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In Hong Kong, new life


Andy Wade, Winnie Moyco Chan and Nora Iwarat

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November 30, 2007
- Ryan Miller

CHEUNG CHAU ISLAND, Hong Kong — For at least one Hong Kong immigrant, new life begat new life.

On August 14, nine months after she was baptized in the ocean waters off of the coast of Cheung Chau Island, Hong Kong, Winnie Moyco Chan gave birth to a son. Zane Austin Chan’s arrival was the culmination of years of searching – for happiness and for God.

Chan, a Filipina living in Hong Kong after marrying a Chinese man, had laid her life on the line several years previously. Though she had grown up Catholic and been baptized as a Mormon, she never felt that she understood either faith. From the end of a Cheung Chau Island park bench, she proclaimed that she would go to church if God would give a child to her and Ken, her husband of 16 years.

On the other end of the bench was Nora Iwarat, a fellow Filipino who serves at Cheung Chau Christian Center, a ministry through the Conference of Mennonite Churches in Hong Kong, supported by Mennonite Mission Network, Eastern Mennonite Missions, Mennonite Church Canada Witness, Integrated Mennonite Church of the Philippines and PIPKA, the mission arm of the Indonesian Mennonite Church.

The three ministers at the Cheung Chau center befriend and relate to the immigrant women who serve as domestic workers – housekeepers, nannies, maids. On Iwarat’s invitation, Chan became a regular at the Center’s Tuesday Night Fellowship meetings of unbelievers who seek to learn about God.

Though she explored, Chan still did not believe, at least until she conceived. In August 2006, Chan and her husband of 16 years, Ken, announced that they were expecting their first child after an in vitro embryonic transfer. (Chan has a 22-year-old son from a previous marriage.) Chan’s mood and her faith were buoyant for about two months.

She miscarried in October.

Chan said she did not know how to react. First, she scolded the doctor. Then, in her anger, she blamed God.

Iwarat was sure that Chan would turn from God. The promise of the child, after all, had been broken.

If anything, their child’s death made Chan more resolute.

“I thought, ‘It’s just a test from (God),” she wrote. “I asked forgiveness to the Lord for blaming Him and asked for strength to accept it and go on with my life.”

In November 2006, through beams of golden sunlight, Chan held her breath as Iwarat and Andy Wade, a joint Witness/Mennonite Mission Network worker in Hong Kong, dipped her beneath the ocean waters. During her testimony, she quoted from 1 Corinthians of God’s promise not to test followers beyond their strength and that God’s grace is sufficient for any trial. Rather than being discouraged by her unsuccessful attempts to become a mother, Chan instead became more resolute in her faith, even offering testimonies to her relatives and friends.

Iwarat said those testimonies are important within a population of immigrant workers – many Muslims and many who are Catholic but not actively part of the church – who are looking for compassionate friends.

“They need somebody to listen to their problems, somebody they can rely on,” Iwarat said. Chan said the ministers at the center encouraged her with their words and prayers, strengthening her personal faith.

Cheung Chau Christian Center essentially is a ministry of friendship and hospitality, said Iwarat, who serves on the island through Integrated Mennonite Church of the Philippines with Mey Idawaty Aruan, sent through PIPKA, and Susan Excelby of England. Most of the immigrant domestic workers come from the Philippines or Indonesia, allowing Iwarat, a Filipina, and Aruan, an Indonesian, to better minister to their peers.

At the center, the three ministers host playgroups for children living on the island – both for local Chinese as well as non-Chinese children whose parents live or work in Hong Kong. Because many immigrant domestic workers are nannies, the play times also are excuses to gather as mothers, grandmothers and caregivers to share their common needs and experiences.

The workers at the center also hold prayer meetings at various times of the day and, since many domestic workers do not have access to their hosts’ appliances, they open their kitchen to anyone who wishes to watch television or cook a hot meal.

“We need to be flexible,” Iwarat said, “because that’s the time when the ministry happens.”

Immigrant domestic workers make up nearly 3 percent of Hong Kong’s population. Most come from either the Philippines or Indonesia and it is not uncommon for them to stay only a few years before common employment practices force them back home. Because most of the workers are Muslim, some avoid the center and its ministers. But those who visit often stay to hear a new message and a few change their lives.

On September 16, one day after Chan’s son, Zane Austin, was dedicated, Aruan and Wade baptized Lika, an Indonesian worker who said her faith in God melted away her fear and anxiety. From the shore, holding her son, Chan watched another new life begin.