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‘I’ve Learnt More In Two Weeks Than The Last 24 Years,’ Says Young Singaporean Who Dropped Everything To Help Ukrainian Refugees

Written by: Gabriel Ong
Article source: thirst.sg

What is it that compels a young Singaporean to hitchhike and travel rough over all the world, and most lately — right into the border of war-torn Ukraine? The voice of God, as JONATHAN NEO would tell you.

I had a chat with the spunky 24-year-old who shared about his life’s journeys and the miraculous ways he’s seen God move, no matter where he is in the world. 

Tell us a little bit about yourself.
One of my favourite things in the world is just listening to the voice of God.

Listening to God’s voice has resulted in me spending the past four years doing some wild things with Jesus like walking across Spain, hitchhiking around Europe with just a tent and faith, walking through Scotland and living and working in Palestine.

I don’t know normally where I’m going to sleep for the night. I have my tent with me most of the time.

I often don’t know where I’m going or how I’m going to get there. But every place I go to has been life-changing and incredibly rewarding.

What were you doing before heading off to the Ukrainian border?
So about a year ago, last August, I was supposed to work for church for a year over in London. I was supposed to intern with Holy Trinity Brompton.

But I felt the Lord saying no to that. The Lord told me quite clearly to take a season of rest and exploration. So that was what I decided to do.

I basically gave most of my stuff away, packed up my life in London (I had just graduated) and said: “Lord, I don’t know what I’m gonna do next, but I trust in You.”

Two days later, I found myself in France.

I flew into France, and went up to the mountains in the Pyrenees in the south of France.

I knew the Lord had called me there for a reason. And that reason, actually, was to walk the Camino de Santiago, which is a 31-day walk across Spain.

And so I have this backpack with the essentials: Two shorts and T-shirts, and a kilo of bakkwa. And I spend the next 31 days walking across Spain from east to west.

I start alone and end up with 20 lifelong friends. We call this the Camino familia. I walked over entire mountain ranges, through scorching deserts where I consistently lacked water, and only went where my feet could take me.

I spent a month talking with God on foot. No cars, no trains, nothing. Just blistered feet everyday and a smile on my face! And I also had the chance to meet hundreds of people and to hear their stories, and to even share the love of Jesus to some of them!

800km and a month later, with a tan and a spiritual renewal like I’ve never had before, I arrived at the end point.

It was then my life began to be set on following what God wanted me to do. After this walk, I checked out Youth With A Mission (YWAM) and the work they did.

My heart has always been for communities, community building and community development. I also wanted to take worship wherever I went, because worship changes the atmosphere.

So, I signed up. And in January 2022, after many more months of travel, I found myself on a flight to South Africa.

When I got to Cape Town, South Africa, I ended up staying at this beautiful YWAM base by the ocean for about three months, with a community of young believers who were on fire about evangelism and worship.

I found myself stretched so much in these three months in South Africa.

I was living in a missionary community for the first time (I’d previously lived across Europe in different homes but never in a fixed location!), worshipping in front of huge crowds and just stepping into identity — these were formative moments.

The base also had a prayer room in which I would spend 6-8 hours a day — a simple space with two sofas and a bunch of guitars — just praying and chatting with the Lord.

Go… If you go, I will prepare the way before you.

It was in this prayer room that God spoke to me when the Ukraine war started.

The Lord said really clearly: Go. I have never heard something so clear!

It was as if He put His hand on my shoulder and said: “If you go, I will prepare the way before you”.

I said okay, and would end up leaving after two weeks.

After saying yes to God, Jon found his vision coming true in no time at all. Here he is playing with a Ukrainian child in Poland.

So, how God spoke for me to leave was through a vision.

It was during one of those late evenings in the prayer room when I suddenly saw myself playing guitar at the train station at the border with Ukraine.

Again, worship has always been on my heart. I’ve hitchhiked around Asia, Europe, Jerusalem and a lot of different countries — everywhere I go, I just worship in every town square with my guitar.

So when I saw pictures of myself at the train station just worshipping, I knew God wanted me to go.

I saw the faces of refugees around me, and my heart started to burn like it never burned before.

I couldn’t sit down for two weeks without feeling incredibly emotional and moved by the Spirit.

We’d go for lectures and I would just take out my Bible and just pray for Ukraine and the people there.

I’d talk to people but deep inside I would only feel one emotion — a burning for Ukraine.

