In a candid interview, Rachel Ann Thong shares her personal journey of finding her faith and knowing her purpose in God. Whether in the workplace, at home, in church or on the mission field, she finds her balance by living according to His priorities, not her own.
As Rachel describes every hat she wears, one can’t help but wonder just how she manages to hold it all together.
A mother of two young children, Rachel heads operations at the Malaysian office of an international tech company, leads the dance ministry at Acts church, co-leads a cell group with her husband and oversees the children’s ministry at Acts Kota Kemuning. She also has a heart to serve Southeast Asia, and cannot wait for mission trips to restart post-pandemic.
For this exuberant woman with a bright and gentle smile, the secret is simply that her strength is not her own. “How did I give when I had almost nothing to give? That’s where my testimony comes from, that it’s God’s strength and grace,” she says.
At 11 years old, Rachel began serving in the Kids Ministry
Born and raised in Petaling Jaya, Rachel describes having an average family and being an average student. “I was very shy, reserved and timid, completely opposite to how I portray myself today,” she says.
Some of her best memories were the times spent with her maternal cousins, who lived nearby. Although her family were the only Christians among them, they spent many weekends together, sharing meals, playing and just growing up.
It was only when she was seven years old that her parents decided to go to Bible college in Christchurch, New Zealand for a year. After that, her father became a pastor followed by her mother later on. Her mother was very active in the Kids Ministry, and that’s also where Rachel began her life of service at around 11 years old.
“It was a defining moment for me, serving alongside my parents in ministry. My dad was asked to become the Chinese church pastor, but the ironic thing is that the rest of us are all bananas (a Malaysian term for ethnic Chinese who can’t speak the language). I saw how my mum really went all the way, she learned the language and even learned how to read the Bible in Cantonese so that she could teach in the Kids Ministry.”
Growing up a pastor’s kid, she was inspired by her parents’ heart of service but also remembers her strict upbringing
Looking back, Rachel remembers the non-negotiables of being a PK (pastor’s kid), such as being in church every Sunday. “My sister and I were both quite easy kids growing up. It’s also a personality thing, I never really questioned the existence of God, His ways or plans,” she says.
The best part of being a PK was that a strong foundation was built right at the start. Rachel accepted Christ at five years old and witnessed her parents’ service to others up close and personally.
“As a pastor in the Chinese section, my dad would be in the drain cleaning up and sweeping up after service. For him, it was never about position or title. He was just there to serve. And I learned so much about kids ministry from my mum. Today, I am living those lessons.”
However, if there’s one thing she hopes to change in her own parenting journey, it’s to balance a firm upbringing with a gentle hand, ensuring her children know that she always offers a safe, non-judgmental space.
“With the best intentions, my mother would filter the books we read and limit the shows and movies we watched. We also weren’t allowed to date until we were 21 years old (laughs); we had quite a strict upbringing. It protected me in many ways but also developed an unhealthy fear of sharing the truth which resulted in me living a hidden life,” she says.
Her college days brought the wild taste of freedom, but it was also when Rachel found her own faith and developed a heart for missions
When Rachel started college, she tasted freedom and “went a bit wild”, she remembers with a laugh. At the same time, she was attending a Christian Fellowship (CF) and developed close friendships there.
“It’s not that I didn’t believe in God, it was about being far away from him and finding it hard to live a right life. I felt I was leading a double life, Saturday night I’d be partying and Sunday I’d be at the altar repenting. It was a season for me to make my own choice.”
A bunch of her CF friends decided to visit Acts Church, and there Rachel found what she really needed at the time: the Word of God that went straight to the heart. In that season, she realised that she had never really lost faith, but it was the ‘living right’ she had to come to terms with.
It was also during her university days that she found herself weeping for people and nations she did not know. She travelled with her CF to Cambodia and the Philippines on short-term mission trips. Her heart today is for Southeast Asia, and missions have become a part of her.
“Before the pandemic, I was heavily involved in missions and community outreaches, going to Chiang Mai to encourage a partner church there and serving the sea gypsies in Ranong. I also taught Sunday School at a Burmese refugee school in KL.”
Sometimes, Rachel still asks, “Lord, what missions am I meant to do and where?” But she knows that in this season, her marketplace is her mission field and it is exactly where God wants her now.
“Marriage is two very different individuals coming together. What makes all the difference is that we go back to God.”
Rachel is married to Albert, one of the pioneers of Acts Church. “He was a drummer, I knew his siblings. But it was dance that brought us together. Albert always looked grumpy, like he wanted to beat someone up,” she says with a grin.
They met in 2002, he was a b-boy and Rachel had been roped in as a replacement dancer. The two of them clicked and started hanging out. “The rest is history!” she says.
In response to a question about how she approaches marriage with a faith-based perspective, she says it’s about keeping God at the center.
