André & Cathy de Winne

Availability, Rather Than Ability

Produced by Our Stories, His Glory Team


Reading Progress:

“One day, in secondary school in Bruges, Belgium, when I was just 16 years old, our Latin and Greek teacher walked into class with a Bible. Instead of teaching, he proceeded to read to us verses from the books of Job and Ecclesiastes. At that time, our class thought he was very odd. However, this memory was triggered when I entered Ghent University at 18 years old to read law. I had a desire to search for something to believe in. I read up on other beliefs and religions. I decided it was not a bad idea to read the Bible. I read through the entire book of Genesis in one sitting, and I thought, “Wow!” Soon after, I attended a Billy Graham crusade in the summer of 1975 in Brussels. For the first time in my life, I finally understood why Jesus died on the cross, although I had grown up as a Catholic. And while I still had questions, I accepted Christ Jesus as Lord and Saviour on the first night of the crusade. There was no turning back. And so began what has been a journey of faith that has been anything but a straight line, learning to trust in the providence and ever-goodness of our Heavenly Father.”
Andre (third from left) with friends in the 1960s

Belgian-born André de Winne had always been interested in languages. It was at the 1975 Billy Graham crusade that he first heard about the ministry of Bible translation. Renowned English Anglican cleric and theologian, John Stott, widely acknowledged as one of the  leaders of the worldwide evangelical movement, talked about being called to ministry. He talked about ministries where one would serve in the background with little limelight or recognition. Bible translation was one of these.

André pursued his interest through Wycliffe Bible Translators, a worldwide organisation dedicated to help speakers of more than 1,600 languages1 around the world still waiting for God’s Word to be translated into their own language.

At the end of a week-long orientation with Wycliffe Belgium, André was inspired by his meeting with translators, learning about their dedication, difficulties and how this ministry was not just a romantic notion. The final message on hearing the voice of God resonated deeply with André, and indeed it has stood both he and his wife Cathy in good stead as they began a life-long journey in seeking and following God’s will for their lives.

What persons envisage as their path in life, based on their passion, may often be quite different from the path God desires to lead them on.

Following his passion for Bible translation, André resigned from the Belgian civil service, where he was working as Assistant to the Press Secretary of the Minister of Defence, to join Wycliffe, a faith organisation. They advised him to first attend Bible college to be better equipped. And so he signed up with Elim Bible College in Capel, Surrey, England. It was here at the affiliated Kensington Temple (KT) Elim Church which he attended, that he met his future wife, Singapore-born Cathy, then teaching nurses at St Mary’s Hospital in London.

They married in 1981. Cathy left her job after André completed Bible college, so that they could both sign up for the Wycliffe training. For Cathy, the Lord had patiently wooed her – He touched her heart after she heard George Verwer, founder of Operation Mobilisation speak at the Wycliffe open house day. 

Cathy received confirmation to trust God in all provisions. And despite the insecure financial prospect, both Andre and Cathy took this big step of faith together.

They were even led to donate a four-figure sum to their church building fund, as they learnt to trust and walk in faith.

André: “Our initial vision was to translate the Bible for some minority group in Indonesia or somewhere in Asia. But neither of us felt that we were especially gifted for this role. We learnt very early on that what the Lord wants of us is our availability and not just ability.”

Just as André and Cathy started their training at Wycliffe, Cathy’s father fell critically ill in Singapore. After getting permission from Wycliffe to interrupt their training for six months, they returned to support her mother who was the main caregiver.

While they were back here, long-time church members Chen Nee Sian and Lucy Chen invited them to attend Wesley Methodist Church (WMC). The De Winnes had met the Chens in London at KT Elim Church.

Church growth at Wesley was rapidly taking off at that time, following a revival under the leadership of Rev Dr Tony Chi before Rev Dr Isaac Lim took over in 1982. Rev Dr Lim approached André to be a volunteer teacher at Sunday School and to help out with the Women’s Society of Christian Service (WSCS).  In addition, André also helped out with the small Wycliffe Singapore office, including speaking to churches about the organisation.

Two weeks before they returned to London, Dr Lim offered André a job at WMC. The church needed help. Would André consider working with them for two years before returning to Wycliffe?

After much prayer and completing their training with Wycliffe, André took up the job offer at WMC in February 1984.

The paper work for André to work in Singapore took a while. In the meantime, Cathy became pregnant with their first child, Mark, and gave birth to him in June in Singapore.

