Melissa Tan did not come to know Jesus personally as her Savior until she was in college, and when she did, she was not allowed to attend church because her parents disapproved of her faith. However, God very graciously surrounded her with a community from her CF (Christian Fellowship), and she was blessed with many brothers and sisters in Christ from whom she could learn and depend on.
Even after graduating from college and stepping out into the working world, God continued to show Himself to her in very real ways. “God does not just work in ministries and in mission fields,” Melissa said. “He really does work in the marketplace as well.”
Now a 9-year-old Christian, Melissa can testify to God’s goodness and faithfulness throughout her career, even though she was not able to involve herself in a church during the earlier years. “What is amazing is that God really moved in my life and I could see Him moving very evidently in the corporate world where it’s rare to see that,” she said.
Fresh out of college, Melissa began her career with PwC (PricewaterhouseCoopers). There, she got a good taste of how the corporate world works. “I can assure you it’s not fun,” Melissa said. “It’s quite political, you work under bosses who don’t practice what they preach, and they work you like crazy.”
Fortunately for Melissa, some of the people she worked with were the exception from the typical “dog eat dog” culture, and her job at PwC was a very good experience. “In my four years there, I had many opportunities of working with good bosses who were non-believers. They taught me a lot and in all of that, I always managed to see how God works—through me, as well as through non-believers. He opened my eyes to see Him even while I was not going to church.”
Melissa was then posted to work in India for a year under a lady boss with whom nobody wanted to work. Unlike everybody else, however, Melissa found that she and her boss worked very well together. Despite their levels of experience and their age gap, they communicated well and eventually formed a bond.
“She became my mentor,” Melissa said. “In a sense, she also needed a friend, and she pushed me and taught me many things that I still appreciate today.” Once again, Melissa was able to see God work through someone who was not a believer in Jesus.
Coming back from India, she was posted to work with PEMANDU (Performance Management and Delivery Unit) under PwC. A unit of the Prime Minister’s Department, “PEMANDU’s main role and objective is to oversee implementation and assess progress of the Economic Transformation Programme and the Government Transformation Programme” (http://www.pemandu.gov.my/).
“I was very drawn by the things they wanted to do and how they wanted to make a difference for the nation,” Melissa said. “Their goal to move the nation forward as a country sparked my interest in nation building and I started to pay attention to the country’s development”
“A lot of projects under the PEMANDU umbrella had a good kick-start to it, like the MRT project. It had a huge impact to the country and the government prioritized it. I had a small part to play from the vendor’s side in PwC.” Melissa then decided that if she was already spending so much time on governmental projects in PwC, she might as well work more hours in the organization itself where she could hopefully play a part in changing the country.
So she spoke to someone at PEMANDU, and the door was opened 9 months before she actually took the job, as she first had to finish off a final project with her current company. “I felt like God was telling me to wait. It was not yet time.”
At this point, Melissa had already gotten married and was now attending church. One day, a speaker shared about Isaiah answering God’s question, “Whom shall I send?”
Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?”
And I said, “Here am I. Send me!”
“I answered that call,” Melissa said. “At that time, our country was in need of new leaders to step up and I was really passionate about trying to make a difference, so I answered, knowing it was time to move into this organization.”
The transition in PEMANDU was very smooth. She did not have to go through any interviews as she had already worked with them before. “I was settled into a place where I could do my little bit of contribution to my country.”
Melissa spent two years in PEMANDU. She interacted with every single ministry in the government and handled the ministers’ scorecards. “Each minister has a set of KPI’s to fulfill, and I had a hand in making sure that they do their jobs and also push for things to happen. It’s a small role to play, but it’s significant enough in the agenda!”
All in all, it was a very sobering experience, as she realized that change is very difficult. “It is like a heavy elephant that has been there for the last 50 years, and you realize that there is so much to do and it’s quite impossible for one person or even one unit to change it all”.
“What’s amazing about the experience is that I get to say I did it,” Melissa said. “How many people can actually say that they have worked with the government?” Many Malaysians may say that we’re passionate and we love Malaysia and we get our bit in voting, but she gets to say that she was a part of it, she knows how it works, and she knows it’s not that easy to change.
“You realize that it’s a lot bigger than you,” she said. “You realize that you can take a job and career that is not for your sake, because you want to do something more, and you’re answering a call from God.” It was very assuring for Melissa that it was a call from God because there was unity in spirit among her husband, her parents and her parents-in-law.
“It was not a difficult choice to make because everyone was agreeable to it and it’s definitely a call because I got to make a difference.” Melissa added that she also had to learn to practice lots of grace, as well as “speaking the truth in love.”
From her experiences with her position at PEMANDU, Melissa has been able to reach out to many students and inspire them in their passion for a better Malaysia. As the president of Sunway-TES Accounting Graduates Club, Melissa has many opportunities of engaging with students—giving talks at events and graduations.
“It’s very hard to explain to people who don’t know Christ that I’m answering a call at this moment in time, and that I believe God is using me in this small way,” she said. “People want instant change and instant impact, but that is hardly possible. My reply to them is this: It takes an entire generation of Malaysians to make that change happen”.
