This was first published in Wesley Tidings March 2021 issue
From a Teacher to Church Worker and back to Teacher
One of Jonas Chow’s instagram posts reads like this: “This day is a day to give thanks for those who believed in me, who stood by me, who developed and mentored me, who appreciated me. If there’s one thing the past 35 years has taught me, it’s that God is ever working in my life. And He’s not done yet”.
Indeed, Jonas feels immensely grateful for everything that the Lord has done to lead him to where he is now.
An earnest servant of the Lord since he was young, Jonas had entered full time ministry as a PTM (pastoral team member) at Faith Methodist Church in 2016, after being a Mathematics teacher in ACS(I) for four years.
An unexpected turn of events and a change in God’s calling for him, however, had led Jonas to decide to return to teaching a couple of years ago.
“The call to return to the secular world came to me, one year into my full time ministry job,” reflected Jonas who teaches Year 5 and 6 (17-and -18 year olds) students. “I had to wrestle hard with God and myself about what that meant to me, how it might look to others if I decided to take that step to go back to teaching, to return to the secular world, so to speak.”
At the same time, God has also led Jonas to join a small group in Wesley Methodist Church. He had subsequently decided to join his small group members to worship at Wesley in 2019.
Today, Jonas serves as a keyboardist at Wesley.
A Dedicated Teacher
Jonas, which means “dove” in Hebrew, lives up to his namesake.
He strives to be a peacemaker as a personal mantra.
“Mr Chow is a very good teacher not just in teaching,” said Lauren Yeo, Jonas’ ex-student at ACS(I). “He sees the best in people and finds ways to affirm them.”
A second generation Christian, Jonas has always tried to seek, and align his own dreams and ambitions with God’s will for Him. Even at a young age, Jonas had entertained the thought of serving the Lord in full time ministry.
At Fairfield Methodist Primary School as a student, he joined the Boys’ Brigade (BB), and went on to become a BB officer from 2006 to 2019.
Jonas’ years of service at BB had impressed upon him the importance of mentoring the young and pointing them to Christ. This was also at the top of his mind when he decided to take up the Ministry of Education teaching scholarship to study at the National University of Singapore.
His first posting upon graduation is his alma mater ACS(I), where he taught from 2011 to 2015.
Calling to Full Time Ministry
Back in 2005, while Jonas was still in national service, he had received a calling for the Lord to enter full time ministry when he was participating in the Young Methodist Leaders’ Conference (YMLC).
He sought advice from his Pastors then and confirmations from the Lord, and decided to serve more actively in church as a lay person, while he completed his teaching bond before changing his trajectory.
In 2014, his new Pastor in Charge suggested to Jonas to work as a PTM first before he committed to full time seminary studies.
At the end of 2015, in obedience and in faith, Jonas completed serving his bond and began his ministry work as a church staff the next year.
In ministry, Jonas served as a PTM in Discipleship and Nurture, Worship & Music and pastoral care of small groups.
Full time ministry proved to be a pretty steep learning curve for Jonas, but it was nothing that Jonas could not handle.
“Coming from the structured secular working world, things in ministry are more fluid. Every day is different. Some days, I would be out from visiting people in hospital in the morning to visiting and conducting wakes in the evening,” said Jonas.
“Or I would be in the office organizing courses, vetting run sheets, looking through lyrics slides, disseminating information and coordinating for the Sunday services.
“I had to remind myself to focus on God constantly. It is very easy to be distracted amid the multiple tasks.”
A Call to Return to the Secular World
However, after a year of busy learning the ropes of and serving full time in his church ministry work, Jonas felt that something was amiss.
Without elaborating on those issues specifically, Jonas candidly admitted: “I felt I was wandering in the wilderness sometimes. There was a lack of joy in serving amid the busyness in ministry. I started to miss being in the classroom where I actually derive energy and joy from.”
Towards the end of his ministry, Jonas received messages from the Lord calling him to go back to the secular world and let go of everything that he is afraid of.
Jonas was increasingly burdened by the increasing scores of news reports he read about the problems faced by youth going through their difficult tumultuous teenage years.