While they settled into the team ministry at WMC, the De Winnes faced a crisis with baby Mark. At just six months old, he developed a persistent Urinary Tract Infection (UTI) that could not be resolved even with course after course of antibiotics. Although initially resistant to the idea, Cathy and André agreed for a diagnostic imaging test using a contrast dye and X-ray to check baby Mark’s kidneys.

Cathy, a trained nurse, was initially resistant to the idea, but God sent the right people at the right time to reassure both her and André.

Among them was long-time church member and Bible study teacher, Dr Aw Swee Eng, and an Emeritus Consultant, Department of Nuclear Medicine and Molecular Imaging with Singapore General Hospital, who reassured them of this procedure. Coming alongside Cathy and Andre in prayer and support were many of the ladies from WSCS, like Barbara Ho, Joan Boen, Lucy Chen and Betty Neo.

They were truly grateful that God had brought them back to urban Singapore where they had easy access to the best doctors and advanced medical facilities. And importantly, they were surrounded by a loving church community where they felt much loved. Thankfully, baby Mark’s infection abated, and he was fully healed.

Looking back, this was really the panning out of one of André’s go-to Scripture verses – “See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up, do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.”   Isaiah 43:19.

See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up, do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.”

Isaiah 43:19

What was meant to be two years at WMC stretched to four and a half years. During this time, André, together with just a handful of other staff members, took on multiple roles, which included organising prayer meetings, visitations, preaching and teaching. He also qualified as a Local Preacher at the same time. Many church members affirmed André’s gift of teaching as he conducted courses in the then Wesley Lay Training Institute2.

At the end of 1987, Wycliffe contacted André to ask if he would head up the Singapore office, and the role would include field visits. But first both he and Cathy would have to be trained for this particular role.

André’s heart desire was always to work with Wycliffe so that he could be involved in the ministry of Bible translation.

He left WMC at the end of June 1988. Over a month later, when their second son David was just three months old, André and Cathy left to start their Wycliffe training at Kangaroo Ground, a town just outside Melbourne.

Cathy: “My mother asked how I was going to cope on the day we left for the training in Australia. David was just three months old, and Mark, four years old. In the same breath, she said, ‘I know you will manage!’ I have always been content and happy to be a homemaker / mum, to dedicate my time and energy to bringing up and nurturing the children. I really enjoy motherhood. I never saw caring for the children full-time as a chore, but as a conscious choice. This brought me joy. And hence, coping with missionary travel when they were very young was not daunting at all. We were always content with what we had, and doing with less made us creative and resourceful.”

In 1989, the De Winnes, with two young sons in tow, returned to Singapore for André to head up the Wycliffe Singapore office.

Additional training was required in 1990 and this brought them to Mexico and Texas, where they underwent a lot of rigorous physical activities like camping and hiking.

During this time, they also learnt Spanish. In Mexico, the family that they stayed with for an entire month did not speak anything but Spanish. This language immersion equipped them to the point where they could manage a simple conversation, and eventually allowed them to present their testimonies in the language!

Throughout this entire time, faithful prayer warriors like Joan Boen and Doris Chow interceded for them.

• Hiking in Texas in 1990 during Wycliffe training

André: “Looking back, I had been ready to go all out with Wycliffe in 1983, after completing our training there. Why did the Lord choose to pull me out and place me at Wesley till 1988? Although pursuing my plans to join Wycliffe took a lot longer than expected, I realised that my time at Wesley had been very fruitful and enriching. I learnt much, including pastoral care and exposure to the church arena. These skill sets helped me very much when I returned to Wycliffe, as I needed to speak to different churches and denominations, to promote, recruit, raise funds and seek prayer support. Little did I know that God was in fact setting me up for the next phase of my journey with Him.”

André continued with Wycliffe till 1993. Early that year, a Wycliffe director from Asia re-affirmed the good work they had done and offered André a “reverse furlough”. This would allow the De Winnes to return to Belgium to spend time with his family.

They spent four months in Europe and England. On reflection, this time of rest and rejuvenation was God’s way of preparing them for the severe trials and tests they had to face upon their return to Singapore.

The De Winnes returned to office conflict and unfounded accusations at Wycliffe Singapore. It was a very painful period and André shared: “It was a very bitter pill to swallow and quite baffling to understand. We believe that the conflicts arose out of lack of communication, misunderstanding and sadly, jealousy.”

Wycliffe International came in to mediate and encouraged André to rebuild the team. But things continued to be rocky, despite André’s best efforts to rebuild trust and relationships.

