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First Person: Sister cities of chance and seduction connecting through Christ

   
 


These shining casino lights represent not the glitter of Las Vegas, but the glitz of Macau. New churches in the sister cities of the gaming world are praying together for health and strength. – photo by Tim Buhler

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June 27, 2005
-by Andrew Wade

Macau/Washington — She calls your name, inviting you to taste the treasures of her riches. “All for you” she entices; “it’s your lucky day.” The temptations she offers seem almost natural; this is, after all, the natural culmination of the North American Dream, the world’s dream – abundance beyond limit, self-indulgence without accountability. Visitors flood through her gates from nearby cities, drawn by the bright lights and seductive promise.

“Compromise” is one of her names, drowned out by the sweetness of her promises. You would not be surprised to hear her home is Las Vegas, a shining city offering more than it can deliver. But this city’s sister, Macau, may not be so familiar. Snuggled on the southern coast of China, a short 45-minute boat ride from Hong Kong, Macau is the Las Vegas of the East.

Now, new Anabaptist church plants offered by immigrants in these twin cities are solidifying a prayer relationship. Representing Macau together with Mennonite Church Canada Witness worker George Veith, I traveled to Las Vegas in April for prayer, worship and fellowship that connected the two capitals of chance.

Just under half-a-million people call Macau home, but nearly 17 million visited last year. According to the CIA fact book, about 70 percent of the Macau government’s revenue is directly connected to gambling. Macau has been a gambling destination since 1850, 80 years before Las Vegas’ first licensed casino. But the gambling renaissance began in 2002 with the break up of long-held casino monopolies. A Las Vegas tracking company predicts Macau will overtake Las Vegas in total gaming revenues by 2008.

The financial stimulus for Macau’s growth comes from Las Vegas, with $2.2 billion pledged from two Las Vegas casinos alone. Already the Sands Resort has opened a sparkling new casino in Macau, soon to be followed by MGM Mirage and Wynn Resorts. Sands President William Weidner told the Las Vegas Sun: “It took 75 years for Las Vegas to emerge as an international destination. Our intention is to replicate that feat in less than three years.”

The cities are supported by major “feeder” cities – Los Angeles and Hong Kong – which provide a significant local source of gamblers who bring their addictions, brokenness and false hopes back to the bigger city. Both are world financial centres, world shipping ports, demographically “international” and major players in the growing economic influence of the Pacific Rim.

Our tendency as Christians is to condemn cities such as Macau and Las Vegas. But like Abraham, our true call is to seek redemption of the Sodom-like city, even if only ten faithful people are found. Although Sodom ultimately was not spared, Jesus has some telling words for us regarding the possibility of its redemption in the new order as he speaks to the city of Capernaum: “For if the deeds of power done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day” (Matt. 11:23).

The city is key to God’s call to the church, to make disciples, to heal, to bring justice and mercy. While we wait patiently for the perfect City of God, we minister faithfully in cities created by human hands, seeking their redemption and calling people to a bigger and better vision of the city which comes from God.

God’s call to the cities of Macau and Las Vegas came to Mennonite missionaries from Canada and Nigeria in Hong Kong and Los Angeles. Canadians George and Tobia Veith reached out from their Hong Kong home in 1996. Similarly, Nigerians Chijioke “CJ” and Ude Chukwukelu, at the urging of their Los Angeles pastor, Chuwang Pam, founded Emmanuel Faith Chapel of Las Vegas.

Underneath the bright city lights is a spiritual reality much different from the surface reality. On the surface, we see a city overtaken by sin. We see families broken apart by gambling debts and adultery and students abandoning higher education in favor of abundant casino jobs. We see women and children trafficked in prostitution standing alongside those who choose to enter the business for quick financial gain.

Through the eyes of the Spirit, we recognize that the powers of darkness that drive the city are the same powers that Jesus defeated on the cross. Revealing God’s salvation through works of evangelism and justice, God’s reconciling love becomes evident and can outshine even the brightest artificial lights Las Vegas or Macau can muster.

Macau, known as a “graveyard for missionaries” because of the difficulty ministering there, is experiencing spiritual breakthrough. After five years of prayer and hard work, the Macau church baptized its first member. Two years later, six people had been baptized. In 2004, the mission team in Macau joyfully witnessed a dozen more professions of faith.

Supported by Mennonite Church Canada Witness, Mennonite Mission Network, Eastern Mennonite Missions and The Conference of Mennonite Churches in Hong Kong, the Veiths, the family of Tim and Cindy Buhler and Crystal “Nana” Lee from Indonesia lead the Macau Church. Seeing the brokenness of families and the pressure placed on children, the Macau church has emphasized ministry to these groups through a family life centre, kids club, English classes, a Friday night coffeehouse, a mothers’ group, and more.

In Las Vegas, the Chukwukelus and other leaders in the church partner with Mennonite Central Committee, Mennonite Mutual Aid, a local Church of God in Christ and the Salvation Army, preaching spiritual aid from Jesus and offering practical aid through temporary housing, bus passes, food and counseling.

These two churches are now coming together. Each has committed to pray for the other. As a “light to the nations” and as a “city set on a hill,” we see God raising up these ministries as a witness today to a reality God will one day bring to completion in the New Jerusalem.

While the challenge of the city can be great, the Jesus who commanded, “Go into all the world and make disciples” is the same Jesus who promised, “I will never leave you or forsake you.” Both ministries have stood on that promise as they struggled against “the forces of darkness” that would seek to crush their spirits. In Macau and Las Vegas, in Hong Kong and Los Angeles, in every city and town, God calls us to the challenge – and the promise is the same.

May the faithfulness and perseverance we see in Macau and Las Vegas give us hope and encourage our hearts to take significant risks for the Kingdom purposes of God.

Andrew Wade, with his wife, Susan, and their two children, are mission workers in Hong Kong with Mennonite Church Canada Witness and Mennonite Mission Network. Since July 2003, the Wades have served through a North American assignment in Washington state. They will return to Hong Kong in July 2005. On Thursday afternoon, July 7, a Macau ministries benefit concert will be held at the joint MC Canada/MC USA assembly in Charlotte.