From Backslider to Faithful Leader
Growing up in church, Chern Yu Zi never thought twice about his faith or service. But this changed when the teenager moved abroad, prompting him to question why he was serving—and for whom.
Chern Yu Zi (first row, third from left) with his peers during his confirmation in 2019.
Climbing the career leader. Marrying your dream spouse. Chasing your dreams.
When you’re in your 20s, that’s when life really begins—or so the world tells us. After all, it’s when you’re likely to start earning your own money, go out on dates, and possibly settle down in marriage. It’s a time when you can choose to do whatever you want, whenever you want.
For 27-year-old Chern Yu Zi, however, his ultimate goal isn’t to do whatever he wants, but to do what God wants. And during this season, while he is still in his 20s, he believes that it’s to serve as a lay leader in his church’s young adult fellowship group.
But Yu Zi didn’t always feel this way. In fact, he can attest to the pull of the world; for a period in this life, he had nearly walked away from the Christian faith and stopped following God.
“Do I Really Believe in God?”
The young adults group bonding through an art jamming session.
A second-generation believer, Yu Zi grew up in Ang Mo Kio Chinese Methodist Church—almost literally from the time he was born, for his parents took him along when he was a baby.
Through his teenage years, Yu Zi faithfully served in whatever he was asked to do, from joining the worship team as a guitarist to serving as an assistant cell group leader.
While growing up in church had its upsides—such as being familiar with the Bible and its characters and stories—it also had its challenges, he says.
“Many of us may struggle with finding our identity in Christ when we enter a fork in life, especially when we’re young adults,” he says of second-generation Christians. “We ask: ‘Do I really believe in this God, or am I just following what my family believes in?’”
“And if we’re not careful or conscious about asking ourselves this question, it’s very likely we might lose our way or fall away from the faith.”
Which is what nearly happened when Yu Zi turned 16.
When his father was posted to Tokyo for 2½ years, the teenager moved there with the family, and found himself confronted by this very question.
While his parents settled comfortably into a more “traditional” church where Japanese sermons were translated into Chinese, Yu Zi couldn’t adapt well because of the language barrier and a lack of peers.
He started to attend another church on his own, which had more young people. There, his cell group leader, who was warm and welcoming, asked him to help with the task of growing a new church in Tokyo’s suburbs. Yu Zi helped with various administrative and logistical duties, but found it hard communicating and integrating with his mostly Japanese-speaking peers.
Yu Zi (centre) and his family enjoying a meal at Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo in 2011.
Then, he began to question why he was serving in—and attending—church at all.
“It felt like I was always called to do something just because they needed help,” he recalls. “So after a while, I felt very dejected.”
“That particular church was oriented towards getting more young working adults. So not many people were interested in talking or connecting with me,” he says. “And this gave me a very pessimistic view of the church—is church just about looking out for intended ‘targets’? And if some people don’t fit the bill, at the end of the day, they won’t try to keep them.”
Feeling lonely, unappreciated, and disconnected, Yu Zi stopped attending cell group—and gradually, stopped going to church, too.
“I felt like I would rather not go to church and struggle to connect, and just spend my time doing other things,” he says. “I felt very tired trying to break into the social circles in church.”
Yu Zi began to reconsider his identity as a believer, and ask himself: “What if I’m not a Christian?”
When his family returned to Singapore in 2013, he refused to attend cell group, and even thought of not showing up at his home church at all.
“The first month I was back, I refused to take Holy Communion,” he says. “I was questioning my identity as a Christian or whether I should be a free thinker.”
Returning to God’s Arms
Fortunately, there was someone who prompted Yu Zi to rethink his stand on his faith.
His best friend, Jonathon, whom he grew up with in church, sought to connect with him at this difficult time. They regularly met for meals, at which Yu Zi would share his struggles about church and faith candidly.
Over time, as he experienced the love of Christ through Jonathon, his heart softened towards God once more.
“It was just the love he shared with me and that acceptance of who I was. He never rejected my struggles,” Yu Zi says. “That was the only reason why I decided to step back into the faith.”
Looking back, Yu Zi says this experience taught him the value of having real friends and connections in church, to share and extend the love of Christ to one another.
Yu Zi and his best friend Jonathon.
Faith Tested and Rekindled
Growing together in Christ as a young adults group.
Even then, it took time for Yu Zi to rekindle his faith in God. It took several trials and experiences to draw him back such that he would fully surrender his heart to Christ.
