This interview, which follows up on the previous article by Wang Yea-Hui, gives more insight into her personal situation and ministry. She shares helpful insights for people who are thinking about ministering to people with disabilities as well as for people with disabilities who are thinking about entering Christian ministry.
David Eastwood has served for almost thirty years in Taiwan with OMF International. During that time his ministry has involved Bible teaching, evangelism, and leading church planting teams focused on Taiwan’s working class. David initially trained at All Nations Christian College but has since completed studies with Singapore Bible College and Spurgeon’s College, where the focus of his master’s thesis was “Contextual preaching to the Taiwanese working class.” He is currently the Field Director for OMF Taiwan.
Mission Round Table Vol. 15 no. 2 (May-Aug 2020): 17-19
Interview with Yea-Hui Wang (王雅惠)
David Eastwood provides background information that helps us better appreciate his conversation with Yea-Hui:
Yea-Hui only spent a few years as an OMF missionary in Taiwan. Shortly after her arrival, she had a fall and broke her good leg, which led to her being housebound. Even so, she impressed us all with her determination to exercise and regain her mobility. Yea-Hui demonstrated a deep love for people with disabilities that she and the Good Shepherd Church reached out to in Taichung and in a short time made a big difference to the lives of many both spiritually and practically in providing them with help, advice, and a community for mutual support.
In May 2016 Yea-Hui suffered a stroke which resulted in her being bedbound for many months. As it was not possible for her to continue in her ministry, she left OMF membership though she continues to live in Taiwan. While her health has improved, she no longer has the ability to drive a car or live independently. She continues to minister through Bible studies and one-to-one evangelism.
Holiday on Kinmen Island in June 2015
Can you tell us something about your family background and the situation in which you grew up? What particular challenges did you face? How did you overcome them?
I was born into a large family with two older brothers and two older sisters. My family followed traditional Chinese religions and there was an ancestor shelf in the home, but they were very open-minded and were not opposed to my becoming a Christian. My father was a doctor and the family placed a strong emphasis on education. I was diagnosed with polio when I was one year old. I am grateful to God that my family continued to encourage and support me. Their attitude was very different from that held by many families who have children with polio. Often such children were denied education and not expected to ever do anything other than simple work with their hands.
My disability was not severe, so I was able to go to ordinary school. Every time I left my home I would be teased and mocked by other children because I walked strangely. When I was in the first grade, my mother often visited the school to make sure I was being treated well. I remember often coming home and crying because of the cruelty of the other children. I asked my mother why she gave birth to a child like me. She encouraged me by telling me the story of Helen Keller. I decided that I would study hard and gain my sense of worth from my achievements. I worked hard at academic studies and was able to go to National Cheng Kung University in Tainan where I received a degree in history. I also dreamed of going overseas to study and was encouraged by my parents. I went to the US in 1981 to study for a master’s degree in special education at Azusa Pacific University in Los Angeles.
How did you come to know Jesus and what changes did that bring into your life?
My first introduction to the gospel was while attending a kindergarten at the Taiping Jing Presbyterian Church. I remember participating in nativity plays during which we had to come and worship the baby Jesus. Later, at middle school, a Christian teacher shared the gospel with me and invited me to an evangelistic meeting. I heard the message of a Savior who doesn’t judge or reject us because of outside appearance but who looks at the inside. All my life I had been rejected by people who just looked at the outside of me so when I heard of Jesus who accepted me, loved me, and cared who I was on the inside, I was willing to accept him as my Savior. From that time on, I attended Kang Xi Jie Presbyterian church in Tainan. Both of the Presbyterian churches that I attended had strong links to one of the key pioneer missionaries to Taiwan—Dr. James Laidlaw Maxwell. His story, along with a biography of Dr. James Hudson Taylor, founder of the China Inland Mission, made a deep impression on me as a young Christian.