A few of his ex-students, for instance, also kept asking him when he was going back to teaching. Then, there were some who shared with Jonas the personal issues they had to grapple with. The welfare of these ex-students, many whom were still keeping in touch with Jonas through social media, weighed heavily in Jonas’ heart.
One episode which made Jonas re-evaluate his priorities in ministry work was when he had to help in conducting the funeral of a youth who died by suicide. Jonas was devastated and kept thinking about how things might have been different if his teacher, or a significant adult, had been able to reach out to this youth.
But still, Jonas needed to be sure.
“I had just taken a big step to enter full time ministry. It didn’t feel right to just exit like that. I felt it might trivialize my calling to ministry, a calling I had been waiting to fulfill since 2005. Why was the Lord speaking to me in this way? Was it my flesh that was speaking to distract me?” recalled Jonas.
Psalm 139:23 became Jonas’ daily prayer as he asked God to search and test him, and know his anxiety.
And he told the Lord: “Lord if this is really what You want me to do, to leave full time ministry and return to the secular world, I would like to make three requests – to return to ACS(I), to teach Year 5 and Year 6, and to have the door open without me knocking.”
For a while, it was stone silence.
Much to Jonas’ surprise, a couple of months later, the Lord answered all of Jonas’ three requests.
In 2017, the ministry staff at ACS(I) had invited Jonas to deliver a sermon during the chapel service. During that visit, Jonas’ ex-colleague asked him, unprompted, if Jonas would consider taking up a lower secondary school position. It was not quite what Jonas had asked God for, but Jonas applied for the post anyway.
Jonas did not hear back from the school, and he decided to take a vacation instead.
God Opens Doors in His Time
At the end of his vacation in London, Jonas received a text message from a school staff asking if he was available for an interview.
“I was overjoyed. The message for that job opening for the Math teaching position came in when I was on the tube,” said Jonas. “It was like a reminder that God would open a door for me, but only according to His will and timing.”
Later, to Jonas’ surprise, he found out that the original position for the secondary school was no longer available. However, on that very same day the secondary school position was made unavailable, a Math position to teach the Year 5s and Year 6s was opened.
With the teaching position now available to Jonas, all of his requests of the Lord were met.
“I learnt that when God opens the door for you, you also need to be ready walk through it,” quipped Jonas. “The greatest lesson is that he first wants me to learn to wait upon Him.
“I learnt that I do not have to serve in full time vocational ministry to be living a life of dedicated service.”
“As a Mathematician, I learn to look out for patterns to decipher formulas and patterns,” said Jonas. “For me, the ‘formula’ for being impactful in kingdom work is simply to stay faithful to the Lord. Never mind about the role, the audience or resources. There is no lacking of His supply if what we do is according to the will of the Lord. As for ‘patterns’, I know that the Lord will bless in His timing if I trust and obey.”
Sacred Perspectives on Secular Work
With the assurance of a promise-keeper God, Jonas finally surrendered to the Lord and left his ministry work to return to the secular world in 2017.
Having been in full time ministry, Jonas has brought back a few valuable lessons with him when he crossed back to the secular education world again. “I brought with me better skills in handling difficult situations, and I now have more experiences in pastoral care and support. More importantly, I have learnt have solitude in and wait upon God.”
Today, Jonas is a hall master of the ACS(I) boarding school, in addition to being a Math teacher.
With each passing day as a teacher, Jonas is discovering new joys and ways to minister to his students. During the circuit breaker last year, he found new opportunities to mentor and journey with the foreign students at the boarding school who could not return home.
“It is a joy for me to walk with my students in their success and to journey with them in their struggles.”
As renown American Pastor A.W. Tozer had once said: Let every man abide in the calling wherein he is called and his work will be as sacred as the work of the ministry. It is not what a man does that determines whether his work is sacred or secular, it is why he does it.
Jonas now sees being an educator beyond just a profession.
“When I look back, I know that God had called me out of teaching to go into full time ministry, and then subsequently back into teaching. Teaching is, in some ways, like a full time ministry” said Jonas. “Regardless whether I am preaching about Christ or teaching Calculus, it is ministry to me as long as I am living out my life with a gospel-centred perspective.
“Most importantly, it is a step by step obedience to God.”
Read also: From Prosecutor to Pastor-In-Charge