One took place when he entered National Service. Filled with the desire to be a “self-made man”, the 19-year-old sought to become a military officer. “If I can make it to officer cadet school myself, then it means I don’t really need God,” he had thought.
But an injury, suffered during training, landed him in a “lowly” job that shattered his self-esteem.
Laughing ruefully, Yu Zi says, “The bottomline is that I learned God had other plans for me. It’s like He was saying, ‘You think by achieving your goal of going to officer cadet school, you don’t need to rely on Me? I’ll show you another path so that you’ll know the only one you can rely on is Me.’”
Another trial came when Yu Zi dated a girl who followed another religion. As they discussed a possible future together, he was confronted by the question of whom he should follow.
“Who would disown whose faith?” he recalls them asking each other. “Or do we compromise? And how about our children next time?”
As he grappled with these questions, he realised that there was only one answer: “I knew that God was my God. And I couldn’t give Him up.”
With both of them unwilling to disown their religion, they broke up, and that was when Yu Zi began to earnestly and consciously embrace his own relationship with God.
In hindsight, he says, these seasons of his life were what challenged and compelled him to look to the God of his childhood—without which, he believes, his faith might very well have remained weak and untested.
“God had to ‘force’ me back to Him, as the loving disciplinarian He is,” Yu Zi says.
How a Psalm Led Him Back to Serving God
The young adult fellowship group enjoying a trip to Johor Bahru in 2019.
As Yu Zi went back to church and his cell group, God orchestrated a chance encounter with a church staff worker who suggested that he lead a cell group. He willingly agreed.
Later, when faced with the decision to serve as the chairperson of the young adult fellowship, Yu Zi says what convicted him to say yes was reading an article from Journey Through Psalms, a book-by-book devotional published by Our Daily Bread Ministries—in particular, Psalm 16:11:
You make known to me the path of life;
you will fill me with joy in your presence,
with eternal pleasures at your right hand.
The verse encouraged Yu Zi to serve God wholeheartedly, and showed him that he need not worry about his own needs and desires, for God, his Jehovah Jireh, would provide.
“God promises that life is found in Him. And this means that if I abide in Him, He will give me life. So I follow,” he says simply.
Today, along with his committee, Yu Zi leads a group of 60 to 70 young adults. He oversees the planning of the young adult ministry’s direction and vision, efforts to nurture the young people, as well as administrative duties such as budgeting and ordering Bible study materials.
To ground them in God’s Word, Yu Zi uses the same Journey Through Series that inspired him to return to serving God. Not only are they easy to understand, he says, but they also offer practical applications and biblical insights on the background, context, and key themes of books in the Bible.
“Hopefully, when we come together to fellowship, we can discuss how God speaks to us and encourage one another to read His Word regularly,” he says.
What Keeps Him Going
The AMKCMC young adults group preparing welfare packs for Ang Mo Kio medical workers to encourage them (taken before circuit breaker).
In journeying with young adults, Yu Zi draws on his own experience of questioning God and nearly walking away from his faith. It’s important to accept young adults for who they are in their current phase of life, he says. Instead of judging them, he tries to be there for them and set the right example, trusting that the Holy Spirit will transform them in His own time and way.
“We can either see them and think, ‘Why are you like this? Why do you think this way?’—or we can see that they have many gifts of their own, that shouldn’t be overshadowed by their growing phase,” he says.
And while it’s not easy juggling his work as a software engineer, ministry responsibilities, and spending time with his girlfriend—a believer—Yu Zi is driven by his conviction to serve God by loving the young people in his midst.
“What compels me to continue is the calling God has given me, which I made a conscious decision to respond to,” he says. “I know God has provided me with what I need. So why would I—knowing that my ultimate provider is God—try to trust in myself to navigate life? God is the best one to look after me, not myself.”
What also keeps him going is the certainty that the God of his childhood is the same God of his teens and 20s.
Yu Zi likens his service to the small but precious act of faith demonstrated by the poor widow who was about to make a last meal for her and her son, as recorded in 1 Kings 17.
As she poured out her only jar of flour and jug of oil to make bread for Elijah, that flour and oil never ran out. Reflecting on it, Yu Zi says: “We may think that we have little to no faith or strength sometimes, but God works mightily, whenever we’re willing to follow in faith.
“As we keep pouring our life for God and His ministry, He will continuously replenish and satisfy us.”