Health, Meaning of Life, Relationships, Work & Money

Ex-SQ air stewardess’ glamour hid her pain. Now she’s helping lives in the slums of Cambodia

By Jolene Ng , 6 June 2024

TRIGGER WARNING: This story mentions sexual abuse, eating disorders and suicide. Reader discretion is advised.

As a Singapore Airlines air stewardess in her 20s, she travelled the world. She wore designer clothes and wined and dined at top restaurants.

But beneath the glamour, she felt broken and empty, and tried to take her own life.

Sexually abused, bullied in primary school

Melinda Lim, now 44, was just seven when she was sexually abused. 

“My grandfather would come into the room and touch me inappropriately,” she recalled. “He made me promise not to tell anyone, if not he would stop loving me.”

Melinda Lim

A young Melinda.

She did not fully understand what he was doing to her, but deep down she knew that it was wrong.

However, she did not tell her parents, fearing that they would stop loving her – just as her grandfather had said.

She felt dirty, broken and ashamed.

Struggling to cope, young Melinda turned to eating for comfort.

Melinda Lim

Melinda (far right) around the time she started turning to food for comfort.

“I would gorge myself with a lot of food. I put on so much weight and weighed over 80kg when I was 12 years old,” she said.

Schoolmates bullied her. They called her names like “roly-poly” and “fatty bom bom”.

Melinda Lim

Melinda in her primary school years.

Those words left a deep wound in her heart and triggered an 18-year battle with eating disorders.

“I would binge eat and stuff my face until I felt like I was going to vomit. Then I would drink a lot of water and go to the toilet to throw up,” she recalled.

Melinda when she was about 12 years old.

“I would feel very guilty if I could not get the food out. Sometimes I would dig with my knuckles until I bled at the back of my throat.”

She lost 30kg within six months. 

“Anorexia and bulimia were deep, dark secrets that I kept to myself for a long time.

“On the outside I looked fine and normal. But inside, I felt so broken. I was in a lot of pain,” she said.

With the extreme weight loss also came health complications – weakened bones, slipped discs, a kidney infection – that plagued her for years.

Desperate search for love

With Melinda’s new figure came newfound attention and friendships. Finally, she was receiving the love she had always craved.

But most of her friends were a bad influence.

“I learnt how to drink, smoke and do drugs at a very young age. I got my first tattoo at 16,” Melinda said.

Melinda Lim

Melinda with a cigarette in her hand, around the age of 18.

By the time she was 17, she was chain-smoking, drinking heavily to the point of blackout, and hopping in and out of romantic relationships.

It was her way of avoiding the pain she felt.

“I was struggling with my emotions and I didn’t know how to process it. The only way out was to suppress it. It was a temporary escape for me,” she said.

She stopped going to church and distanced herself from God, thinking “God is not going to accept me anyway”.

She had been going to church with her parents since she was six years old.

Melinda Lim

Melinda during her partying days.

Over the next 10 years, she desperately searched for acceptance and meaning in life.

As a Singapore Airlines cabin crew member, she got to travel the world. She wore “really fancy” clothes, carried branded bags and dined at top restaurants.

Singapore Airlines flight stewardess

Melinda with a passenger during her days as a Singapore Girl.

“I tried everything the world could offer me, but there was still this inner emptiness that nothing could fill. I still felt so empty and broken,” said Melinda who continued her wild partying lifestyle.

While partying overseas after one of her flights, Melinda was sexually violated while unconscious.

“Right after that incident, I was in the shower for hours trying to scrub and wash myself.

“I hated myself and the choices that I had made. I really wanted to die,” Melinda said.

Divorced at 30

At the age of 29, Melinda married a man she had met in the partying scene, thinking that marriage would fill the hole in her heart. 

But after a year, they went their separate ways.

“The divorce was very painful,” she said.

“My flying career is coming to an end. My marriage failed. I had attempted suicide, but that failed as well.”

“I thought to myself, ‘What more can life throw at me? My flying career is coming to an end. My health is in a really bad state. My marriage also failed.’

“At this point, I had attempted suicide multiple times, but that failed as well.”

Even at the peak of her new career as an insurance agent, she felt a gnawing emptiness.

“There was no purpose to life. I dreaded living every day.”

She planned on taking her own life when a former colleague invited her to a visit an orphanage in Cambodia.

Melinda thought to herself: “Before I take my life, maybe I should go and make myself useful for once.”

She hoped that doing some “good deeds” before leaving the world would make up for the bad things she had done before.

The sight that broke her heart

When Melinda went to Cambodia for the first time in 2011, the sight broke her heart. She wept.

“Children were running around naked, while their parents were scavenging for food,” she recalled.

The living conditions in Cambodia broke Melinda’s heart.

Melinda Lim

Melinda and local children during her first visit to Cambodia.

