Macau (also spelled Macao), a Special Administrative Region (SAR) of China, was formerly an overseas territory of Portugal and a major trading port. It is on the south coast of China, on the Pearl River estuary.

Population and Religion
18753 per km2
  • 93.6% ethnically Chinese (largely Cantonese speakers)
  • 2.4% Macanese (Eurasian)
  • 4.0% Other (Portuguese, Filipino, Thai, Russian, other)
Chinese Religions 62.0%
Buddhist 17.1%
Non-Religious 14.9%
Christian 5.3% (Roman Catholic 3.1%, Protestant 2.2%)
Baha’i 0.5%
Muslim 0.1%

There is no state religion.

Language, Geography, and Climate


Cantonese is spoken by nearly 90 percent of the population. Dialects and other Chinese languages, such as Mandarin and Hokkien, are also spoken. Portuguese is an official language, and Macanese or Patuá, a creole based on Portuguese, Malay, Indian, and other languages, was used by the Macanese (people of mixed Portuguese and Asian heritage). Now, with the Macanese reduced to one percent of all inhabitants, it is the mother tongue of just a handful of citizens.


Macau covers just more than eight square miles. It is made up of a peninsula and two islands 64 kilometers west of Hong Kong. They are joined to each other by a causeway and bridges.

Its border with the Chinese province of Guangdong is marked by the massive Barrier Gate (or “Border Gate”) erected by the Portuguese in 1849. It is connected by ferry to Guangzhou and Hong Kong. An airport was opened in 1995, and the islands are being developed, but many parts are rural and peaceful.

Macau is a free port, so all vessels may load or unload there without paying import duties.


Macau has a subtropical climate, with a monsoon season from June to August and a typhoon season from May to November. The winters are cool and the summers warm. Annual temperatures average 20°C (68°F).


Macau was Europe’s first and last colonial possession in East Asia. It was established as a trading colony in 1557, after Portuguese navigators first landed in the early 1500s.

But they were not the first to use it as a commercial port. During the Ming Dynasty (1368–1643), fishermen moved to Macau and the area began to be established as a trading centre for southern China. The early settlers built a temple to the Daoist sea goddess, Matsu or A-Ma, from which it is thought the name Macau may originate.

In the hands of Europeans, Macau was transformed, and it was an asset to the Portuguese empire. Ownership enabled Portugal to increase trade with China, Japan, India, Southeast Asia, and Mexico. It also led to Macau becoming the East Asian seat of Roman Catholicism, with its bishops controlling missions from Goa to the Moluccas and Japan.

But Portuguese colonial and trading power declined from the mid-1600s, and Macau struggled as Japan ceased trading with the outside world and the Dutch took Malacca.

For much of the 18th and 19th centuries, Macau was the main European trading post in Asia for the next 80 years. However, in 1841 the British took Hong Kong, and Macau’s importance in world trade began to wane. As Macau lost its pre-eminence in Chinese trade, it began to gain a reputation for smuggling and gambling.

Portugal quietly handed Macau over to China in December 1999. Macau is now a SAR of the People’s Republic of China and follows the principle of “one country, two systems,” a similar status to that of Hong Kong. Macau is overseen by a committee of politicians and businessmen who are approved by Beijing.

The economy is dependent on tourism, including its long history as a gambling centre, although older, traditional gambling dens are giving way to larger casinos and hotels. Gambling revenues in Macau now surpass those of Las Vegas.


During Macau’s Catholic heyday, missionaries trained there and Catholic literature was published. Peninsular Macau was said to have more churches per square mile than Vatican City.

Today the Catholic population has dwindled to three percent of the total. Many old churches remain, as much as tourist attractions as places of worship. The best known, St. Paul’s Cathedral, has been described by historians as the finest monument to Christianity in the Far East. Most of the cathedral burned to the ground in 1835, but the façade remains and was restored by the Portuguese in the 1990s.

Macau is also famous for the first Protestant missions to China. The first Chinese convert was baptized in Macau and Robert Morrison, the first missionary to China, translated the first Chinese Bible there. When he died in 1834, he was buried in the city’s Old Protestant Cemetery. The evangelical population in Macau has always been small and growth has generally been slow, although it doubled in size between 1990 and 2000.

According to Operation World, Macau is one of the least-discipled communities of Chinese in the world. Training for local leaders is essential to help the church survive.

Strategic Focus and Opportunities

Strategic Focus

Missionary work is still permitted in Macau under Chinese rule and OMF International continues to have a base there. OMF International – Macau was officially registered in 1996. Work has included prison ministry, hospital chaplaincy, evangelism, discipleship and church planting, Sunday school teaching, and English teaching. At present a small number of missionaries work in evangelism, discipleship, lecturing in the Macau Bible Institute and English teaching.

Challenges include:

  • Meeting felt needs among casino workers who work rotating shifts.
  • Reaching out to restaurant and hotel workers who are another group with shift work. English teaching presents a way to reach out to them.
  • Finding ways to befriend tertiary/university students from mainland China. There is potential ministry using English and small groups to foster friendship.
  • Building and strengthening the small, struggling local churches and believers.
  • Sowing gospel seeds among domestic helpers (especially Vietnamese). There is a need for Christian Vietnamese to teach the Bible to them.


  • Long-term work in all aspects of church life.
  • Short-term English teaching.
How to Pray
  • Pray for those involved in the gambling industry, which employs 40 percent of the workforce in more than 40 casinos. This presents a tremendous challenge to the Macau church in terms of effective outreach as well as discipleship.
  • Pray that Christians would work together, presenting a unified witness; pray for trust in ongoing relationships.
  • There has been an influx of missionaries from Hong Kong and other lands, most being involved in evangelism, discipleship, church planting, drug addiction rehabilitation and Bible teaching. Pray for their effectiveness in Macau.
  • The evangelical Christian population doubled between 1990 and 2000. Give thanks for this growth.
  • Pray for God’s blessing on all evangelistic and discipleship ministries.
  • Many mainland Chinese have moved to Macau. Pray that church-planting movements within the region will spread to Mainland China.
  • Pray for effective witness from short-term teams visiting in the summer.

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