The last place on Earth

Rev Charles, Molly and Annabel Chua

Rev Charles and Molly Chua from the Presbyterian Church in Singapore have been serving as CWM missionaries in Swansee, Wales with the Presbyterian Church of Wales since December 2002. The following article was published in the Jan 2010 issue of Inside Out.

The first major hurdle for Charles and Molly Chua to face as they contemplated missionary serice with CWM, was to visualise how churches in the UK could possibly gain anything from them as East Asians. 

"Coming from the Presbyterian Church in Singapore, we looked to the UK as missionary senders. For 200 years Asia has received missionaries from the UK," says Molly Chua. "At the beginning that was a big stumbling block. The UK was the last place I would think of as needing missionaries."

A short visit to see the situation in the UK at first-hand helped to change their minds. They saw church building being turned into Islamic centres and restaurants. "I had never seen anything like it," recalled Mrs. Chua. "In Asia, our churches struggle to find a place to meet. We meet in theatres, above shops and in cinemas. To come here to see church building been sold, was beyond imagining for me."

So with the need for the gospel to be spread clearly established, they reflected on their step into the unknown and on what they could offer to the churches in Swansee, Wales.  They prayed, asking "What do you want us to do Lord?"

Charles and Molly Chua are both converts from a Buddhist Taoist background. Their experience of church is of a high number of first-generation Christians like themselves, large numbers of young people. They had very little experience of worshipping with, and ministering to, the elderly.

And the traditional Asian respect for elders complicated things. Their natural impulse was to look to their elders for guidance out of respect rather than to offer leadership. "We thought that they had so much to teach us," reflected Charles Chua.

And yet there was clearly such a need for something to be done in the church. The last conversion that the congregation had witness was 40 years ago. The congregation was elderly and growing older.

Following one of the first services at the church their young daughter Annabel asked innocently, "where are all the children?" They had to explain that in this church there were no children.

"Is that why Jesus asked us to come here?" she asked.


Such a long period of decline in the church had naturally affected the congregation, the way it viewed itself and its missionary ambitions.

Feeling daunted by the task, they prayed about how they could begin to meet the needs and revitalise the congregation. They became convinced that they should begin simply by showing love to the congregation.

Before they could invite people into the church, they had to prepare the church to receive new people. Some, they discovered, had never been invited to a minister's house before. So they began by inviting people to their home and were surprised how enthusiasticly people received the invitations.

They found that small but throughful gestures made a difference. For example, many of the people of the church are alone. For widows and those with no living relatives recognition of their birthdays and anniversaries in the church are a big deal. To celebrate their special days with the minister can be very significant for them. This is how they feel loved, say Molly Chua. "Without a loving relationship we could do little."

There were more difficult decisions to be made. The church building consisted of a small kitchen and the main hall, which was furnished with pews. Charles and Molly agreed that they should replace the pews with chairs, so that the church building could be more vesatile.

That is an easy conclusion for an outsider to dra. For the long-standing members of the congregation, the issue of pews is a far more personal and emotional matter.

Charles and Moly understood the deep value that people of the church attached to the church buildings and embarked on a long process of winning the congregation over.

One lady wept as she agreed to let go of the pews. And in fact she was brought along to help choose appropiate replacement chairs. It has taken a few years for the people of the church to embrace change.

Reaching Out

So with things looking healthier in the church, they began to think about mission outside the church community. Swansee has a large student population from the university. But to their surprise, it has been students from outside the UK that have been the focus of their concern and energy.

It began with a chance meeting between Molly Chua and a couple of Chinese students. Mrs. Chua was able to direct them to the best places in Swansea to get Chinese cooking ingredients. A friendship began, and with it an opportunity for evangelism.

In response to the needs of the Chinese-speaking students, Charles and Molly set up a Friday night meeting - English Corner - as a place for international students to acclimatise to their new surroundings. The major part of the meeting is prectising and learning English, with an opportunity to relax, receive hospitality, and to talk about their various joys and strins of living in a foreign culture.

Six years on fromt he first English Corner meeting there are 50 to 60 students comming regularly. Learning, singing, socialising, discussions are all part of the Friday night format.

day trip such as to Bath introduce people to British life and culture

The Chuas have also opened their home for a weekly Sunday lunch. In a sense, these people are homeless, Mrs. Chua observes. They have a root, libraries, lecture theatres, but none of those is really a home. In a way they offer an opportunity for students to participate in family life for a short time.

Sharing a meal at Chua's home in SwanseaIt is evidently popular: the number of people that the Chuas entertain - Welsh, Chinese Malaysians, Norwegian, Japanese - exceeded the capacity of their home, so the elders of the church agreed to spend £12,000 ($25,000) to extend the conservatory in order to host them all.

There is an evangelistic heart to all this. Their lifestyle, their presence in the UK makes it very natural to talk about the Lord. They also run 3 Bible studies each week.

Many of the Asian students have never met Christian before, let alone been to a Christian home, so they are naturally very intersted to see how a Christian famil lives.

They see Rev. Chua helps out with washing the dishes, and that quite often causes comments.

Charles and Molly's infectious enthusiasm for sharing the love of God has reached many students. And there has been a steady flow of students who have decided to convert to Christianity and be baptised in the church.

Group effort

What started as Charles and Molly's work has spread so that now the whole congregation is fully involved in the work. The enthusiasm for creating a welcome for people has spread to the congregation.

Vera, one of the long-standing members of the congregation, took on the idea to invite students for a traditional Christmas dinner in the church. The first year there were 30 people. Now there are 80 students coming to the Christmas lunch, which is entirely sponsored by the church.

The congregation, most of them elderly, prepared the food for the studnets, which again is a barrier breaking statement for Chinese people. Unaccustomed to having older people serving younger people, the students take this as a clear indicator that the congregation's love and concern is genuine.

"After a 40 year spell with no conversions in the congregation, in a way it boost their faith," observes Mrs. Chua, "to learn that God is still relevant".