Sarah*, 28, is a teacher and house guardian at an organisation working with refugees in West Malaysia. Read her story of faith in the midst of the fire, how God called her to work with refugees and why every Christian is called to the missional life.
“Lord, I want to experience You.” When Sarah prayed this prayer in her first year of university, she did not realise the magnitude of the prayer and the journey that God was about to take her on. Born into a Buddhist family, the bubbly young woman with childlike faith is working at a refugee organisation in Malaysia. It was not something she could have planned or foreseen when she first took up real estate studies at university.
But God has always had His hand on Sarah’s life and this week, she is celebrating her spiritual birthday. On 7 October 2022, it will be Sarah’s eighth year of loving, serving and walking with Jesus.
Growing up in a small town with only two churches, Sarah never knew of Jesus in her childhood
“My family comes from a small town in Perak. It’s a small town of mostly ethnic Chinese and Indians. There was a Catholic church and a Methodist church in our town at the time. I didn’t know about Jesus at all; my parents are devout Buddhists and would bring us to the temple for prayers on festival days.”
The eldest of three siblings (her sister is a pharmacist and her brother works abroad), Sarah was raised on the values of business. Her parents were butchers and sold pork, both raw and roasted, at the morning market.
She was a bright student and in 2014, she packed her bags and moved to Petaling Jaya to further her education. As she had been surrounded by business and finance, Sarah grew up to be quite money-minded, she says with a laugh. “That’s why I chose real estate for my university studies,” she explains.
However, everything changed in her first year at university — when she found Jesus.
“My roommate would wake up at 7am every day to read the Bible. It made me wonder what kind of faith, inspired such dedication.”
Her roommate was upfront from the start. “She told me she was a Christian but didn’t know how to share the Gospel. However, she knew I was interested because I would ask questions,” says Sarah.
The curiosity that Sarah felt stemmed from seeing her roommate read the Bible daily at 7am. She was amazed that someone could be so personally convicted about religion as she did not feel the same way about her own.
One day, her friend asked if Sarah would be interested in meeting someone who could share more with her about God, Christianity and the Bible. “Why not?”, she thought. She ended up meeting Marie*, who was from Campus Crusade for Christ, at a coffee shop.
“In that conversation, I heard the gospel for the first time but what struck me more was her testimony. She was so open and vulnerable, sharing her past experiences and weaknesses, and how God shaped her and helped her through everything. And it made me want what she had.”
Although she did not fully understand God’s love at the time, Sarah was drawn to the promise of peace
After Marie shared her life story, she went on to explain the gospel to Sarah using the concept of the Four Spiritual Laws and the self-directed versus God-centred life. “What made me choose God-centred was the promise of peace, that was what I really wanted,” Sarah says.
At the time, Sarah had just moved from a small town to a big city with no friends or family around her. She was lonely and cautious of others, afraid that whoever spoke to her wanted something from her. “I wanted real peace,” she says simply.
And so she decided to give Jesus Christ a shot, although she was worried about how her family would respond to her decision. That day, Marie led her in a simple prayer, and today she is Sarah’s spiritual mother.
Attending discipleship classes, Sarah would fall asleep. It was only when she went on her first mission trip that she truly grasped the call of Christianity.
“I started discipleship class but I would fall asleep, because I couldn’t really understand,” she says truthfully. But when she decided to go for a mission trip with CCC, she finally understood God and the faith.
“I’m actually an extrovert, so during the training, I would go to other people’s rooms, make friends and hear their testimonies. I was curious how they had experienced God. I heard lots of miracles, and I wanted that experience too. So I prayed, “Lord, I want to experience You.”
Nothing happened at the conference, but during the mission trip to an indigenous village in Sabah, Sarah had her first encounter with the Lord. The village was located in the interior, and the team had to trek up steep hills carrying Bibles, rice and food.
Sarah remembers feeling terrified. “I thought I was going to die because I was so scared,” she says with a laugh. Amid her fear, she decided to worship God and began singing Hallelujah, Christ the Lord.
“Suddenly, I felt someone carrying my feet and my whole body along with the things I was carrying began to feel lighter. I began to move faster and even run, overtaking my pastor! That was the first time I experienced God.”
And God didn’t stop moving. During the trip, Sarah shared the gospel with an indigenous woman in Bahasa Malaysia and took her through discipleship lessons for a whole week. It was an exhilarating experience for her, seeing lives changed by God.
Upon her return, she made two promises to God: to tell her family about her new faith, and to serve Him faithfully with her life
For a year, Sarah had hidden her faith from her parents. But after the mission trip, she knew she had to come clean and made a trip back to her hometown.
“For the first two days, I couldn’t open my mouth but on the third day, I sat next to my mother while she was reading the paper and said, “Mum, I believe in Jesus now,” she remembers.
First came shock, then anger. Her mother stormed into her room, slammed the door and began flinging things around. Sarah tried to continue the conversation, but her mother refused to speak to her.
For a week, Sarah endured persecution in her home. She was scolded, shouted at and physically beaten by her mother. Her grandmother also visited to compel her to renounce the Christian faith. And on the seventh day, her mother threatened to kill herself.
“She took a kitchen knife and said she wanted to go to a church in town and kill herself there. I tried to calm her down, but she refused and so I told her, “Then I would rather die, instead of you.” I took the knife and pointed it at my heart. I too had lost control. Then suddenly, my mum snapped out of her rage, threw the knife to the floor, and we hugged and cried.”
Sarah told her family she would stop going to church to calm the situation, but when she returned to Petaling Jaya, continued pursuing her faith. “I didn’t want to lie, but I didn’t know what else to do. They found out a year later and it all happened again, but this time they kicked me out of the house,” she says.
