The dormitory was bustling with the sounds, sights and smells of the 14 youths chatting loudly as they unloaded their bags and settled into their rooms. Melinda Lim walked along the hallway to her room, all the while noticing a mischief of rats scurrying into dark corners as she approached. Already tired from the flight in, she started to unpack her bags. Rest would have to wait, as her weary body was jolted awake at the sight of centipedes, spiders and cockroaches congregating in her room.
In the days that followed, Melinda found it hard to stomach the MSG and fish sauce-laden food, making her miss her mum’s hearty home-cooked meals even more. The people around her were chatting away incessantly in their native language of Khmer, which she barely understood, much less be able to converse in. Rampant power and water cuts in the dormitory further strained the already challenging living environment.
She felt the language barrier even more acutely when she went out to the rural villages to outreach to the poor and needy there, although the language was not the only problem. With the lack of access to clean water and sanitation in such places, Melinda was thankful for a strong stomach and newfound courage in overcoming the fear of seeing creepy crawlies everywhere.
Courage would go on to serve her well considering that dangerous situations were almost always around the corner. Once, when she was doing her laundry, a snake launched at her when she lifted the washing machine cover. Another time, she was caught in a flash flood during the rainy season and almost drowned as the floodwaters rose quickly, threatening to engulf her.
Melinda had to take time to adjust to her new life, constantly reminding herself of her duty as a missionary.
A Higher Calling
While being a missionary may have seemed like a calling right off the bat, it was hardly the case with Melinda — far from it. After graduating with a multimedia degree from the Swinburne University of Technology some 17 years ago, she began her career as a flight attendant with Singapore Airlines (SIA). Five years later, in 2011, she switched to become a personal wealth manager with AIA. Despite holding highly coveted jobs, she felt something was missing.
“After spending many years of my life chasing after the wind (a biblical phrase meaning chasing trivial pursuits) and what the world could offer me, I still ended up feeling empty. Life had no meaning or purpose to me despite living the high life. It was a constant battle trying to compete with the pressure of what society expects from you,” explained Melinda.
Around the time that she changed jobs, Melinda went through one of the lowest points in her life where she felt hopeless and was depressed and suicidal. Fortunately, she was given a chance to join a mission trip to Cambodia which became the turning point in her life.
“I used to live a self-centred life where the world revolved around me, myself, and I. In Cambodia, I witnessed poverty and suffering. Suddenly, all my problems looked so small and minute compared to what they were going through. I had an encounter with God that changed the course of my life,” revealed Melinda, who was then part of a volunteer group from SIA called 5Cs.
Her newfound perspective prompted her to join the non-profit organisation One-2-One as a volunteer to serve the poor and needy in Cambodia. Melinda went back to the country to serve several times from 2012 to 2014 and eventually moved there permanently as a missionary in 2015.
“I’m not smart nor rich, but I felt that I could contribute something to into the lives of the underserved. Bit by bit, I saw lives being transformed. You can never put a price tag to life, but you can respect and bring value to lives. I just do what I can within my ability,” she said.
All in a Day’s Work
Many people have the impression that a missionary is one who spreads the word of God in foreign countries. However, it is much more than that.
Melinda, now 40, set up the Brave Hope Organization, a non-governmental organisation (NGO) in 2017 to alleviate the suffering of disadvantaged people in Cambodia in practical ways and offer hope, love and courage to the ailing and those in despair.
The organisation focuses on four key areas of work, namely:
- slum/rural village outreach, which addresses the immediate needs of beneficiaries such as providing them with practical solutions, daily necessities, medical care, water filters, solar lights and ensuring they have a safe place to stay;
- prison outreach, which improves the health and well-being of prisoners through the provision of medicine, clean water, basic needs and various programmes;
- the water filter project, which makes clean drinking water accessible to those living in the slums and rural villages; and
- the solar light project, which makes efficient light sources available to rural areas.
The Brave Hope Organization or the Brave Ministry as Melinda often calls it is supported by an empowered team of seven staff and a pool of volunteers.
“I’m driven by the practical needs of the unreached people group where there are hopelessness and utter rejection. My team and I understand what it’s like to feel hopelessness as we ourselves went through the darkest periods of our lives. More often than not, this group just needs to know that they are loved, cared for, and not forgotten. I also receive many calls for counselling and emergency medical cases which I refer to our medical NGO partner.
“I empower my team by partnering local churches to carry out the work. I would raise the funds, prepare the budget, do the planning, and get my staff and volunteers involved in their community,” explained Melinda, adding that she does not draw a salary.
Needless to say, the Brave Ministry founder finds great fulfilment in her job, even though it does not pay the bills.
One project she is particularly satisfied with is the building of a ‘reintegration home’ in partnership with Cambodian prison and drug rehabilitation centres.
“To see our clients’ lives become drug or alcohol-free and being able to start anew by doing their own businesses or going back to school gives me the ultimate fulfilment,” she said with a big smile.
While Melinda has had her fill of positive experiences, the one that brought tears to her eyes was the sponsorship of a motorbike to support a young man’s livelihood. He is the sole breadwinner to a family which includes his cancer-stricken mother. Brave Ministry also built a well in his village, which answered his 20-year wish for clean water.
“His mother came up to me, hugged me tightly, and cried. Her skeletal frame revealed her weak immune system and she showed me her dislocated shoulder. She shared that her ex-husband used to beat her every day after coming home drunk, and this would sometimes break her bones. She’s grateful to be alive and thanked me for helping their family so much,” she recounted.
Today, she wants to inspire Singaporeans to do missionary work with the ideology that money should never be the driving factor of one’s life.
“Where purpose is, all else will follow. We are never meant to live for ourselves, but for others,” she said.