“Conflict is a guarantee. But the thing that makes the difference for Christians is when we both go back to God when conflict happens. He remains the centre, and it’s God that changes our hearts and keeps us humble.”
And to keep marriage in the right perspective, Rachel highly recommends that all Christian couples or couples-to-be read this book by Francis (and Lisa) Chan: You and Me Forever: Marriage in Light of Eternity. One of the toughest seasons of their lives and marriage was when they discovered the reason why their daughter was so different from other children.
Rachel’s motherhood journey is one of grace, as she endured her daughter’s two-hour long meltdowns, rigidity and hypersensitivity to all kinds of things
When Rachel gave birth to her daughter (now six years old), she thought parenting would be a breeze given her years serving in the Kids Ministry. But it was far from easy. Her daughter wasn’t the best sleeper or eater, and when she turned two years old, she started having daily massive meltdowns – each lasting up to two hours.
“So it was three years of always being at a breaking point, questioning why I was a mother. She was our first child; we didn’t have any other baseline. We felt something was off but we couldn’t pinpoint what it was. It was definitely tough, it rocked my relationship with my husband, my mum, and so many others.”
In response to teachers’ concerns, Rachel and her husband took their daughter to a specialist, and she was found to be a highly sensitive person (HSP). Thus began a journey of unlearning and relearning, a process that is not easy and made more challenging because it was during the pandemic and the family was cooped up at home.
But Rachel is grateful because as a family, they’ve come out of the valley and into a greater understanding of their daughter and themselves. And when their son was born, he brought much-needed balance to the family.
“We’ve grown, matured and been an encouragement and testimony to others. When I finally shared this story on my Instagram, some asked, “How did you even serve in the church?” Others said, “That sounds just like my childhood.”
“Parenting has matured us. Our patience level has soared. And we’ve also learned to not let challenges hide the strength and beauty that exists. Our daughter is so observant and thinks very deeply, she is a blessing to our family.”
“Finding the balance really comes from knowing your purpose in life. If not, you will always be chasing after clouds or putting out fires.”
On the work front, Rachel heads local operations for a tech company specialising in video conferencing and cloud transformation. She’s been there for 16 years; it was a job she accepted right after graduation.
“I started as a video conference support engineer, then team leader and so on. To me, work is ministry. So becoming a leader was never on my mind, but God keeps promoting me and expanding my capacity to be an influence and make an impact. Work is coaching, setting a positive culture, mentoring, and building an encouraging workplace.”
The pandemic also opened many opportunities for Rachel to minister to her colleagues and peers in spite of her own challenges in the home. “It’s about seeing everything holistically and not compartmentalising, walking with the Holy Spirit and letting Him show you the focus for the season,” she says.
When discouragement hits, what gets Rachel through is God, prayer, mentors and good friends. “My girlfriends keep me sane and take me through the best and worst times,” she says.
For young mothers out there, knowing your identity in God will give you fulfilment in everything you do
When asked what advice she would give to young mothers, Rachel has two gems to share: walk closely with Jesus and don’t compare your life to others.
“It’s back to knowing your purpose, and that happens when you walk closely with God, put aside life’s priorities and focus on His priorities. Whether you’re a working mum or SAHM, you can’t compare the two. The expression and focus are different. Once you start comparing, it goes downhill. It’s about finding your foundation in Christ, and as you take care of God’s house (and His work), He takes care of yours.”
Rachel also reiterates the importance of good, godly friends and being plugged into a community of believers. Church life, she says, offers you the opportunity to find a strong support system. But more than that, she encourages all young people to serve together.
“There’s a unique bond that happens when you serve together as friends, whether in a dance team, on mission trips, in your college CF or in the church you’re in. So focus on building and being part of a community of believers.”
“Life for me is this: God has been so merciful and gracious to see me through every season. He who is forgiven much loves much.”
When Rachel considers all that has happened in her life, she sees God’s fingerprints everywhere. From providing for her family to ending up in Multimedia University (where she found her faith, Acts Church and her husband), landing her job and seeing her family through the pandemic, God has established her.
“One of the things that came to my mind is — he who is forgiven much loves much. That’s how I live today, I messed up so many times and was unfaithful so many times. I feel so unworthy and yet God in His grace and mercy pulls me back and still chooses to use someone like me in ways I never imagine. That’s how I live in terms of how I see people and want to extend that same love to others. If God can use someone like me, He can use anyone.”
Rachel’s love for Jesus shines forth in every word she speaks, and she carries a humility that is not earthbound. For this woman — corporate figure, wife, mother, dancer, leader, mentor, teacher, friend — life is not a journey meant to be walked alone.
She holds onto Romans 8:38-39, that nothing can separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. “This sums up every season I go through. Death or life, mountain or valley, He’s still there.”
All photos provided by Rachel Ann Thong.