In the midst of trial and persecution, God sustained her with His assurance and sovereignty
Throughout university, Sarah faithfully served the Lord. She went on several mission trips in both East and West Malaysia, stayed active in church and encouraged others.
“In my first year, I had several part-time jobs because I loved money. But when I received Christ, it totally changed my mindset. I started to use my time to serve others.”
Her siblings saw the change as well. In her final year, her younger sister (who was studying at the same university) came upon Sarah reading her Bible one day. She immediately grabbed the Bible and threw it across the room. But as she was leaving, she started crying, picked up the Bible and returned it to Sarah. It was a sign of acceptance, one that Sarah treasures until today.
And over the years, God softened her parents’ hearts. They eventually accepted her faith, welcomed her back into the family and supported her in the next big step she was going to take: moving from the corporate world to a life of missions.
“Lord, if you want me to serve the refugees, I don’t know where to start. Please bring them to me.”
After graduation, Sarah didn’t want to waste what she had learned so she became a valuer. Money was great and life was good, but she had no peace and wasn’t happy. One day, her church sent her to Taiwan for a missions conference.
“I felt like I was in heaven. Every day, I would come to God in devotion and worship with like-minded people. Even though God called us to serve in different areas, we had the same heart and vision to serve God. I was the youngest and all the jie jie shared their experiences with me. One night, during prayer for refugees around the world, my tears began to fall. I hadn’t really known about the refugee community before, so I asked God why and upon my return to Malaysia, continued praying.”
After one month, an organisation visited her church and shared their vision, mission and work they’re doing with refugees in Malaysia. Sarah was sitting in the last row, but it was a punch to her gut. She felt this was what she wanted to do; it was her calling.
With her mother’s blessing, Sarah became a teacher and house guardian serving refugees in West Malaysia
Moving with urgency, Sarah tendered her resignation, but the anxiety of breaking the news to her parents was crippling.
“On the train ride back to my hometown, I was so stressed. But God sent an angel, an acquaintance who called while I was on the train. She had meant to ask about my roommate but felt God tell her to put aside some money for my future ministry. She also prayed for me, and I experienced freedom and healing.”
And God was paving the way. When she returned home, her parents were just leaving to donate a wheelchair to a home for the elderly. When they reached the welfare home, the room reeked of urine and her deeply-affected mother couldn’t bring herself to enter. The experience opened the conversation about helping the less fortunate, and Sarah knew God had set it up.
When they reached home, she brought up her desire to become a teacher. Her mother listened quietly, asked a few questions and left it at that. The next day, again while reading the paper, she approached Sarah and asked her why she wanted to take this step.
Sarah recounted a Hong Kong medical drama the family used to watch when she was younger. It followed the lives of young doctors who gave up everything to serve women living with AIDS in Africa.
“I told my mum, “I’m not a doctor, but I’m a teacher. I’m willing to serve the less fortunate, the refugees, to meet a real need. Will you support me?” My mum thought for a while, and then she gave me her blessing. I was so relieved. When I returned to PJ, I immediately went to the school for an interview. It’s now my third year here.”
As she walks with others in their faith journey, she knows it is God who has all the answers
Sarah relates a recent experience as a house guardian; a 20-year-old refugee, Joanne*, had moved into the shelter, having been abused and abandoned by her husband. As Sarah sat with her, she opened up and said she was seeking answers about God.
“I introduced the Bible to her and she asked me so many questions; it was like an apologetics training for me. I didn’t have all the answers, so I offered to pray with her for God to show her the answers. And you know what? She had a dream that very night,” she recounts.
In her dream, a man stood in front of a great, blinding light. Joanne could not see his face, but he gave her all the answers to all of her questions. It was a literal answer to their simple prayer. From then on, Sarah and Joanne began studying the Bible together every week.
“In another situation, a refugee mother had been in a coma for the longest time. We didn’t give up, praying constantly and she eventually awoke. These are amazing stories. When I see others experience God, I’m so happy. That’s why I want to serve.”
“For me, missions is for all nations and peoples to hear the gospel and to know God.”
Looking ahead, Sarah’s days are getting busier. She’s taken up a parenting course (although she’s not married and has no children) to equip herself as a house guardian and is also exploring Business as Mission to identify ways to empower refugees more through business.
“Missions are everywhere, and every Christian is responsible to care and be concerned for those around them. I encourage young Christians to volunteer for missions work, trips or organisations doing good work. Missions can be present in every part of life — playing football, eating. It’s really a lifestyle. It’s about building relationships and finding ways to share God’s love with those around you.”
The passionate missionary also hopes that the Malaysian Church will step out to serve. “It seems they would rather bring the people into their church instead of meeting the needs where they are,” she says, adding that churches have the resources to make a difference.
She quotes Romans 8:28 with a unique perspective. She says that God has gathered all of us into His family, with different gifts and purposes, to live out missions where they are called and advance God’s purposes on earth.
“God has given me a calling, and my heart is for all nations to hear the gospel. Alone, we cannot go far or do much. And that’s why I love partnerships, working with people and making connections. We are meant to build God’s kingdom together.”
*Names have been changed. All photos used are for illustrative purposes only.
Sarah is supported by AsiaCMS, a trans-denominational mission movement based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and established in 2012. AsiCMS connects people, organisations, and churches to meet needs; facilitates collaborations for mission initiatives, and resources people and organisations through mission education, cross-cultural ministry training and support.
Cover Photo: Jorge Salvador on Unsplash