Balik Kampung*

By Tan Jee Long, Director of Missions

*Malay for “Returning Home”

china - manuel joseph

Tan Jee Long and his wife, Lydia, are long-term missionaries to East Asia. They returned to Singapore after living overseas 25 years in East Asia. (Image credit: Manuel Joseph)

Tan Jee Long and his wife, Lydia, long-term missionaries to East Asia, returned to Singapore in 2017. Jee Long shares with us a little about themselves, their callings to missions, his experiences of business as a mission and how we too can labour across cultures.


How did you come to know God?

I attended an Anglican mission school where I heard about God. During a gospel rally in Secondary One, the song “What a Friend We Have in Jesus” touched me deeply and brought me to tears as I felt so lonely then. I answered the altar call that night. After that I joined a group to study the Bible and received Jesus as my Saviour and Friend a year later.

How did you get involved with The Navigators?

While in university, my Christian life hit a low point because I felt that my faith was not helpful and did not answer many of life’s questions. I challenged God, “If you don’t show me how you’re relevant to my life, I’ll forget about you.” He answered my challenge through Navigators labourers. I was attracted to their serious attitude towards learning from the Bible and growing in their relationship with God. They helped me to make the lordship decision and I grew in discipleship with the university fellowship from 1982 till 1992.

What drew you to mission work?

I had a clear calling from God for missions in an OMF prayer meeting in 1988. Since then my desire to minister overseas grew; to be a light in dark places where many have not heard the gospel. A business trip to East Asia in 1989 caught my attention. For three years we prayed and prepared ourselves to go. In 1992 my wife and I finally got a job there and so we embarked to live in East Asia.


“For years I felt the desire to minister overseas, to be a light in dark places since many have not heard the gospel.” (Image credit: Kylie Chia)

Cross-Cultural Immersion

Was it difficult to adjust during your first two years in East Asia?

The first few months in East Asia were a honeymoon period. Then cross-cultural fatigue set in. I was working six full days and our rest day mainly involved household chores and grocery shopping. Working with the locals also wore me down because of their different work ethics and mentality. It was a steep learning curve for me. From dealings with domestic helpers to food stall vendors, it took a lot of effort to fit in with the community. After the birth of our second child, my wife and I took a break and returned to Singapore in 1995.

Why did you decide to return to East Asia despite cross-cultural difficulties?

By now, we knew the pros and cons of living there, and so it was with mixed feelings that my wife and I asked ourselves and God if we should return to East Asia. God tenderly whispered to us, “After all these, do you still love them?” It took us nine months to decide and once the decision was made, we returned to East Asia for another 23 years till 2017.

tan jee long, lydia 3-edit

Knowing the pros and cons of living in a foreign country did not inform Lydia and Jee Long’s decision to go long-term into East Asia. Instead, it was God’s prompting and calling that they obeyed first.

Business As Mission

What was the purpose of going into business?

In 1996 a friend living in East Asia had an opportunity to start a fast food business. We partnered with him and two other couples with the objective of leveraging that platform to reach out and minister to locals. The fast food chain employed over 100 people, letting us connect with many believers and non-believers alike. As business owners, we have the opportunities to demonstrate kingdom values and to converse about spiritual matters to influence their lives. For over 15 years, the business has helped me to draw many to know Christ and to disciple them, including two couples who later become pastors.

How did this fulfil the call for spiritual generations?

A couple whom we discipled for over a decade expressed their desire to quit their jobs and start a consultancy business so they could be more available for ministry. We partnered with them and coached them to run the business as a mission. Today they are successful business owners and are fruitful labourers, discipling others to balance work, family and ministry. Through their testimony in the business community, they have influenced many through their faith and modelled a Christ-centred life for many families.

How did you prepare to return to Singapore?

As the ministry grew, new local communities were formed. Local leaders emerged and embraced the Navigators Calling: “To advance the gospel of Jesus and His Kingdom into the nations through spiritual generations of labourers …” When this happened, Lydia and I knew our task as missionaries had been accomplished and that it was time to move on. However, it was a struggle to leave the place where we spent the best part of our lives in. Furthermore, there was uncertainty about handing over the responsibility to local leaders. In the midst of all these struggles, we experienced God’s immense peace as He led us step by step out of East Asia, the mission field He called us to 25 years ago, and back home.

shanghai Manuel Joseph

A cross-cultural labourer can go as a student, volunteer, professional or entrepreneur. You have to first be called by God to cross cultures. (Image credit: Manuel Joseph)

Mission of The Navigators

What is the difference between a “missionary” and a “cross-cultural labourer”?

The mission of the Navigators speaks of “generations of labourers …” Some labourers are called by God to go across cultures. A cross-cultural labourer is effectively a missionary in the millennial context. Just like Jesus going from heaven to earth, or Abraham called by God to the promised land, a cross-cultural labourer chooses to leave his people and his culture in order to bring the gospel to an unreached group of people. He can go in capacity of a volunteer social worker, student, teacher, professional or business owner. He lives among them, witnesses by life to show Christ, tells them the gospel and brings them into God’s Kingdom. He raises up disciples among them and has them disciple others who will do the same.

What are some requirements?

Most of our ministry training done here in Singapore is more than sufficient. Cross-cultural living is best learned in the field. While we fear venturing into the unknown, only one thing is needed—we must be called by God. When God calls, His calling is uniquely yours and He alone is responsible for you and your family. As Hudson Taylor said, “God’s work done in God’s way will never lack God’s supply.” For the 25 years God called us to journey with Him, we have not lacked anything. Our heart’s cry should be like Moses’, “Do not send us unless you go with us (see Exodus 33:15).”

What is your role as Director of Nav Missions?

God has blessed us with many labourers through our local Nav ministries, and I believe God calls many to be cross-cultural labourers. The Missions team will come alongside and enable them to fulfil God’s calling for them. We have short term mission exposure trips lasting for a few months to a mid-term training programme lasting two years. Before launching into long-term cross-cultural living, we will coach, train and raise support to prepare our labourers for life-long venture and effectiveness as missionaries.

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There are many unknown factors in mission work, but when you’re called to go, you go in obedience while faithfully trusting God. “By faith Abraham, when called to go … obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going (Hebrews 11:8).” (Image credit: Sam Lim)

This article is in line with The Navigators CORE Values:
CORE 4 The leading and empowering of the Holy Spirit.
CORE 5 Expectant faith and persevering prayer rooted in the promises of God.

CORE 8 Families and relational networks in discipling the nations.