Elina Choo enjoyed a comfortable life at the shipping company where she had worked for the past seven years, sporting a company car and a “pretty good” Christian walk.
Then, during a young adult meeting at her church, the speaker asked: “If you really had a chance, what would you want to do?” The question triggered nagging questions in Elina’s mind: Could life hold more than the cycle of eat, sleep and work? Did God really have a purpose for her?
She recalled a scene from her childhood where she had walked across the gangway of Doulos, one of OM’s ships, and had dreamt about joining the crew. Now, she faced an opportunity to transform that dream into a reality.
Still, obstacles remained, particularly the pressure of raising financial support in a time of global recession.
“That’s where the Lord challenged me to trust Him,” she says. “I just need to let go and let Him do the work.” Once she committed her future to God, her church stepped in and promised to support the entirety of her financial needs, and, after three months and a resignation letter, she boarded Doulos.
Elina now works in the OM office in Malaysia to help train and prepare people who express interest in joining missions. Drawing on her experience of 11 years with the OM ship ministry, she counsels potential workers who face the same thorny issues that once challenged her – including the pain of leaving family and friends and the pressure of finances.
Her advice to them seems simple but reflects years of learning how to lean on God in the thick and thin.
“Don’t put God in a box,” she says. “Allow God to be God.”
With her dad in the military, Elina grew up on a base in Kuala Lumpur. Her parents were not followers of Jesus, but after Elina’s two older siblings started believing in Christ, the rest of the family, including Elina, followed suit.
Around 11 years old, she heard a missionary speak at her family’s church, which left her awed and inspired by the man’s work for God. The talk concluded with a challenge: “Who wants to be used by God?” Little Elina boldly flung up her hand.
But as she moved on to secondary school and eventually graduated, she put this commitment to missions on hold and settled into the rhythm of working at the shipping company, until she heard the call of God again – this time to join Doulos.
Over the next 11 years (eight years with Doulos and three with Logos Hope), she served in various roles, from kitchen helper to church coordinator to liaison between the ship and government officials, and visited countries ranging from Djibouti to Ukraine.
She soon discovered the necessity of trusting fully in God, especially when the rollicking waves left her stomach reeling. During one trip along North Africa, she fell so ill that she could not even climb out of her bunk. As she lay on her bed, feeling weak and useless, she heard the Lord speak to her: “Don’t use your strength to go serve me, but depend on me.”
She would cling to this truth as she also dealt with loneliness and homesickness, deeply missing her family and friends back in Malaysia. “When there is a change from one place to another, it is a sacrifice,” she acknowledges.
But, in her feelings of absence, she witnessed God at work, and she cherishes the stories of how God provided “little things” that showed His fatherly care, like when her friends celebrated her birthday with a Malaysian feast or when a random lady in Greece offered her a hug. Throughout, God “tagged along with me in this journey,” she says. “Each time that I was missing things, missing people, God in His ways provided to give me assurance.”
It’s this assurance of God’s care and provision that Elina shares with the potential workers she hopes to encourage into missions. In her current role with the home office, she wears a variety of ‘hats’, she says: processing applications, preparing recruits, providing member care and working with the leadership team. But what gives her the most “joy” and “life” is walking alongside both the young and old as they discover their calling to serve God, whether it’s a woman fresh out of university or a lady in her 50s, who decided to leave everything in Malaysia behind to serve God in Japan.
Many of us don’t boldly pursue our God-given callings because we feel that God must be wanting someone else more qualified, she says. To those who carry these doubts, she issues an encouragement.
“God can use a simple person,” she says. “You don’t need to be a pastor to make a difference in people’s lives.”
For Elina, it all boils down to whether we will take that first step to follow God’s plan for our lives – for He has a plan for each one of us, even an ordinary Malaysian woman working at a shipping company.
Malaysia has the highest rate of COVID-19 infections in Southeast Asia and has been under a Movement Control Order (MCO) since March 18. This means that the country’s borders are closed, preventing Malaysians from entering or departing and tourists from visiting, and people are forbidden from going further than 10km from their residences. People are only allowed to go out for essential food shopping and to seek medical treatment. The New Straits Times reports a survey that has found “that 46.6 per cent of self-employed respondents had reported losing their jobs following COVID-19 and the MCO being enforced.” And the country’s economy, like many others, is suffering. The OM team in Malaysia has been working from home, and some individuals have been responding to the needs of those impacted by COVID-19, by purchasing and delivering food items.