And this was hard, because I had committed to a six-month Disciple Training School (DTS) programme with YWAM.

I had to confirm with the Lord that this was going to be something He truly wanted me to do.

And so He did, by connecting me to an organisation called Awakening Europe so that I wouldn’t have to go to the border alone.

I was ready to leave alone, but thankfully God always knows best and He wanted me to be in community.

Two weeks after the initial call, I stood before my DTS class and announced that I was heading off to the border.

There were many tears and prayers of encouragement. It was a bittersweet moment but I knew that this was what I was meant to do and that this was what God was seeking in my life!

Have you ever had a surety about something that you couldn’t put your finger on? This was one of those rare moments when I knew it was time to leave to seek out God’s greater calling for me.

What has the journey been like so far?
At 2:50pm on 23 March 2022, I was in Krakow, Poland, boarding a train to Przemyśl. It’s the Polish border town closest to Lviv (in Ukraine), and the town where most of the refugees coming into Poland arrive in.

Context: I was told to head to the border town and make my way to a house where I’ll be given instructions on which team I’m going with and what I’ll be doing.

All I knew about Awakening Europe was this house address they gave me. I didn’t know what I’d be doing or where I’d be going.

But as I sit on the train and watch the countryside fly past my window, I notice a group of people walk into my cabin.

They take their seats several rows down from me, and I can’t help but notice that they’re all smiling.

Suspiciously Christian looking? Check. All kind of looking at one guy when he talks (like a missions leader)? Check.

I lean back into my seat and just start thanking Jesus for this beautiful day and for the opportunity to get into the mud with Him. I also ask Jesus to help me meet the right people.

Then, one guy slowly walks towards me. He’s bald and has a toothy grin — the kind you see in people who disarm you easily.

He says hello. I don’t hesitate. “Are you Christian?” I ask. He’s a little stunned. “Yes!”

“I’m joining Awakening Europe at the border!” I tell him.

His mouth gapes open. “WE’RE AWAKENING EUROPE!”

No way. No way at all! I grab my guitar and rush over to give that group a bunch of fist bumps.

It turns out that they’re a bunch of passionate young Christians from a revival school in Füssen, Germany, led by one of the Awakening Europe leaders, Daniel.

It’s eight people with fire and they’re all so excited to meet me — they ask me to play a song, and confess that they hadn’t had a worship leader with them.

In my heart I was like: “Wow, God! You got me to bring my guitar all the way from South Africa to play with a bunch of Christians on this train. How awesome is that!

“And these were the people I was going to do ministry with — and I didn’t even need to go to the house! You led me to them!”

We started worshipping together and the Holy Spirit just came down on the cabin. Filled with fresh fire and laughter, we rocked up into the next cabin and started preaching the Gospel.

Hands raised, hearts received Jesus. And just like that, I joined God’s business of healing here on the Ukrainian border.

What are some highlights?
In the last two weeks, there have been so many more similar highlights than I can count. So, I think I’ll just share a few general ones:

Most days since I’ve been here, I grab a guitar and head to the train station to lead a team of evangelists, worshippers, translators and people who love healing!

We rock up, introduce ourselves to a crowd of families who’ve left Ukraine through a translator, and I announce for us:

“Hello everyone! We are SO privileged to meet you. We’d love to sing a song of hope over you today. Because you are worthy of hope. Because hope is something that God wants to give to you. He loves you. This is a song about you not being alone.”

And depending on what the Spirit leads, we sometimes sing a spontaneous song. Or Raise a Hallelujah. Or How Great is Our God. Or Reckless Love.

People start to weep. Literally weep. And then we split up, hold their hands and give them warm embraces.

Jon and his team saw up to 60 people receive Jesus on the trains in a day.

We then begin to share the Gospel of Jesus: How He loves each one of them, how He cares for them, how He cared for me, and how He can transform their hearts and give them peace.

Each of us takes turns to preach the message in the next cabins – learning from each other and how everyone shares the Gospel in their own different way is so eye-opening!

Some people jump straight into the creation story, others begin with the moment they met Jesus, some begin with the parable. But what I’ve learnt here is that the Gospel preaches itself.

In any case, hands go up. People receive the peace of Jesus. Lives are changed!

Jon and his team leading an altar call in a train.

There have other special moments, like when we hold the hands of entire families who have given their lives to Jesus: A big circle of mothers, sons and daughters who just dedicated their lives to God!

