‘We will talk to people and bring them to Christ. That is our goal.’ Wai Phang and Swee Chan Wong tell their story about starting a Chinese Fellowship at Hutt City Salvation Army.
‘It was a progression, but our calling was to make a Chinese ministry amongst migrants.’ Swee Chan grew up as a Christian in Malaysia, and Wai Phang was baptised in Singapore in 1989 while they were working there.
When they migrated to New Zealand in 1996, they enrolled in the Bible College of New Zealand in Auckland.
‘Before we joined The Salvation Army, we were pastoring in different churches in New Zealand,’ Wai Phang recalls. ‘When we finished the course, we went back to Singapore for a year, then we felt God calling us to come back to New Zealand.’
When they returned to New Zealand in December 2000, they spent the next 10 years pastoring in Auckland, Christchurch, and later Wellington.
Wai Phang remembers moving to Hutt City Corps and working as a Finance Administrator, where they discovered numeracy and literacy classes run by English tutor Mike Carrington. ‘I helped with the advertising to get students in. After one or two years we got more students and me and Swee Chan decided to start our own fellowship just for Chinese.’
They started the Chinese Fellowship in 2013, where they taught children’s songs and English phrases.
‘We always taught from the Bible, but most of the people who came were elderly and not Christian, so they didn’t want to listen to anything from the Bible,’ says Swee Chan. ‘Instead, we used verses from the Bible and translated it into Chinese, so people would enjoy learning.’
Running for 90 minutes every Thursday, the church grew bigger and more people became interested in the Christian teaching.
‘Some people would be keen to know what God is like. We would split into groups to answer quite pointed questions, like if they think God is real,’ explains Swee Chan. ‘They were interested because they could see similarities and differences to Chinese religions.’
The fellowship led on to running Chinese Bible Study sessions every Tuesday in addition to the church. Wai Phang and Swee Chan have also written their own workbook for the sessions, which include reading exercises and new English words.
‘The students contribute a lot. They are now able to relate their life to the Bible teaching,’ says Wai Phang. ‘We observe and listen. After we know them, we know whether they’re ready to take another step to accept Christ.’
As well as studying, the Chinese Fellowship likes to help the local community.
‘They want to feel useful,’ says Swee Chan. ‘We did a lot of recycling of old t-shirts and turned them into shopping bags for the Family Store.’
The Bible Study Group also knitted adult bibs for local retirement homes. ‘They wanted to help the community. It’s all about being with them, working together on projects and feeling like we have a common goal.’
Wai Phang and Swee Chan also host annual events to introduce Chinese to the Sunday church.
Their past events have been based around dumplings, handmade noodles and a Chinese banquet to raise funds for the corps.
‘It always centres around food, so this year we had a high tea. We called it “East Meets West” because it’s a mix of the two cultures.’
The high tea involved a buffet of Asian food, accompanied by English desserts.
‘We understand that Kiwi eat very little bits of food for high tea. In China, nobody eats a little bit. Everybody eats heaps, because that’s the meaning of “eat”,’ laughs Swee Chan.
The buffet included soups, dim sum, sushi, spring rolls, sumo rolls and prawn crackers, as well as English and Chinese teas.
Wai Phang says the annual events have prompted some of the students to attend Sunday services. ‘It’s an encouragement, because for a long time we didn’t know if people were taking in anything.’
He says although only half the Chinese Fellowship are Christian, it is about introducing them to God and supporting their journey. ‘In general, we are aware that people just come and go. We don’t mind that, the whole concept is to bring them to Christ, but it is like planting seeds.
‘Even though they may not become Christian, the message is there in their heart. They take it away; some of them stay here, and some of them take it back to China, so we never know what they think.’
Swee Chan explains a lot of the students who come through are grandparents looking after their grandchildren. Her favourite story is of an elderly couple who came through the church with their granddaughter: ‘They brought their grandkid to our playgroup and we befriended them. In the Chinese Church, they accepted Christ, which was special because they’re a family.
‘They weren’t able to bring their daughter or son-in-law to church, but they could bring their grandchild, so God can reach the younger generation.’
Prayer is also at the heart of their Tuesday and Thursday sessions. ‘Whenever we ask who wants to pray, only Christians would do it,’ says Swee Chan. ‘There was one gentleman who got ill and the ambulance was called. We had a group of 40 people, and we got them to pray. Not everybody did, but it was an introduction.’
Since then, the fellowship has started to pray more confidently. ‘When another person fell ill, their immediate thought was to pray for them. They asked by themselves. So even though it’s a bad situation, something good has come from it.’
They also have the chance to attend a Chinese Alpha course, which is now fully run in Mandarin.
With encouragement from the Corps Officers, a small Chinese Sunday worship started in January. It is a unique Chinese worship style with the first half combined with the English congregation.
‘We’ve had many people coming forward and helping, which is very kind. For me, it’s a journey. You have to journey with people to grow.’
By Courtney Day (c) 'War Cry' magazine, 13 July 2019 p14-15. You can read 'War Cry' at your nearest Salvation Army church or centre, or subscribe through Salvationist Resources.