"Why am I here when I could have been more useful back home?" Kamala wondered as she spent her COVID-19 lockdown in South Africa.
Brimming with hope, Kamala Devi (Singapore) arrived in Johannesburg, South Africa, on 9 February 2020, for OM’s REACH programme, a six-month mission journey in training, mentoring, cross-cultural community life and ministry.
“I always thought I came with no expectations. But the truth is that we always have hidden expectations,” said Kamala.
Within a month and a half, the country had gone into lockdown due to COVID-19, throwing the plans for the programme into disarray. The original outreach activities could not proceed, and the trainers Kamala had been looking forward to learning from were not able to fly in either.
Highlighting the irony of the situation, Kamala shared how she had been working as a nurse in Singapore right up till the time she left for South Africa.
“I was questioning God, ‘Why? Why am I here when I could have been more useful back home? Why am I here in a foreign land in lockdown when I could have been home and helping people?’”
Saying ‘yes’ to God
In fact, Kamala’s decision to serve in full-time missions was not an easy one. For more than a year, she had been deliberating about it before finally committing to it. This was partly because of a significant incident that happened during her first short-term mission trip just two years before.
Kamala recalled how she became aware of the cost of missions when she went to South Asia in 2018. While trekking to remote villages to share the gospel, her team was stopped by the local police. As such outreach activities were prohibited in the area, they were in danger of facing imprisonment.
Thankfully, no charges were brought against the team, and they were released. Nevertheless, this left a deep impression on Kamala. It was then that she wrestled with the sobering reality of putting her life on the line for sharing the love of Christ with unreached people groups.
“I was put on a spot," she recalled. "I could say, ‘No, missions is not for me. I’m not going to sacrifice my freedom just so people would know the gospel.’ However, I decided to respond to God with a ‘yes’.”
When Kamala returned, she started exploring training programmes with OM. Her initial intention was to go for six months and then return to Singapore before deciding on her next steps. Instead, she was challenged by a staff member to commence serving in South Africa immediately after completing the training programme.
“I have bills to pay and a family to take care of. Is this really what I want to do?” she asked, verbalising her struggle.
But Kamala wanted to live out what she sang in church. She wanted to put her money where her mouth was.
“God, are You really my Vision? Are You really enough in my life?" Kamala wondered. "If so, then I can leave the so-called security in my life to do missions, to go to the unreached and tell people who You are.”
Bringing her concerns before God during a silent retreat, she received an answer. “Matthew 6:25-34 was very comforting to me because God will not forsake me. God knows my needs, and He will provide."
Taking the step of faith
Assured that God would take care of the rest as she took her first step of faith, Kamala decided to commit to extending her stay in South Africa for another year.
Despite her courage to obey, her experience in South Africa turned out to be very different from what she expected. Not only did the pandemic impact REACH, Kamala’s plans to join an outreach programme to children with special needs did not come to fruition.
Yet, she continued to see God’s hand at work in these unforeseen circumstances.
“Wherever we went, I had constant brushes with people who had COVID-19. I haven’t been affected by COVID-19 myself. How is that even possible?” exclaimed Kamala. “Seeing God’s protection and sovereignty in all of this made me consider: Maybe He brought me here because He wanted to help me see who He is in all of this.”
Furthermore, other timely opportunities came along, such as partnering with another organisation to do street ministry. “We rode around the area at King William’s Town to … invite homeless people for a time of worship and gave them food,” she remembered.
Aside from meeting practical needs through a soup kitchen, the ministry also set out to journey with those in the homeless community, walking together through problems such as joblessness and drug addiction and sharing the good news of Jesus along the way.
Kamala also pointed out how the pandemic has inspired her to be more creative in ministry. Faced with new restrictions on how she can conduct classes, as well as a lack of facilities, Kamala said she had to put a lot of thought into how to keep the children engaged whenever she has Bible study lessons with them.
“I hope that through my presence here and the conversations I have with people, they will understand who God is and their lives will be transformed,” she shared of her one-and-a-half years in South Africa.
The mission never ends
When asked what’s next for her, Kamala confessed she is still praying about it, “I’ve been asking that question a lot lately, and I haven’t come to a conclusion. I’ll just wait on the Lord. I’m excited.”
Having seen how He has led her through uncertain paths during her time in South Africa, her trust and confidence in God has grown. Kamala also holds fast to the conviction that the work of missions never ends — even if you’re no longer in the mission field.
“Even if I leave South Africa, it’s not over. It has to continue,” she said.
Reflecting on a book she was given when she first arrived in South Africa, Kamala remarked: “Radical Christian living doesn’t mean leaving your family and going somewhere to reach the world. Radical living starts wherever you are. The Great Commission is for all of us. Each one of us is accountable to live out a missional life wherever we are placed. It can be lived out in a simple manner in a simple way.”