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Desire for healing and hope crosses international boundaries
October 19, 2004
Syracuse, Indiana— Gambling, prostitution, offshore employment, mistresses for married men, and the resulting family difficulties are social ills that cut across all social strata in the city-state of Macau.
In this environment, Mennonite Church Canada Witness workers George and Tobia Veith (Cornerstone Mennonite Church, Saskatoon) are opening doors and inviting local residents to explore Christianity and bring healing and hope to what they describe as a spiritually dark place. The Vieths shared about the challenges and celebrations of their ministry during Mission Seminar here (July 18-23), an orientation/re-entry event for international church workers.
Equipped with deep faith in Jesus Christ and a profound calling, the Veiths operate a storefront street ministry. A typical day might include tutoring students, teaching English, praying with a new Christian, or helping a street person get a shower and a haircut.
Responding to family difficulties form the core of their work. In a culture steeped in gambling and high unemployment, men must leave their families for offshore jobs that keep them away for months at a time. During their absence, it is common for married men to cultivate relationships with mistresses.
James (pseudonym) is an insurance agent and married man with children in Macau. James developed a relationship with another woman in China during frequent business trips. The long term, long-distance relationship bore a child that is now three years old.
Through friends at the local Mennonite church in Macau, James began to connect with matters of faith and spirituality, eventually coming to faith with gentle guidance from George. When the matter of his mistress came out some time later, George used the story of Abraham and Hagar to illustrate a biblical dilemma that paralleled James’ situation.
Resonating with the Old Testament story, James began to explore what it meant to trust that God would take care of his mistress, just as God promised Abraham of Hagar’s care. James began to distance himself from his mistress, and blessed with a compassionate wife, began to help support the mistress and child in China.
While healing has begun, James’ relationships with both wife and mistress remain fragile, say the Veiths. On learning of James’ plans to end the relationship, his mistress threatened to sell the child. And although James and his wife are together, much healing must yet occur. The Veiths gladly invite prayer for the family.
This is just one story, but it is by no means an unusual one for Macau, where George says the forces of evil can be tangibly felt. He calls Macau the “butt end of ministry,” adding that “Christians have for longest time been discouraged and very weak.” Tobia notes that other Protestant churches in Macau have said that the discipleship and follow up component of church work has been lacking, “As God has brought people to himself, we’ve really focused on how we can stick with these people and share our lives with them.
“One thing that is not common in other churches [in Macau] is the understanding of how people’s woundedness and brokenness and bondage is an impediment to their growth,” said Tobia, noting the tendency to oversimplification of Biblical texts and formal training.
Meanwhile, a large Las Vegas-style casino has opened, with more projected to come in the near future. In the midst of this moral decay, a group of pastors and Christians meet faithfully to pray on Monday mornings. “I haven’t seen Westerners weep for their city the way these people pray,” said George of the group.
Now back in Canada, the Vieths are combining a stint of North American ministry with time to be with ageing parents. Their excitement about the good things happening in Macau, however, remains close the surface – and close to the Mennonite Church’s “Vision: Healing and Hope” statement.
“Every time I look at the [Vision: Healing and Hope] statement, that’s exactly what our mission is in Macau. Every time I look at that I go, ‘Yes, yes, this is exactly what we are trying to do in Macau!’” exclaims an animated Tobia.
“The kingdom of God is like a mustard seed that grew up into this huge tree,” said Tobia. And the mustard seeds are apparently sprouting. Recently James was baptized, making public his desire to walk in a lifelong commitment to faith in Jesus Christ. “James is a good example of what God can do and wants to do,” says George.