One morning, as he was walking and praying at the Botanical Gardens, André heard an audible voice telling him to “Get out of it”. André responded, “Are you sure? This has been what I wanted to do all along.” He asked for confirmation.

On 31 December 1993, the De Winnes attended WMC’s Watchnight Service. André continued to pray for a word from the Lord to confirm His earlier message. He prayed, listened carefully to the sermon, the words of the hymns sung – but there seemed to be no word from the Lord.

After the Benediction, the choir sang the Postlude. The words of the hymn were taken from Exodus 33:14 when the Lord spoke to Moses, who was concerned about how he would be equipped to learn God’s ways and to lead the Israelites.

The Lord replied,My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.’”

The Lord replied,My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.’”

This was the confirmation from God that André had been waiting for. A day later, on 1 January 1994, André wrote his resignation letter to Wycliffe.

André’s next 11 and a half years were with the Singapore Centre for Evangelism and Missions (SCEM), re-named years later as the Singapore Centre for Global Missions (SCGM).

Joining SCEM was a big step of faith for André. Funding then (in 1994) was poor, with little money coming in. As Executive Director, André’s priority was fund raising. He started to speak at a lot of churches to raise awareness and to lobby for financial support.

André was very much supported in prayer by Wesley members, as well as Cathy, who was known for her home-baked scones and other goodies that she generously provided at the many SCEM meetings.

• Cathy bakes with passion and a happy heart to bless others

Cathy:  “I never went back to full-time work after leaving my job in England. Since then I have learnt to be creative with less all these years, as we’ve had to rely on financial support from church, family and friends. In the early days, Andre and I worked out the budget we would need every month, and this came to about SGD2,000. God has been ever so faithful, and He has always provided. Once some eggs I bought broke – I scooped up the yolks and whites, and made pancakes with it. Aunty Joan Boen said to me: ‘Cathy, that’s just so you!’

“The scone recipe I use is from Australia, and it requires very precise measurements. I’ve relied on this recipe to bless the people at countless meetings. This has been my small and ‘soft’ way of supporting Andre and his ministry.”

André’s fundraising efforts paid off. By the end of 1994, SCEM was able to pay out a thirteenth-month bonus to all its staff and also promoted the adoption of an unreached people group. In 2002, SCEM organised the first ever GoForth Missions Conference. They received strong support from other denominations including the Anglican, Assembly of God and Brethren churches.

For André, organising GoForth was a task of daunting proportions – without doubt, it was truly a God-sized assignment. André recalled, “It was such an enormous task, it felt like making bricks without straw.” (Alluding to Exodus 5:15– 16)

André had no experience in organising something so big, and it was frightening every time the schedule of payments came up for Suntec City, the conference venue.

But God – just as His Hand had always been at the helm right through André’s journey – continued to be faithful, and by the end of the conference, returned a surplus of SGD70,000!

After the second GoForth Conference drew to a close in 2005, André left SCEM having served a tenure of more than 11 years.

In June 2001, Cathy and André visited one of the grandest and most beautiful cathedrals in Europe. While at this great church in Chartres, the Lord spoke to them in a unique way and impressed on their hearts the spiritual needs of France.

André: “It was a series of impressions. In spite of the bleak and barren state of the church in Europe, the Lord was assuring me that He had not given up on France in particular, and that He would revive His church.”

These impressions motivated them to begin praying. And they continued to do so over the next ten years. André added:I realise that as always, we’ve had to remain flexible. Training with Wycliffe, taking on a full-time job at Wesley, undergoing training in different parts of the world, moving and travelling with two very young sons and heading up SCEM, was really hard work.”

After serving at SCEM, André was ready for something without such a steep learning curve. God opened the door back to WMC after Rev Melvin Huang invited André to take on the Missions and Evangelism portfolio, as the then Pastoral Team Member Paul Satari was going on study leave. Both André and Cathy welcomed this opportunity to return to the familiar and supportive environment of Wesley.

André served his second season at WMC from 2006 to mid-2013. By then, both sons had already left the nest. Cathy now had the time to dedicate herself fully to André’s needs. Almost daily, she would travel to the city with André. While he went to work at WMC, she spent many hours praying at the nearby Armenian Church, and sometimes at St Andrew’s Cathedral.

Cathy:  “I just felt I needed to pray, because now I had the time to. I knew God was speaking to our hearts. I sought Him and desired to know what plans He had for us. Did He really want us to go to Europe?

