“Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart,” Geraldine O’Donnell-Lim quoted, as she shared her life and heart with me over lunch. Born and raised in Ireland, Geraldine married a Malaysian medical student and moved to Malaysia almost 25 years ago. It doesn’t take very much conversation with Geraldine to see the evidence of her faith in Christ, but it took a long time for her to get to where she is today.
“I grew up as a Catholic,” she said. “My mom is a strong believer. My Dad, not so much. He believed that she (mom) would get him in at the Gates (of Heaven).” Geraldine was in her late teens when she began to feel like something was not quite right. She had the desire to read the Bible, but had been brought up to believe that she needed a priest to interpret it for her. So whenever she went to mass, she would look at the Bible passages and not pay attention to the rest of the service.
As time went by, someone gave her a Gideon Bible, and she would spend time reading the Psalms and Proverbs while waiting to meet up with friends. At one point, two Americans knocked on her door and invited her for Bible Study, which she very willingly joined on Saturday afternoons. “We did the book of Galatians, and I don’t remember everything, but they did point out some places where the Roman Catholicism teachings did not agree with the Bible.”
At 25, Geraldine and her husband, KC, got married. She had not yet become a Christian, but she also did not want to get married in a Catholic church, as she felt that it would be hypocritical. So they got married in a Registry Office, and later went to a Christian Church for the exchange of vows had 1 Corinthians 13 read from the Bible.
After getting married, they moved from Ireland to the UK where her husband was posted as a doctor. During the initial years of their marriage, they moved around a lot due to KC’s job. Busy adapting to life and moving from one place to another, Geraldine lost touch with the church, and eventually met a Persian woman who was a Bahá’í. She invited Geraldine to attend meetings with her, and so she went.
It was intriguing, and the people were very nice. But after one of their meetings one day, they went into the dining room, and on the wall was a full display of pictures of Bahá’u’lláh, Buddha, and other deities, and then there was one of Jesus. “I couldn’t take it,” she said. “I couldn’t take Christ being there with everybody else.” Somehow, she knew that He did not belong there, and so she stopped going to the meetings.
Prior to this, Geraldine had been exposed to fortune telling. She had also read some books on New Age by authors like David Icke and Louise Hay, and became interested in auras and somas. “I suppose I always found those things fascinating,” she said.
When she arrived in Melaka, she got to know some other expatriate women who were involved in “Christian meditation.” She eventually became uncomfortable with it and stopped, but went with these same women to visit a guru. At the guru’s place, however, she again saw a picture of Jesus with other deities, and knew that it wasn’t right. So she stopped pursuing these beliefs.
“Around this time, I wanted to read the Bible again. Then Ian and Sherri turned up in our taman doing Bible study!” she said, speaking of a Canadian pastor and his wife whom God, in His impeccable timing, sent to her. “Ian would do Bible study in their home, and what I really liked was, he would read the Bible, go through it line by line, and then he would say, ‘don’t take my word for it—go check it yourself.’”
In the mornings, Geraldine and Sherri would take walks around the padang in their neighborhood, and Sherri would answer all the questions that Geraldine had. “I had the desire,” she said. “I wanted to become a Christian, but I felt like I was lacking some kind of confirmation.
“It wasn’t until one morning that I woke up and somehow, I looked at the top of my wardrobe, and felt a confirmation. I was ready.” Sherri came over and led Geraldine to accept Jesus as her Lord and Savior.
“It took me a long time,” Geraldine said. “I was in my twenties when the Gospel was presented to me, I was 35 when I came here, and I only accepted Christ after that. Life can be very distracting. It’s good to figure out your priorities early on and know what is important, so you know where you’re going and are not easily carried away by other things.”
Since then, Geraldine has faithfully sought hard after God, and does her best to pass on a godly heritage to her two daughters. Somehow, she has always had a love for the Bible and continues to hunger for God’s Word—something that makes an obvious impact on her life. At one point, she consistently attended BSF (Bible Study Fellowship) in KL for seven years, which required her to back and forth to and from KL on a weekly basis, and she has recently started doing it again.
To her greatest joy, her husband also came to know the Lord several years ago after a church camp, and is slowly growing in his faith. “I noticed that somehow, when I take more time for him, it improves his walk with the Lord. I may feel like he doesn’t need me, and it doesn’t make any difference, but it does.”
Geraldine opened up about her struggles as an Irish mother of two Malaysian girls. Wanting to give her daughters the best possible education and yet help them to adapt to the Malaysian environment, she sent them to local schools. But through circumstances and God’s leading, they attended expatriate schools too. In fact, they both attended many schools.
Yet, as difficult as it was during that time, she is able to look back now and see God’s hand in every situation. Their experiences as young girls who were shuffled in and out of the public schooling system have molded them into beautiful, strong, and tough young women.
That being said, those trying years did take its toll on her. Around the time her second daughter was put back into the local school, the stress from that situation and many other factors brought her through a period of depression. Through a friend’s recommendation, I went to see a doctor and was put on medication. “I didn’t have a nervous breakdown or stop functioning, but I was functioning less and less.”
Even so, God’s Word remained her strength. She was already going through a difficult time when she received more bad news. “I remember thinking, ‘How am I going to cope?’ Then God gave me the verse: Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will direct your path (Prov 3:5-6). So I just claimed that verse, and it was amazing. Absolutely amazing. Every time I felt overwhelmed, I would just repeat that verse.”
Whenever something happened that would worsen her condition, the doctor would increase her dosage. Then a Bible Seminar would come to town and after attending for a few days, her mind would be renewed and she wouldn’t have to take the extra dosage. “By the end of that period, I was functioning better than I had ever functioned in all my time here.
“God has been good,” Geraldine said. “He has preserved me, and my family. The Word of God is really powerful. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will (Romans 12:2). I have really, really experienced that. When people go through depression, their thinking changes, and they need their minds to be renewed. The Lord can do that for us.”
At the moment, God has been leading Geraldine to focus on her own family in Ireland and pray for their salvation, as well as be a good witness to her neighbors. “I’m very weak in evangelizing,” she said, yet there have been quite a number of instances when God presented her with obvious opportunities to share about Him.
“I wonder if I had not come to Malaysia, if I would have come to know God,” Geraldine mused. “Maybe I would have continued to be distracted. Before I came here, life was very easy. I was very spoiled. Maybe it was the difficulties that pointed me to God.
“I see that actually in many ways, there is no need to worry. Our little faith causes us lots of unnecessary problems.” Geraldine quoted a song she was once reminded of: “Oh what needless pain we bear, all because we do not carry everything to God in prayer.”
“On a day-to-day level, God is very good. We have the Bible, we see all God’s dealings with different people, how He works, and the Holy Spirit can use it to encourage us in different situations. I get God’s wisdom in many areas. As we mature, we learn to see things from His perspective. We learn to love God’s people with His strength. We learn that the church is important to God, and so it’s important for us to uphold the church.
“Over the years, there have been so many details that God has taken care of. I know that He is sovereign. I trust Him, He is faithful and that whatever happens, He is there. With God, all things are possible. He can recalculate our route when we leave the path He has set out for us.”
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