOT AS INTERESTED IN THE PURPOSE-DRIVEN LIFE AS I AM ABOUT THE PRESENCE-DRIVEN LIFE.

In spite of all these difficulties, what keeps you going?
Definitely God, without a doubt. Many missionaries go to the field for different reasons. However, I have learnt over the years that good works can be addictive but they can only get you so far. What if the people you serve are just too broken to appreciate you? Or what if they take you for granted? Only God can keep you pushing onwards. I am actually an introvert and I love just being in constant companionship with God. You will often find me in my hammock, or in a contemplative space just talking to God about anything and everything – the good and the bad.

Is there anything you would do differently in this journey?
Often times on the field, I’m running from pillar to post and it can be quite intense, but I honestly love being on the field and I don’t want to change anything about that.

What will you say to girls in this generation who are contemplating going to the mission field?
To let God love you — live in the fullness of His affections for you. We are so busy trying to love other people and trying to prove to God that we love Him back that we are working from our finite strength and we are not in the flow of God.

Also, life is not about finding your purpose. I’m not as interested in the purpose-driven life as much as I am about the presence-driven life. Once you walk with God every step of the way, you will always fulfil your purpose. And you will do it with joy and love — you will be a happy missionary leaning on your Beloved, and you will not burn out easily.

Lastly, weigh your life in light of eternity. Only two things cross into eternity: my relationship with God, and the lives of the people He leads me to. I never expected myself to be in Congo but as I walked with God, He gave me His heart for the people there. Don’t be afraid to dream big for God and allow Him to seed His dreams in you. Let’s make this life count for eternity.

Dorothea Wong
Dorothea has been challenging herself to connect less with her phone and more with the people around her. She's enjoyed the deeper conversations she's had as a result!