After I completed my MA studies in the US, I was praying about my future, not sure where I could be most used by God. During a time of prayer and fasting, the invitation of Matthew 6 to “seek first the kingdom of God” came as a challenge to me and led me to apply to Fuller Seminary with no idea of where the funding would come from. God generously supplied the funds needed through cheap accommodation supplied by a Christian from Taiwan, support from the Chinese church in Los Angeles, and a bursary from Fuller. After graduation I joined the staff of the Bread of Life Church in Los Angeles.
Outing to Sun Moon Lake in Central Taiwan in 2014
How did you become a missionary? What kind of work did you do and what results did you see?
After thirty years of study and ministry in the US, I felt the Lord challenging me. I thought of all the blessings I had received from my special upbringing in Taiwan and of the needs of people with disabilities like myself who lived there. It was so much easier to live with disabilities in the US. I felt a burden to return to Taiwan and help people with disabilities who live there. I went to Taiwan as a missionary with OMF in 2012 and developed a partnership with a local church that was already involved in community outreach. We started classes within the church that were sponsored by the local government, to give people with disabilities a place to come and learn some simple handicrafts and also learn about the Bible.
Many with disabilities, especially those from working-class backgrounds, rarely leave their homes. We created a small community which was a place of support and fellowship for our contacts. In addition, we arranged outings and even a holiday for some of our contacts. This included organizing coaches and even boats that were adapted for wheelchair users and finding enough volunteers to ensure that every person was cared for. In some cases, these outings were the first time these contacts had been away from home on a long trip in many years. A short holiday to Kinmen Island off the coast of China gave many attendees their first chance to ride on an airplane and the first time to attend evening Bible studies and prayer times.
What were some of the most challenging things you faced in your ministry? What were some of the most rewarding things you experienced?
For me the biggest challenge of my time in this ministry was that of adjusting to the life of having a disability in Taiwan after so many years in the US. Practical issues like transport took up a lot of time. In the US, I was able to drive a specially adapted car. I had the same type of car in Taiwan but often found that even the disabled parking spots were not usable for someone who found getting in and out of a car difficult. Outside the home, it was often difficult to find a toilet that I could use. However, perhaps even harder to adjust to was the attitude of people. In the States, I was generally respected as someone who had worked hard to overcome a disability and do an ordinary job of a church worker. In Taiwan I felt people often only saw my disability.
One of the most rewarding things during any ministry is seeing someone come to the Lord. In one case, a teacher who, like myself, was disabled from polio, brought me particular joy. This man is often asked to speak on educational issues relating to people with disabilities and I feel that, in bringing him to the Lord, I was like Barnabas finding Paul and bringing him to Antioch to help with the ministry.
What would you like to say to others who are thinking about ministering to people with disabilities? What would you like to say to people with disabilities who are thinking about entering Christian ministry?
It is not an easy thing to consider the challenge of ministry to the disabled, especially if you are yourself disabled. You need to be brave and not be afraid. God will give you opportunities and will give you co-workers. God’s grace will be with you even in the most difficult times. Those who are themselves disabled and considering work as a missionary need to prepare their hearts because people may look at you differently than they did in your home country and treat you differently than they treat other missionaries.
It is also possible that people with disabilities in the country where you go to serve may not accept you at first. They may have taken on board the values of the society they were raised in so that they lack a sense of self-worth and similarly reject other disabled people. Missionaries with disabilities have to deal with a double cross-cultural challenge as they adjust to both the culture of the country they minister in and the culture of disabled people in that country.
OMF Taiwan would love to receive more workers like Yea-Hui with a heart for reaching out to Taiwan’s physically and mentally disabled and the families that support them. While provisions for such families within the society have been improving, it is often the more educated, middle- and upper-class families that can take advantage of what the government provides. Our field focus on working class and marginalized people makes us very aware of how much the gospel and practical help are needed to change the lives of those who are often not valued even by their own families. A similar need can probably be found in every country in which OMF workers are ministering.