“I cried to myself thinking, ‘How come they are so brave to fight for one more day of life when life is so difficult for them? And here I am, wanting to throw my life away when I have everything I need in Singapore’.”

Through her tears, she heard a gentle voice say: “Daughter, if you don’t want your life, give it to Me. I’ll show you what purpose is.”

She knew it was the voice of God. But her reply was one of defiance and anger: “God, you can take my life because I don’t want it. I hate it and I wish I had never existed!”

God heard her.

Pouring out her heart

After her encounter with God in Cambodia, Melinda found her heart strangely softening towards Him.

She started going to church again, where she was reminded about Jesus’ love for her. 

“I tried everything the world could offer me, but there was still this inner emptiness that nothing could fill.”

Even though she was sick and tired of her lifestyle, she struggled to break free from her addictions. But she began to pour her heart out to God about her struggles.

“The more I went to church and listened to sermons, I felt like I was being slowly washed clean by God’s Word,” she said.

Through the verses in the Bible, she was reminded that her old self had died, and that she was a new creation in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17).

She started to believe in God as a loving Father who had forgiven her and loves her unconditionally. She was not condemned (Romans 8:1).

Melinda Lim

Change took a few years, but eventually, Melinda “felt like a new person”. She said: “I knew it could only be God.”

“I had sinned against my Father. But He still welcomed me with open arms,” she said.

Change did not happen at once, but she found herself changed in a way she could not explain.

“It took at least a few years, but one day I just did not have the desire (for my old lifestyle) anymore,” she said.

Cigarettes and alcohol made her feel sick. Drugs lost their appeal. The profanities that once rolled off her tongue felt bitter in her mouth.

“I felt like a new person, and I knew it could only be God”, she said. 

That was just the beginning of how God would heal her.

An avalanche of healing

Melinda returned to Cambodia over and over again, and eventually God took her there as a full-time missionary in 2014, where she worked largely among slum communities and poor villages.

Melinda Lim

Melinda helped to lead mission trips from Singapore churches via One-2-One Cambodia.

During her years in Cambodia, God healed her emotional wounds.

“There were times He would bring me back to certain memories – like that time I almost died from an overdose.”

Melinda recalled that God said, “Daughter, do you remember this? You cried out ‘help’! I was right there with you.’”

She explained: “God reminded me that even in my darkest of times, He had never once left me. He was always there.”

Melinda Lim

Melinda now runs Brave Ministry Cambodia, which she founded in 2017 after God gave her a vision to fill the gaps that the destitute have fallen through. Brave addresses the immediate needs related to basic survival, healthcare, education and employment of those they serve.

Overcoming the eating disorders took several years. But God also restored her physical health. 

“I started to see my body as a temple of God that I cannot keep ruining. I stopped seeing food as my enemy, but something that the Lord has blessed me to enjoy,” said Melinda.

Melinda Lim

After an 18-year battle with eating disorders, Melinda (pictured in Cambodia) now sees food as something to enjoy. She has also found friends who love and support her.

As her relationship with God deepened, Melinda also found the strength to forgive her late grandfather for what he did to her.

Melinda Lim

Melinda (back row, right) with her parents, sister and brother-in-law. Her mum wept and apologised for not protecting her daughter well enough when she eventually found out about the sexual abuse. Melinda told her: “Mum, this is not your fault. I’ve already gone through the healing process.”

“Forgiveness does not negate what happened to me. But it gives me the freedom to embrace life and to fully walk in the plan God has for me. Forgiveness is a choice and conscious decision that I make regardless of how I feel,” she explained.

Even broken trees bear fruit 

Even though she was content being single and serving God in Cambodia, God gave her an unexpected blessing – a second chance at love. 

Melinda Lim

Last November, Melinda got married. Her husband shares her love for Jesus.

“Never would I have imagined that I’d get married again. I am thankful for a second chance, not just in life but also in marriage,” she said.

Melinda who once saw no purpose in life now finds great meaning even in the mundanity of everyday life.

She now runs Brave Ministry Cambodia. The NGO works to alleviate the suffering of underprivileged and rural villages, slum communities and prisons by addressing their practical requirements for clean drinking water (including digging wells, installing water pumps and providing water filters), solar lights and other daily necessities.

“My life’s purpose is to be an extension of God’s love,” she said. 

Melinda Lim

Melinda Lim (third from the right) and the Brave team show God’s love to the disadvantaged in Cambodia in practical ways, offering hope and love to the ailing and those in despair.

“God rewrote His story into mine, and it is really one of grace and redemption. I’m thankful for a second chance at life and a purpose to live.”

Sharing a favourite quote by Pastor Rick Warren, she said: “In God’s Garden of grace, even broken trees bear fruits.”

This is an excerpt of an article that first appeared in Salt&Light

If you would like to know more about Jesus, click here to find a church near you.

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