“We drove to Taizé, France in June 2011 during a visit to Belgium. Taizé is a unique ecumenical and international Christian meeting place of prayer, visited by thousands every year. On our second day there, I went into the village church to pray. It was pitch black inside. It was only when my eyes adjusted did I see the beams of light coming through the stained glass windows. I said out loud Lord!’ It was at that moment that the word came to me – FRANCE!”

Cathy did not tell André straightaway. The Lord spoke separately to André. The next morning, a verse from a Bible reading plan he was using jumped out at him. I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you. Genesis 28:15.

The Lord reaffirmed both Cathy and André when He put them in a discussion group at Taizé. Every person in this group spoke only French, and the person leading the discussion spoke only English. And so, Andre volunteered to translate from English to French. The group stayed together the rest of the week.

The Lord also brought Jacques, a retired architect from the city of Montpellier to Taizé. At that point, Jacques was depressed and distressed. André approached him and was able to minister to and comfort him in French. This was yet another confirmation by the Lord to André that France should be their mission field.

God Wants Our Availability, Rather than Just Ability

With this clear call to France, and in obedience to the Lord, André and Cathy uprooted again in 2013. It meant leaving their ministry at WMC behind and the great teamwork built; their children and granddaughter; and a comfortable, convenient ecosystem of friends, church and community.

André:We felt that the church in Singapore is so blessed with talented people that we could more usefully contribute in Europe, where the need for workers is great, but where the ‘ground’ is also very hard.”

Their son Mark wrote a letter to his parents to encourage them to go. In the letter, he expressed how happy and excited he was that they had decided to serve the Lord in a new adventure instead of just waiting for retirement, and he strongly encouraged them to go for it in faith.

So with two suitcases in hand, André and Cathy moved to France at the end of 2013. Jacques helped them find a place to rent with the best option in Pézenas, a small city in the heart of Hérault, in southern France, with a population of about 9,000 inhabitants.

Over the next few months, André and Cathy spent their time getting their bearings, finding a church, trying to make friends and figuring out what they could do. They also spent much time in prayer in a cold Catholic church when the doors were open.

They waited for ministry opportunities. A French Assemblies of God church they attended was lively and already strongly committed to prayer. An Anglican chaplaincy in a rural village catering mainly to British folks settled in the wine-growing Hérault valley provided the De Winnes opportunities to attend English services once in a while. André also contributed with the reading of lessons, leading intercession, and once, to interpret for a bilingual ecumenical service.

They soon realised that to make any meaningful difference in France, they would need to be in a pastoral role. However, without a French theological qualification, André would unlikely be able to secure such a position.

Again, on this, God enabled and equipped. The Director of Studies at the Protestant Theological Faculty in Montpellier warmly welcomed Andre’s enquiries and agreed to transfer credits from some of the studies André had done at Elim Bible College in London in 1979– 80, more than 20 years ago.  They then moved to Montpellier for the next three years, and during this time, the Lord provided them with an apartment near the Faculty.

The course was another steep learning curve. All lectures were in French, often without audio-visual aids or outlines. Essays had to be written in academic French, and exams taken in the language too. Additionally, André was required to study a lot of history, as well as intensive Hebrew, philosophy, exegesis and various aspects of systemic and practical theology.

By God’s grace, instead of the required three years, André was awarded the Licence (French equivalent of a Bachelor’s in Theology or B. Th.) in just two years. André then decided to proceed with the first year of a master’s degree as well, with the hope of finishing it at a later stage. After publicly defending his thesis for the Masters in Theology, Andre was then awarded the degree with Summa Cum Laude in November 2017.

After a year of trying out various fellowships, including a Chinese-speaking one which met twice a month, André and Cathy finally found a French Methodist church in the village of Codognan, some 45 kilometres away from Montpellier and where they were warmly received. The pastor encouraged André to get involved. He was able to preach a couple of times and helped to serve communion. Eventually the pastor suggested that André apply to their Board of Ministry because they were short of pastors.

They met with the Methodist Superintendent for the work in France some months later, and after much prayer and prodding from the French Methodist Church, André submitted his application at the end of 2016. An interview with their Board of Ministry took place five weeks later, and a day after that, André was offered a pastoral position at a small church in Munster, Alsace, located in a valley of the Vosges mountains, north-eastern France.

The church in Munster had been without a pastor for over a year. So the De Winnes packed up from Montpellier and moved to Munster.

