When you look at Joanne, you might think that she is just a sweet but unassuming young woman. However, even a superficial conversation with her will reveal otherwise. Her heart for the underprivileged shines through in every interaction, and my interview with her was no different. It is no surprise therefore that Joanne and her husband Melvin are unselfish about everything they own, including their matrimonial home that they have opened up to strangers in need.
THE FIRST ‘YES’
In truth, Joanne never envisioned herself as someone who would open up her home to host strangers. It all started when Joanne went on a mission trip to Indonesia and stayed with a missionary family for two weeks.
“It was my first time experiencing such hospitality. We started off as strangers, but became friends. Through our conversations, they shared that whenever they came to Singapore to renew their visa, they often had difficulty finding an affordable place to stay.”
Upon hearing that, Joanne then casually said, “When I get married, you can just stay with us.” Who knew that her casual offer would actually catapult her and her then- fiance Melvin into something else!
The pair made good on their word. As their flat was purchased six months before they got married, they ended up hosting two missionary families in their home before they even lived there themselves.
"WHEN I GET MARRIED, YOU CAN JUST STAY WITH US."
Soon, the couple started to host some youth in their church that needed a place to stay, and eventually, they decided to take the bold step of hosting strangers in need that they found out about through social workers or friends who knew of people who needed a temporary place to stay. The pair have hosted single mothers with infants or school-going children, widows, and families with children thus far. The stays have ranged from two weeks to six months!
“God presented the opportunity to us. We always knew God was present in the process. He is the one who started us off with missionaries we knew personally, then to youth whom we also knew, and now strangers of all ethnicities and walks of life. It’s really a journey that God is orchestrating and writing, and we’re just obeying Him with each step.”
LOOKING DEEPER WITHIN
Joanne recognises that this way of life isn’t for everyone, and God definitely matured her faith over the years to prepare her for this radical mode of service.
Growing up, she listened to sermons by Francis Chan and was inspired by how he modelled doing family life in a missional way. Together with his wife, they invited people to stay in their home, and their children grew up observing them loving their neighbours. They also adopted a teenage daughter, giving her a forever home. The way Chan shared and lived out his faith made Joanne see that her life could be used to serve more than just herself, and that her understanding of the gospel was so limited.
"WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO LOVE SACRIFICIALLY, TO LOVE THE FOREIGNERS, AND THE DOWN AND OUT? "
“When I was younger, living out my faith was focused on simple daily things, like not gossiping, not cheating, and so on. But as I grew older, my view of the gospel was sharpened and widened. Like, what does it mean to love sacrificially, to love the foreigners, and the down and out? How do I live my faith out practically? Now that I am a young adult, I guess God is challenging me to live out my faith by giving my house up to others.”
The decision to use her house as a blessing to others was also largely shaped by a season in her growing up years. When her parents sold their flat and the family had to stay in rental flats for a few years, Joanne found herself shifting from home to home every year. Each rental contract usually spanned a year as the family had hopes that in that year, they would find a permanent place to shift into. However, the market then was so bad that they found themselves in limbo for three to four years.
Like every other teenager, Joanne desired her own personal space, and since she didn’t have it, she often didn’t feel like going home. With a wistful look on her face, Joanne commented, “Even though it was a tough time, I knew God was using that season to mature my faith and my walk with Him. At the end of the whole “sojourning” (or shifting from place to place), I realised that God was actually teaching me a lesson. That experience made me see that I am just a sojourner on this earth.”
LIVING THE LESSON OUT
As such, Joanne holds on to her earthly possessions lightly, including the house she now owns. She is convicted that her house, as with all her possessions, can be a blessing to others. God owns everything, and she is but a steward.
This conviction did not begin only when she bought her house. It was a conviction fostered throughout her teen years.
“For example, if I had extra pocket money and there were worthy causes or people in need, I would think about how much I could give. I would ask, is God nudging my heart and challenging me to spend it on something or someone who needs the money more?”
"ANYONE CAN BE A BLESSING TO OTHERS. SMALL GESTURES GO A LONG WAY!"
She was quick to point out that finances are not the only way to bless others. “You can give of your time to build relationships with people. For example, after giving tuition, I used to stay back for awhile to have dinner with the family. It’s really about the small simple ways of giving in ordinary moments. I tried my best to value people and make them feel dignified.”
She firmly believes that anyone can be a blessing to others. Small gestures go a long way!
“Remember that whatever possessions (money, time, etc.) you have are all given to you by God. What are some possessions you have that you should be holding loosely? I really believe that when you ask God this question, He will speak to you and show you. It’s just a matter of obedience.”
KEEPING THE FAITH
Today, Joanne still firmly believes in the power of small ‘yeses,’ She points out that she did not start out housing strangers from the get-go. Instead, saying a small ‘yes’ each time God convicted her to do something slowly led her to say a bigger ‘yes’ to Him.
So, what can a teenage girl do with the little that she has? Joanne pondered this question and replied, “Perhaps you can start off with $10 to bless someone or a cause. And then, as God slowly stretches your capacity to bless, you can increase what you give [whether it is time, money, or your skills]. Each time you obey and say yes to God, your capacity and conviction grows. This is what I personally experienced. So don’t undermine each small ‘yes’ you say to God. It adds up and goes a long way.”