Who says pastors have it all figured out? QUEK SHI YUN sits down with Janelle, who shares her honest story of doubting God and growing her faith.
If I asked you to guess what a person might have done before becoming a pastor, I assure you, you wouldn’t even begin to guess anything on Janelle’s list. “I had a friend who was a model, and so she roped me into that. And I acted in Mediacorp, just small roles you know? I’ve been a waitress, I worked in retail… Oh! I even did Uber for a few months just so I could have a car!” Janelle’s energy was contagious, and I found that I couldn’t stop smiling while listening to her.
This was not at all what I expected when I simply asked Janelle what led to her becoming a pastor!
MY BIGGEST CHALLENGE GROWING UP WAS WONDERING IF GOD WAS REAL.
“I never set out to be a pastor,” was her immediate reply. While Janelle was raised in a Christian home, she did not really understand her faith. “I went to church out of habit. I served in ministry, I was in Christian Fellowship… but I didn’t really know if God was there. I even asked myself, what if Buddhism is what’s real? How would I know? I was born into this faith! My biggest challenge growing up was wondering if God was real.”
While her faith was growing, Janelle struggled at home and battled insecurities. Her parents’ rocky marriage was headed toward a divorce, and she questioned God’s goodness. However, a personal encounter with God when she was 18 years old kickstarted her journey of faith. During this time, she had moved to a different church where her cousins were at. It was there when she had the first sense that God was calling her to serve Him in a greater capacity during a service that year.
“I still remember being in the auditorium with about 1,000 people, and I felt a call to serve God and give Him the best years of my life. As the worship came to a close, the Senior Pastor came up on stage and said he felt led to pray for some people. He asked, ‘Is Janelle in church?’ I sensed in my heart that that was me. And as far as I knew, I was the only Janelle in church.”
The pastor prophesied that as people followed Janelle, they would turn towards God and follow Him. After the service, her leaders asked her how she thought that would play out. “I said I don’t know, maybe I’ll just be more involved in church. I brought more friends to church, but nothing really happened after that.”
RUNNING FROM GOD’S CALL
Janelle later felt led to return to her home church after five years and carried on serving God through her university days and early career. She eventually started her own company, and it was a success. She was riding the beginning of the #girlboss wave and enjoyed the hustle and glamour of being an entrepreneur.
So when God pressed in her heart the thought that He wanted her to serve Him in full-time ministry one day, she said no. She laughed as she remembered her response. “I just said, ‘Nope, I don’t want to!’” To compensate for her guilt in rejecting God’s call, she resolved to do more in church. By the end of the year, she was serving in five different ministries in church!
By 2018, she felt like she was in the prime of her life. She had just gotten the keys to her house and business was growing steadily. Her husband, Andrew, had just gotten a promotion, and a baby was on the way. “Everything was so so good, and we were so thankful for everything.”
But things suddenly took a turn in the middle of the year. At the end of June, they found out that their nine-week-old baby had no heartbeat. Andrew’s new job scope turned out to be different from what he expected. And shortly after, they lost their grandmothers in October and November.
“Before I could recover from one death, the next death happened, and then the next. We just couldn’t understand why this was happening.”
I ASKED GOD, WHY ME? … ARE YOU PUNISHING ME?
“I asked God, ‘Why me? You know we love children. You know we love our grandmothers. Why is everything happening at once? I have served you so faithfully and given you my entire youth. Why me? Am I being punished?’”
“That was the first time that my faith was shaken and I really wrestled with God. I couldn’t see how God was good.”
CHOOSING TO OBEY
Amidst her pain, she felt God urging her to go to seminary and really get to know Him for herself. By then, through a series of events and Scripture, she could no longer deny the call to change course and serve Him in full-time ministry.
“I did not want to give up the image I had built for myself — the glamour of going for events, the identity I had as an entrepreneur, and making a name for myself. But God showed me that this wasn’t what He wanted for me. There was something better if I chose to obey.”
During her time in seminary, God showed her why He allowed those things to happen to her and how He was still in control through it all. The week she found out she was pregnant, she was offered a shot at a supporting role in a long-term drama but had to turn it down due to the pregnancy. In hindsight, she recognised it as God’s protection, as He knew that the temptations of the entertainment industry would be too much for her to bear.
He also showed her how the business had puffed up her pride and it was a pride that God had to break down. “Without realising it, I was chasing after my own glory, not God’s.”
God used that season of mourning to show her an important aspect of His character — the depth of His love. Though she initially questioned if God was punishing her, she later came to a different conclusion.
“God allowed these things to happen, but He didn’t cause it. The fact is that we live in a fallen world and suffering does happen. But God can use our sufferings to draw us closer to Him. Instead of punishing me, God was protecting me the whole time. In His grace, He allowed all that to happen so that I could return to Him. He cares more about our holiness than our happiness because He seriously loves us so much. While I couldn’t see His fingerprints in the midst of mourning, God showed me that He was there all along, grieving with me. He didn’t abandon me.”
“Whatever He allows in this fallen world is not the end. This is not our home — the pains and sufferings remind us of that. We have a greater home in heaven.”
Janelle is now in her final semester of seminary, and has started work full-time as a Ministry Staff Worker, pastoring the youths — something she never expected although she now acknowledges that she sees how God had been preparing her for it all these years.
A LESSON IN FAITH
At the end of 2019, she was reading Hebrews 11, or the “Hall of Faith” as she calls it, and it spoke to her to have faith in God and rest in His faithfulness. She sensed God’s deep assurance that a child would come, and to trust in Him and wait on His timing. Then on April Fools’ Day 2021, she found out she was pregnant again. “God is very humorous!” Her son, Callen, was born later that year in November.
Her winding journey of faith has led her to where she is now. But while she sees how God has been with her each step of the way, her journey isn’t over. She makes sure to point out that even pastors have their own struggles and that having faith in God in every circumstance will be a lifelong journey as we submit ourselves to His moulding to become true disciples of Christ.
Her final encouragement is this: Keep seeking God, keep chasing after Him, and let Him lead you.
“What Jesus says in Matthew 11:30 is true. His yoke is easy, His burden is light. We don’t realise it, but it does get easier when we surrender and let God lead our life. Just trust and obey.”