At the age of 32, Pearle left Singapore to serve in South Asia. She shares with us how her journey really began long before she realised, and how God led her step by step into the mission field.
1. Can you introduce yourself, where have you been serving and for how long?
Hi, my name is Pearle*. I have been with Wycliffe serving in South Asia since Nov 2013.
2. What led you to the mission field?
I grew up in a multilingual family. When I was a teenager, my family moved from Hong Kong to Singapore. For a long time, I struggled with my identity and found it challenging to have to study and express myself using English, which was a foreign language to me. That gave me a little taste of the kind of struggles and challenges probably faced by the minority language groups. Because of that, the minority language groups always have a special place in my heart.
God first put the desire to be involved in Wycliffe’s work in my heart through an issue of Yi Jing Xing back in 2001, when I was about to enter university and was seeking God’s purpose in my life. That issue called for people to participate in various roles to bring God’s word to the unreached people groups in their heart languages. I was challenged by the call. From my own experience, I know that people’s lives can only be transformed and set free if they know who the true God is by knowing His Word. So, I prayed and responded to God’s call that night.
However, it wasn’t until 12 years later that I set foot on the mission field and started serving. Looking back, I recognise that God has His good plan and good timing to equip me mentally, emotionally and spiritually for my serving in South Asia.
3. Why did you decide to work with literacy and multilingual education?
I actually knew nothing about literacy and multilingual education (MLE) for children when I first got interested in Wycliffe’s ministries. My passion and burden in adult literacy and multilingual education for children among the minority groups grew over time. I used to think that I must become a Bible translator in order to be involved in Wycliffe’s work. So, I thought I might have mistaken God’s call when I realized my strength is more in applied linguistics. After completing my studies, I asked for a short-term mission opportunity to explore other areas of Wycliffe’s ministry to be certain of God’ call. It was during my 10 weeks in Bangladesh that God introduced me to Wycliffe’s work in literacy and multilingual education, and helped me realise that this is where I can fit in with this big Kingdom project picture.
God has a good plan for each of us. He subsequently gave me an opportunity to work in a local adult literacy programme to gain some working experience. During those years, I kept in touch with Wycliffe members serving in multilingual education and joined their work for short trips so as to familiarise myself with this area of ministry.
South Asia contains many minority language groups who still live in a dominantly monolingual environment. They have limited access to the Scriptures and education in a language they can understand. When I heard that South Asia has a great need for this area of ministry, and I had a chance to visit to see the needs first hand, I decided to go to South Asia.
4. What are some challenges that you face in your work?
I work with multiple language groups in our literacy and multilingual education ministries. We often face unpredictable changes due to weather, local political and social situation and resource constraints. Also, each group or even individual has their unique worldview, culture and ways of thinking and doing things. That calls for humility, patience and readiness to embrace uncertainties and approach matters with an open heart and mind. It also requires me to understand the unique needs of each group and be flexible so that I can contextualise our ministries to fit their contexts and support our local partners more effectively. It has been a great learning experience for me thus far to realise my own shortcomings and witness how God is working in my life and also in the country to accomplish His purpose.
All our projects are in the remote areas with challenging terrain. Landslides and road closure is frequent especially during monsoon season. Besides, people are engaged in subsistence agriculture and animals raising. This narrows the window period when we could visit them, conduct training workshops or implement literacy classes. It also urges us to learn to be sensitive to God’s leading and grasp the opportunities when they come, take each step in faith and trust God to lead and open doors even when we do not necessarily have all the resources we need at that moment.
5. What are some encouraging moments in your ministry?
There is a parent representative who joined our ongoing discussions and workshops for a new multilingual education programme. He did not have a chance to go to school when he was young, so he picked up simple reading and writing skills through friends after he grew up. At the closing of our first curriculum workshop, he shared with us excitedly that for ten years, he had been dreaming that one day his children could learn well and his illiterate wife could also read and be involved in their children’s education. As he heard about the multilingual education programme, he was very excited because finally he saw that his dream was not a wishful thought but it could come true. He has been participating actively in our subsequent material development workshop. It touches my heart to see that God answers this parent’s heart desire and enables him to be part of the team that contributes to the programme and make his dream come true.
Most of an adult bilingual literacy programme participants are women who have received no or very little education previously. Many of them were not only illiterate, but they also could not understand or speak the national language. Because of that, in the past a lot of them did not dare to mingle with people from other language communities. They also did not know how to access public health service because they could not read to access information on the posters and pamphlets. It was encouraging to see them speak with confidence in front of a crowd at the end of the literacy programme, that they not only picked up basic reading and writing skills, but also found their identity and were empowered to express their thoughts confidently in front of people.
We also saw many minority language group children in our multilingual education programme blossomed and integrated well into the mainstream national language medium education system as they grew up. That was a drastic contrast from the timid young children they once were, who could not understand or speak the national language when they first came to school. It reminds me that each of them is created uniquely in the image of God and they are precious in God’s sight. And this is what we would like to see – people finding hope and experiencing transformation and wholeness in their lives physically, mentally, socially, emotionally and spiritually.
6. What would you tell someone who is thinking about missions?
When I first started thinking about missions as a late teen, I was impatient and eagerly wanted to start the journey and go to the field as soon as possible. Over the years, I have come to realise that actually the journey started from the moment I was born (Ps 139:13-16). It is good to look back to our past and discover what God has been doing in our lives through our family, our studies, training and life experience to get to know ourselves. You would be surprised to see how God has used every moment of our lives to mould us and equip us to become who He wants us to be and be ready for the purpose He has set in our lives (Eph 2:10).
To run this journey well, we need companions and supporters to come alongside us. So, share your thoughts with your pastors and people who are spiritually mature and know you well. They can journey with you to ascertain God’s calling in your life and when is the right time to go. If you have already developed specific interest and burden for a people group, a place or a type of ministry, start a conversation with people involved in those areas to find out more information about the field. I find it helpful to be able to go on several short-term trips (e.g. a few weeks to a few months) to expose myself to cross-cultural living, start building relationships with people, and develop a realistic picture of life and ministry in the field. This would also help you know yourself more in the process – your strengths and weaknesses, blind spots, concerns, your limitations – to make informed decisions and thrive in the field for long term.
7. How can we pray for you?
I will start my second term of assignment from April 2017 and continue with my existing ministries. It is my desire to widen and deepen my relationship building with both international and local friends. Pray for me to find a good balance between work, rest and relationship building and keep a close walk with God. I would appreciate your prayers for me and my colleagues to have wisdom and good understanding to support our local partners, journey with them and build them up effectively too. Thanks!
*Names have been changed for security reasons