“It takes people out there in the marketplace. It does not have to be in the government. Get into the corporate world, and do well. Don’t involve yourself with corruption. If you ever come face-to-face with that sort of stuff, don’t partake in it. Climb the corporate ladder honestly and honorably. It takes each and every one of us to change Malaysia. We all have our opinions, but if our focus is to change the country for the better, then let’s all do our part in our own space.
“We come from a generation that has so much potential to do so many good things. Don’t point fingers and say, they need to do something before I can succeed in moving Malaysia to a different place—you can start by acknowledging yourself.”
Melissa is convinced that to tell people that you can change a government or system is a very naïve statement to make because you can’t. If you think that instant change will come, then you need to think again. “It takes everybody and years to come to make a difference, but don’t lose hope,” she said. “You don’t leave the country—you stay here, and you do your part.
“The nation building agenda has always been there for me personally. I really believe that we can. I see so much potential in our generation and I try to engage with students.” Melissa leads a youth group of about 12 to 17 young people and has committed to walking with them until they are older.
“Some of them are not going to have the chance to go overseas. They are going to stay here and be under our education system that everyone is complaining about. How can we supplement that education with skills that they can use in the marketplace? Not a lot of them are going to be called into the mission field and do ‘fulfilling work.’ How then can we make them realize that fulfillment in work does not mean that it has to be on the mission field, but in the corporate world as well?
“It could be as simple as engaging a new person who just came on board, briefing that person and making him or her feel comfortable—saying, ‘if you need anything, I’m around.’ And that’s fulfilling in itself,” Melissa said. “We tend to forget about the small things because we want to see the big things happen, but the small things are the ones that God really speaks through.”
Melissa has since then left PEMANDU and joined MAS (Malaysian Airlines System). “I was eager to join, because it was transformation work with an iconic organization for Malaysia which really resonated with me,” she related. At MAS, she is able to utilize her accounting and project management skills she had learned from her time at PwC, and her experiences with the government also gave her an advantage as she now knew how to manage stakeholders.
Getting a position with MAS was also a calling, as she had to go through many processes to finally land the job. She had gotten 3 other job offers with more profitable salaries, but took an unlikely choice with MAS because it was where God wanted her to be pursuing the nation-building cause.
“It was very stressful and a difficult decision to make,” she said. MAS had given her a one-year contract with a conditional offer, given that she could join them immediately. This meant that she needed her employers to release her early, and MAS was not going to buy-out her notice period.
“I had to resign without a solid job offer and see if I could catch this other offer in time. At this time, I doubted if this was actually what God wanted or if it was just something I wanted.” She talked to several leaders, and they were praying for her.
“The thought that came to mind was, when there seems to be no way, God will make a way. And He did! He opened the door. I took the job. There were no complications. My employers were happy to send me off with their blessings. These were the very specific ways that God worked in my life”.
“What I really thank God for is how He is vivid in every aspect of my life. In every decision—big or small, how I conduct myself every day, God is difficult to forget. In the work place, sometimes it can be hard to remember Him because you want to get ahead, but He’s given me a career that I can say I am proud of because I followed what He wants me to do and I really surrendered this part of my life so that He can use me for His works.”
Through all of this, Melissa has gained many friends—real friendships with people of other races and religions. “I can actually testify His goodness in my life to my friends and they don’t think I’m preaching to them. They accept God as part of who I am, and that in itself is a big testimony. These are the small things that makes a difference in our country and in other people’s lives. I really hope that I make God proud.
“Moving forward from here, I don’t know what’s going to happen in a year, but I really have the passion to develop the younger generation—to build their passions and confidence, and impart good values.” Melissa is involved with her church’s youth group, young adult ministry, and a creative ministry doing performances and productions. She encourages the young people to write scripts, write songs, play music, and act. “There is a lot of talent around me and I want to grow them,” she said.
Melissa has many young friends who are also very passionate about changing Malaysia and have come up with projects of their own to reflect the true Malaysia. These projects are birthed out of their own initiatives and their heart for the nation.
“Hope comes from the generation that wants to do something and has the energy to do it,” Melissa said. “It comes from those who believe, ‘This is my home, I’m not going to go.’ It’s work in progress, but it’s lovely to be able to catch that vision. It’s lovely to have a call that is bigger than myself and I’m truly honored that God has used me in such a meaningful manner.”
It may not sit well with everybody, but Melissa finds it very rewarding and fulfilling. “I know I will not survive in the mission field,” she laughed. “I can talk to students, but I won’t be able to teach a five-year-old kid to read.”
Melissa pointed out that on the bigger scale of things, God uses everyone for different things and we all have a role to play. “That realization is powerful because you come to your own person and you work together with God.
“God transforms lives, and becoming a follower of Christ is more than ‘I’ve accepted Christ and been baptized’—it is a vision that has to be captured that God has a plan for you and you have a part to play. Practice small gestures, like take a new person out to lunch. The smallest of things are the ones that really make a difference to people because they remember.”
Melissa believes that real, true nation building is not big, mega changes like building someone a house, but real change comes from a change in mindset: to have people believe that they can do something for themselves and others, and should not resign to what’s available to them.
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