In moments like these, I blink and wonder what my life will look like and what their lives will now look like in the Kingdom of Heaven.

Sometimes we walk up to people and actively seek them out — the Holy Spirit is always showing us people to meet!

I go up to people and ask them if I can sing a song for them. And then the Holy Spirit gives me a spontaneous song — one that has never been sung before, specific for them.

Then they start weeping, and Jesus comes and ministers to them.

Jon always makes sure that after people receive the love of Jesus, a Bible is placed into their hands and they hear how to receive the love of God from the source.

I also remember finding myself next to a young man called Milosh. We start chatting and he soon receives Jesus into his heart!

The Holy Spirit shares with me that Milosh was bullied when he was 11. I ask Milosh this, and he confirms that it’s correct.

I look him in the eye, and share with him: “Milosh, do you want to know what Jesus thinks about you? What He thinks about you is far more important than the lies that others have spoken over you. He wants to heal that hurt today.”

“Yes!” Milosh exclaimed. “Okay,” I tell him. “We’ll just close our eyes and ask Jesus what he thinks about you.”

He closes his eyes and I hold his hands in prayer. After a pause, he speaks up: “I hear Him saying that I am loved, and that I don’t need to care about what anyone else thinks because only what He thinks is important.”

Milosh praying with Jon to receive Jesus into his heart.

We also work at a refugee centre for displaced families.

There, after doing some worship and ministry and seeing people receive Jesus right there and then, I broke out into a spontaneous dance session with an elderly grandmother (babushka in Ukrainian) who taught us some traditional Jewish dances.

I felt led to ask my team mates to take out prayer flags — and we started to dance with them in the main hall with hundreds of people watching.

I passed some flags to these little girls who had gathered around us, and we explained to them what prophetic dancing was and what Jesus wanted to accomplish in Ukraine – how He wants peace over the country and over warfare and over conflict.

The girls started to dance. They danced with freedom over fear – over the hurt and the harm of the bomb shelters and the cratered streets they had come from.

We worshipped and we watched them dance joy into the atmosphere. And I kid you not, one of the most beautiful moments of my life emerged from that experience.

One of the most impactful moments of Jon’s life was watching these children dance with Ukraine’s colours in worship.

As these two little girls danced with the colours of the Ukrainian flag to worship music that filled the hall, the whole hall stopped.

Policemen, medics, volunteers, refugees — people started to cry. For a moment, the hall froze in time and a liberation in the spiritual atmosphere came upon everyone watching.

It was one of the most powerful moments of my entire life to witness this. The Spirit was so heavy in the room.

What have you learnt?
I have learnt that evangelism is a lifestyle. I’ve learnt more in two weeks than I have in 24 years of living about my relationship with God.

I’ve never stood in the middle of trains and preached the Gospel before this.

I’ve never led worship to hundreds of people in train stations, concourses, warehouses and planes before this.

I’ve never shared my testimony to a thousand people a day before.

But these two weeks, my life has changed because God has stretched, pulled and used me in ways that I could never imagine or fathom.

Jon praying with a child refugee.

God has changed the way I see my role as a Christian, and I am forever grateful for that.

God has also broken my heart for the conflict here. This war is now personal to me because I bear witness to a hundred personal stories of people that I’ve met, prayed with, laughed with and cried with.

The Ukrainian people have an immense strength that I have never seen before — a unity and bravery that I cannot even begin to describe.

It is not about us. It is about them, their conflict, their war, their country and their survival.

Anything you wanna say to folks back home in Singapore?
My message back home is simple: Give as much as you can.

Whether that means donating to the Red Cross, to the World Central Kitchen, to Ukrainian aid organisations or missions organisations in Ukraine.

I’ve seen the soup kitchens here, seen the aid and seen the faces of kids as candy gets passed around with warm bedding and backpacks and other essential items.

There still is a huge need in Ukraine.

Serve if you are called. If God says go, and you have a ready heart and some useful skills — then go!

Get connected to an organisation that needs you, and seek the Lord always.

When I stand in buses, trains and train stations and say to the refugees before me boldly: “Singapore is for Ukraine! And I stand here before you saying that Asia is for Ukraine!” — people start to cry.

You always represent something. You always are an ambassador of something — your country, your continent, your faith, your story.

And what you represent is beautifully powerful.

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Date published: 08/06/2022
Images: All photos courtesy of Jonathan Neo.
Illustrations by: Anne Ng & Nicole Chan

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