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A heart for the poor: Isaac Goh finds his calling among Sabah’s rural communities

Isaac serves at the Micah Centre in Sabah, a cross-cultural discipleship centre for young Malaysians from Chinese-language churches to minister to the local indigenous communities of Borneo.

Isaac Goh, an IT professional whose heart for the poor led him to Sabah. Image: Isaac Goh

Born in Penang and trained in software engineering, Isaac Goh is a young man with a heart for the poor. After working in Singapore as in IT professional for more than a decade, he realised his true desire: to connect with people and care for the poor.

So, he quit his job, packed up and returned to Penang in 2014 hoping to decipher the Holy Spirit’s gentle nudging.

A volunteering trip that changed everything

Back in Penang, Isaac had the opportunity to join a Christian NGO called HISTEAM on a volunteering trip to Sabah. What he saw there changed the course of his life.

During my Sabah trip, I was able to visit indigenous communities in rural parts of the state. I was heartbroken to see the needs among the rural indigenous people, especially in terms of spiritual resources, education and livelihoods.

Isaac returned home, burdened with a desire to minister to these communities in the longer term. It was a big decision, and one that warranted prayer and confirmation. For two years, Isaac laid this dream at the altar and continued working, living and serving his community in Penang.

In 2017, he finally received the confirmation he was looking for. And so once again, he quit his job (this time with his wife), packed his bags and travelled across the South China Sea to begin a life of service in Sabah.

A melting pot of cultures and communities

Sabah, a Malaysian state on the island of Borneo, is home to 39 indigenous ethnic groups that make up about 58% of the state’s population1. The largest groups are the Kadazan-Dusun, Bajau and Murut; these three broad ethnic groups make up about 35% of the people in Sabah.

As one of Malaysia’s most diverse states, Sabah is also home to ethnic Chinese (9.1%), Malays (5.7%) and communities whose ancestors came from Indonesia and the Philippines2. A communal people, Sabahans are widely known for their laid-back vibes, love for family and acceptance of all.

It was here, in this melting pot of cultures and communities, that Isaac and his wife made their home.

A visit to one of Sabah’s rural communities. Image Source: Isaac Goh

Away from the city and into the villages

As the sun rises over Papar, a small town south of Kota Kinabalu, Isaac begins his day. The Micah Centre is a cross-cultural discipleship training centre for youths from Chinese churches aged 18-40, showing them what a life of service looks like and providing on-the-ground training.

Our mission is to recruit and equip young people to serve the indigenous people according to their calling whether it is to become a church planter, missionary, community development worker, social worker, etc. 

At the core of the centre’s approach is discipleship: ensuring students obtain a Biblical foundation, master Bahasa Malaysia, adapt to the simplicity of rural living and complete a 3-4 month placement in a village, serving alongside local missionaries. It is an eye-opening experience.

Students of Micah Centre praying together with community members. Image Source: Isaac Goh

When asked what burden rests in his heart, Isaac said he wishes to see Sabah’s own communities rise up as God’s people, taking hold of the spiritual authority that rests upon them to bring kingdom transformation to their land.

His anchor Scripture, Micah 6:8 is a verse he holds close to his heart when equipping and training students. “What does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God,” — this is his hope for every student, to become a disciple of Christ who does exactly as the Lord requires.

At the Micah Centre, discipleship is the core of the centre’s approach.

Through it all, the Lord has never left his side

Life as a missionary comes with stories of God’s faithfulness and grace; Isaac believes God has and continues to protect him, his family and ministry as he serves faithfully.

He recalls a close shave he had when a large centipede (poisonous species, folks) stung his leg during a trip into rural parts once. The pain was searing, and soon redness and swelling began to spread from the tiny puncture marks left by the creature.

Quickly, Isaac and Carol laid their hands on the wound and prayed Psalm 91 over his leg, asking God for divine healing and protection. In front of their eyes, the redness and swelling stopped spreading. The next day, the pain was completely gone and he could walk normally. At the doctor’s, he was given the all-clear.

The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few

Micah Centre students visiting communities in Sabah. Image Source: Isaac Goh

Isaac is candidly blunt about what we often see in the support of faith-driven community work: churches are willing to send money, but what field workers really need is simply more hands and feet.

At the Micah Centre, a challenge we face is the lack of competent and suitable co-workers. I hope the Malaysian Church will not just send money to Sabah’s indigenous communities, but also be willing to send their young people or pastors to Sabah, to empower them in their faith and ministry.

His advice for young people looking to make a difference but unsure where to begin? Find and join a volunteer service demonstrating acts of justice and mercy, such as caring for the poor, teaching children, fundraising for disaster victims, carrying out disaster relief work and the like. As Isaac says, “Volunteering will prepare [you] to see and feel the heart of the Heavenly Father for the broken world.”

Isaac Goh and the Micah Centre are supported by AsiaCMS. To learn more about the Micah Centre, enrollment or how you can contribute to the ministry, click here.


  1. Indigenous Peoples in Malaysia, International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs (IWGIA)
  2. Indigenous peoples and ethnic minorities in Sabah, Minority Rights Group
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