By Gavin Drake
Anglican Communion News Service
The Most Rev. Ng Moon Hing’s election as Archbishop of South East Asia could not have been anticipated when he was born into a family of Buddhists and Taoists. At age 20 he became the first person of his family to convert to Christianity.
“I was brought by friends to a church and there I was convicted and found Christ,” Archbishop Moon Hing told ACNS. “It was difficult at the beginning because my parents were very against it. None of my family were Christian and I had to journey alone in those early days.
“A couple of years down the road I graduated from the university and I worked for a number of years as a civil engineer. And then I received a call. Actually, I received the call before I graduated, so the call carried on until I realized the time is right. So I quit the job and entered into ministry.”
After a few years of theological training he was ordained at age 30. After serving his curacy he was sent to serve St. Peter’s Church in Ipoh and remained there for the next 20 years. In 2007 he was appointed Bishop of West Malaysia.
In September, Hing was elected archbishop of the province in succession to the Bishop of Kuching, the Rt. Rev. Bolly Lapok. He was installed Feb. 22 during a service in St. Mary’s Cathedral in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
But the province is much bigger than this, extending into Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Nepal, Thailand, and Vietnam, which are countrywide missionary deaneries. Legally, these missionary deaneries are part of the Diocese of Singapore, but for all practical purposes they are deaneries of the whole province and the province is engaged in missionary activity with them.
“Our aim is that every one of these countries will have a diocese by themselves,” the archbishop said. “They are very fast-growing in all these places. The fastest-growing is Nepal, and even after the earthquake it is growing faster than beyond our expectation. Now they range about 10,000 members going to church every Sunday.”
All of this is taking place in a region where Christians are in a minority. The population of the Province of South East Asia is around 500 million, and not more than 1 percent is Christian. “ In every one of these countries we are a minority and so we work very sensitively,” Archbishop Moon Hing said. “And the people look at Christianity as a foreign religion — a religion of the white people.”
The province uses two main approaches to its evangelism: its main focus is on friendship evangelism, but it also does evangelism through education, schools, and social ministry. While the way this is done varies throughout the missionary deaneries, the common focus is on education and teaching the English language.
In Vietnam, the province has established a number of tuition centers to teach English and runs two-week stays for high school or university students at the church compound in Singapore, where the participants will use English. “It fills up very quickly. People are lining up to come,” the archbishop said.
In Cambodia, the Province has established the Khmer [pronounced Cam-igh] Hope Center, providing two years of free education in to train people to work in in hotels, embassies, or big corporations. It also teaches people to make palm sugar. “A lot of people grow palms but they don’t know what to do with it,” Archbishop Moon Hing said. “We teach them how to make palm sugar and export it.”
In Laos, the province established ARDA, the Anglican Relief and Development Agency, as a relief and development center. But it soon abandoned all but teaching English. It now offers teaching from primary to secondary school and for adults. It is so successful that the government sends its officers to ARDA to learn English. The government has asked the province to expand the work of ARDA to two further cities.
In Thailand, the province established Salem homes to provide accommodation for families of people staying in hospital who could not afford hotel costs to visit them. In the houses, Bible study and evangelism occur every other night. There are a large number of Anglican churches in Thailand, and construction is underway on a building that will become a diocesan center once the deanery is reconstituted as a diocese.
In Indonesia, the province runs a microfinance program offering grants of less than £100 to help people start their own businesses.
In Nepal, the province runs children’s centers and children’s homes and is actively involved in reconstruction and support after earthquakes in April and May 2015.
Missionaries are still welcome in the province, but to work in teaching and education roles rather than church leadership. Missionaries today in South East Asia are only to be found in the missionary deaneries. There are 15 of them in Laos, mainly from Britain, Australia and New Zealand, but also from Malaysia and Singapore.
And they serve a useful purpose: “non-Christians are looking at [the church] as a foreign religion, so they are slow to come in,” Archbishop Moon Hing said. “But because English is the main thing in the whole of our region, if they want to learn English they want to learn it from white faces.”
As he takes on the leadership of the Province of South East Asia, Archbishop Moon Hing says his focus will be on church, politics, and manpower.
For the church, he wants to speed up the process of creating new dioceses in the missionary deanery countries. He said that most of them, apart from Laos and Vietnam, are “growing quite fast” and he wants to establish a timetable for creating dioceses.
“The difficulty we have is that we don’t have the money yet,” he said. “We have the people, we have the church, but we don’t have the finance to help them run. Transport will cost a lot; they are too far to meet each other. They don’t have cars, like us, so everything is money.
“Nepal is 10,000 members, yet we cannot create a diocese because we have to put in a lot of infrastructure like diocesan centers and operations centers to help them to carry on the mission work without us. This work must carry on.”
On the political side, the archbishop points out that the region is “facing great political instability.” He cites countries like Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam, which “have not come out of their shell” after the turmoil of the Pol Pot regime; to Nepal, which “changes government like changing clothes”; and to Indonesia and Malaysia, which face challenges from Islam.
“On the political side we are seeing a lot of instability,” the archbishop said. “We want to train and disciple the people so that in the event of any changes, their faith in Christ will not change [and that], whether the country is doing well or doing badly, they will stick onto Jesus Christ and hold onto him tightly. So we need to intentionally train and help them to become disciples.”
And on the issue of manpower, the Archbishop is blunt: “We don’t want this generation to do lots of things and the next generation to know nothing at all.” He explained that when he became Bishop of West Malaysia he realized that the age profile of his clergy meant that he would lose half of them through retirement by 2020.
“So if I don’t intentionally develop more people we are going to face a manpower shortage,” he said. “Over the past nine years I have developed, trained, and equipped many more to come into the ministry. Every year I ordained more than 10 people because I actively developed, trained, and equipped them and also encouraged them to give their lives to God.”
He said that similar numbers were being ordained in Sabah and Singapore and that people were also being ordained in the deanery countries, although in smaller numbers.
For Moon Hing, the transformation from a Buddhist teenager to the Anglican Archbishop of South East Asia began as a “lonely journey.” But he is no longer the only Christian in his family. On his father’s side he has three uncles and an aunt. Three of the four are now Christians, as are their families.
Moon Hing was one of 11 siblings. Of his 10 brothers and sisters, eight have become Christians, as have their families. His father died as a non-Christian, but his mother, who had been against his conversion, has converted. “When my mum became a Christian I baptized her myself,” Archbishop Moon Hing said. “Some 70 or 80 percent of the whole family are Christians now but we still have 20 to 30 percent to work on.”
He said there is a lot of joy in his family at his new role. “Everybody is excited. But they don’t know what the archbishop is all about,” he joked.
“I am very happy and very glad to be involved in this era, this time. As archbishop I will want to see the growth to carry on, if not faster, in order to catch up and prepare ourselves for the worst to come. We do not know what will happen, but extremism is coming our way. Too many extreme things are coming.”