Cherlyn Oh: Just An Ordinary Girl

What do you think of when you hear the word “missionary”? Brave? More spiritual than others? A “superior Christian”? Cherlyn Oh, a missionary in Bangkok, doesn’t see it that way. Initially located in Chiang Rai for two years, a visa issue eventually led Cherlyn to an opening in Bangkok to do student ministry, where she has now been for five years. As Christian students are the minority in Thailand, she saw the pressing need to help university students grow in their faith and fulfil their call to be a salt and light, such that they can be a big positive influence in the society. Read on to find out how this “ordinary girl” left the shores of Singapore to be a missionary in Thailand!

Hi Cherlyn! How did your interest in missions begin?
It was actually from my dad. He used to serve on the Operation Mobilisation Logos ship before he got married. When I was a child, he would bring the family on the ship when it docked in Singapore. I also read books on Hudson Taylor, a British missionary to China, and my curiosity was piqued. After taking my ‘O’ levels, I went on my first short-term mission trip with my church to Chiang Rai. That grew the desire to find out more about Thai culture and missions in general.

How can a regular individual get involved in helping to abolish human trafficking? What did you do to prepare yourself for mission work? 
I was actually trained as a social worker! When I worked as a social worker, I managed my cases using counselling theories and social work tools, and while they were useful, I was not able to openly share about Jesus in a secular environment. At one point I thought, “Actually, Jesus is the only one who can bring true healing to these families I am working with.” I wondered how I could integrate my faith and skill sets to meet people’s needs in deeper ways. Missions seemed like a platform for me to do that.

I became more involved in my home church, read more about missions, and talked to missionaries I knew. After I resigned, I went to Bible school. In the process, I had opportunities to get more contacts about possible places to go to or agencies to join. I continued to go on short-term mission trips and prayed about my next steps. I talked to family, pastors, and missionaries about what they thought. I also asked them, “What are my strengths?”, and “What should my direction be?”

I WONDERED HOW I COULD INTEGRATE MY FAITH AND SKILL SETS TO MEET PEOPLE’S NEEDS IN DEEPER WAYS.

What convicted you to “take the plunge” and commit to it entirely?
Eventually, several people (spiritual leaders and mentors) affirmed my decision. Since I studied Thai in university, I decided to go to Thailand.

My parents are Christians, but they weren’t super keen about me becoming a full-time missionary even though my dad was the one who “triggered” the missions desire. They suggested for me to go for short-term trips instead but not physically relocate there.

There were two things I was praying for as confirmation that I was making the right decision. The first was for my parents to give me their blessings. I was also praying that someone would take over my role in my home church. When I was finishing Bible school, I talked to my parents and they reluctantly gave their blessings with the condition that I was with a trusted organisation and was contactable. I went for a short trip to India thereafter and some hiccups occurred. I missed my connecting flight from Mumbai to Singapore and had to stay overnight at the airport with five Indian men in the same plight. My mum was worried because the New Delhi gang rape that happened in 2012 was a big news then. But God used those five men to take care of me well. They looked out for me, and one of them talked his way into getting us on board a Singapore Airlines flight at 10.30 the next morning instead of having to wait 24 hours for the next flight.

When I came back, I overheard some church aunties saying to my mum, “Aiya, why did you allow your daughter to go to India?” My mum responded, “God will take care of her.” I was touched that God was giving my parents peace. He also sent someone who willingly volunteered to take over my ministry role! With God answering both my prayers, it was a sign for me to go ahead.

HONESTLY, I WASN’T 100% SURE BUT IT LOOKED LIKE GOD WAS ALLOWING ME TO TAKE THIS NEXT STEP INTO MISSIONS.

How did people respond when you told them your decision? 
There were mixed responses. Christian friends felt a little sad that I would be absent in church. Pre-believing friends were confused because it was the age to build a career instead.

Spiritual mentors and those in the mission field concurred that it was a great idea. But some in church commented, “We would rather you serve in church.” Some challenged me with, “Are you sure God really called you to go? Which Bible verse did you receive? Why are you so sure?” Honestly, I wasn’t 100% sure but it looked like God was allowing me to take this next step into missions. Enough people were supportive for me to not waver and to proceed.

What are some misconceptions about missionaries that you’ve realised are untrue? 
I thought that I would be going to the market daily and giving out tracts to people. But such methods are not appropriate in Thailand. People are more open to relationship building before listening to what you say.

People often think missions is about going to a rural place, staying there alone and doing everything yourself. My dad also thought that I had to preach every Sunday. I don’t. We believe in partnering and discipling the local church or even teaching English or music to pre-believers and forming bonds with them.

The 21st century mission field is different from the past. Missions can also be helping to home school missionaries’ kids, manage financial accounts, or helping the missionaries with publicity to mobilise greater traction.

What is it like being a single woman in the mission field? 
When I was in Chiang Rai, I underestimated the value of community. In Singapore, it was naturally available to me. It took me a while to realise I was lonely. I missed having my family around, friends who asked me out spontaneously, and even speaking Singlish with people in the same culture. I didn’t realise that all these nuances mattered!

I was also the only single in the team. In team meetings, the men would plan strategies and the ladies would talk about kitchen adventures or their children. I didn’t know if I should sit with the men or the ladies, or where I would fit in better. I felt out of place.

I was relatively young then so people in the village thought, “She’s just a girl and isn’t married yet.” I don’t get taken as seriously as an older man or a married woman.

During my loneliness, it made me wonder if I should settle down and find a husband. Whilst I was open to that, I was more aware that I am ultimately complete in Christ, regardless of my marital status.

GOD USES ORDINARY PEOPLE LIKE ME TO FULFIL HIS PURPOSES IN EXTRAORDINARY WAYS.

What final encouragement do you have for our readers? 
I once went to share about missions at a local church and the pastor commented that I looked like an ordinary girl. Some people thought that wasn’t a nice thing to say.

But I knew what he meant and he was right. I am really am an ordinary girl, and God uses ordinary people like me to fulfil His purposes in extraordinary ways. As long as you are willing and available to follow His leading, He can and will use you for His glory and to be a blessing too!

WHAT SHOULD A TEEN GIRL DO TO PREPARE HERSELF FOR LONG-TERM OVERSEAS MISSIONS?

1. Pray and take steps to find out about the specific burdens you have for a country, people group or certain social issue.

2. Talk to people who know you and spiritual leaders who can give you honest feedback on the journey leading towards a possible future as a missionary.

3. Go on short-term mission trips.

4. Be involved locally in the meantime if that people group is already present in Singapore.

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