In addition to conducting Sunday services which were similar to WMC’s Prayer & Praise services, meetings and pastoral duties, André also had to conduct two services a month at an old people’s home. Here, residents had to be invited one by one and brought down from the upper floors to the chapel on the ground floor (with many in wheelchairs) for the service, and then brought to the dining hall for lunch.

• The church in Munster

This church where André served is just one of 20 Methodist churches in France, and it is part of the Annual Conference in Switzerland. Protestants are a small minority and the relatively small Methodist Church is a minority within that minority. The mainline denominations are stagnating or declining. Evangelical churches however are seeing some growth. The Methodist Church in France straddles both these streams.

On 17 September 2017, André was officially installed as Pasteur (because of André’s age, the Bishop had decided that he could not be ordained, but instead, to be appointed as a local preacher with the same pastoral responsibilities as an ordained pastor) at an official installation service, attended also by a Lutheran pastor, some Evangelical leaders as well as the local Catholic priest.

• Ministering in France

André: “Our goal was to pray for revival and to equip members to be effective witnesses for Christ in an environment that is generally quite indifferent to the things of God, or sometimes outright hostile. We found that while the French are generally very polite and courteous, it’s hard to penetrate beyond this ‘screen’ as they don’t readily open up about themselves. The culture in north-eastern France is also significantly different from the south. Alsace has Germanic roots, and this German flavour comes through not only in speech, but also in the architecture and the local food. Prayer and perseverance are very much needed for breakthrough in France. The ground has been hardened by more than 200 years of secularised thinking with no place for God. The French do hunger for spiritual things, but they are looking for answers in the wrong places.”

• Pastoring in France

Occasionally, the De Winnes would drive to Basel (about an hour by car) to attend an Anglican evensong, so that they could in turn, be ministered to by the Word. They also enjoyed fellowship with a monastic community of Protestant sisters who lived in the hills above Munster.

By end-2019, God again opened another door. A call came from a church that André knew well and often attended in his home town of Bruges. They had asked André many times before, and by then, they had been without a pastor for over two years. So the offer was made— would he consider coming to serve as pastor of the church?

André:We simply want to serve where God has clearly called us and follow His lead. Looking back, I could have made a career in law in Belgium or in public administration, and Cathy could have continued teaching nursing in London. Instead, we chose to step out and do something different, each time prompted by the Spirit of the Lord. And always, trusting in His providence and protection.”

André never expected to return to work in Belgium, and certainly not in his hometown. In February 2020, just before the onset of Covid, they travelled to Bruges and met with the church leadership. His appointment as pastor of this mildly Pentecostal church was confirmed in May 2020. André took up the position in August 2020 before the next Covid wave and subsequent lockdown two months later.

When Covid hit in 2020, people were very frightened. Many members of the congregation fell sick. André saw that there was a real pastoral need to reach out, as people needed to be reassured and comforted. With the restrictions, André could only minister from a distance, either by phone or email. André sent pre-recorded sermons and provided the list of worship songs via Youtube to his congregation for a good seven months. Even when on-site services resumed, strict rules were still in place, including social distancing and singing with masks on.

For the first two years after he took up his appointment in Bruges, André also sent devotions to his church members on a daily basis. Additionally, André spent much effort in preparing his pulpit sermons. Different series were preached, and these included the Sermon on the Mount, the Parables of Jesus and Bible study series on the books of Ecclesiastes and James. André has been very encouraged as he has received very positive feedback from his church members. 

André: “One of the biggest challenges that we face in Europe is its secularisation. Few people are open to the gospel. Most people have also been brought up in the Catholic faith. So, people think that a Pentecostal or Evangelical church is part of a cult, like the Jehovah’s Witnesses. As Pastor of this church in Bruges that has a congregation of about 90 persons, including 20 youth and children, my hope is to disciple them and deepen their understanding of the Word, so that each person can be better equipped to share with others why the gospel is relevant.”

Only the Lord knows what is next for both André and Cathy. Will they return to Singapore to the loving and familiar fold of family and friends? Or will He bring them yet to another community and place where they are needed? 

From their story and their inspiring journey of faith for these many past decades, we believe that they will continue to respond in obedience to the Lord and be spurred on by one of their favourite verses:

And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. Romans 5:5.

End notes:


2The Wesley Lay Training Institute (LTI) was part of the Christian Education Committee. It offered discipleship and training programmes for church members. The writer of this chapter remembers attending Andre’s course on “Looking at Roman Catholicism”. The Committee became Discipleship & Nurture in 1999 when the main committees were re-organised.

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