Good News to the Diaspora: Jonathan and Ruth Teo

August 19, 2021 | 10 minute read
The Alliance Canada

A silhouette of people at a construction site. There is a crane.

Our Early Days

Ruth:

I had an unhappy childhood in Malaysia. I was unloved when I was young. My only wish was to run away from home. Death frightened me, and I thought no one would know I existed if I died. I longed to be remembered.

One day in junior high, I found a gospel leaflet on the ground where the very last page was an application form for a Bible correspondence course. Out of curiosity, I completed several of these courses. Through this, I gained basic knowledge of the Bible, but no one told me how to accept the Lord.

Five years later, while walking miserably down the street, I saw a sign outside a church that enticed me to join a worship meeting. The message preached there has been forgotten, but I do remember the tears would not stop rolling down my face. I knew I had found the answer I was looking for. At this point, I turned to the Lord and, in doing so, resolved three doubts continually plaguing me: I am loved by Christ, I don’t have to prove myself to be recognized, and after death, there is eternal life.

I am a first-generation Christian in a family composed of atheists. From my experiences, it was obvious there is a strong contrast between life before and after Christ; it is the difference between darkness and light, living in sin and pursuing holiness, fear and trust, carrying my burdens and letting Jesus take them. I decided the most meaningful thing I could do with my life was help others believe in the Lord as early as possible so they could live a joyful life walking with Him. “Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love, that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days” (Psalm 90:14).

My family strongly opposed my belief in the Lord, but I chose to believe. After attending no more than five church services, I decided to study theology. I knew my family would stop me from going, so I signed up in secret. One day, when my family was out, I ran away from home and went to Singapore Bible College. I had made up my mind. I knew I had to decide my own path for life.

With only forty cents in my pocket, I arrived at the college; I had no idea how I would finish a four-year program. Through His provision, the God who sent the crow to supply Elijah with sustenance to survive provided unknown  “crows” to meet all my needs. This is how I started to practice the lesson of faith. After graduation, I served full-time at the Singapore Life Church as an associate pastor for nine years. In His timing, my family members turned from atheism and came to the Lord one after the other, some of whom dedicated their lives to serve the Lord.

 

Jonathan:

I also had an unhappy childhood where I ran away from home at the age of twelve. In Singapore, every eighteen-year-old male is required to serve in the National Service. I was not used to a life of military-level discipline and wanted to escape. Instead of going AWOL (absent without leave) and getting arrested, I found my only escape during the ten days of annual leave. Some Christian friends invited me to a gospel retreat, a foreign environment to me, where they called each other “brothers and sisters” and prayed for one another. It all seemed very strange to me.

I left before the end of the first day, having an idea of the God about whom they talked. I prayed this unknown God would find a way for me to get out of the Army while not expecting anything to happen. Back at the barracks, I discovered a new program posted to a notice board from the Ministry of Defence; it offered an opportunity to legally leave the National Service and apply for academic study. I applied for the program, was accepted, and was discharged by the tenth day of my annual leave! To my knowledge, this program had never been offered before, nor was it ever offered again. The God I had just learned about answered my prayer in a way I never expected, only nine days after I threw a prayer in the air. Two years into the program, I accepted the Lord. After graduating, I worked for three years in the same department, the Ministry of Defence, through which the Lord answered my original prayer.

After choosing to follow Jesus, I was excited to tell others about Him. I organized evangelistic meetings, joined short-term mission teams, and served in the church; still, I felt ill-equipped to lead these ministries. I know the Lord led me to my job at the Ministry of Defence, but I felt a stronger urge to serve the Lord full time rather than remain in the position.

___________

Our Calling

In 1993 we went with a short-term mission team to China, where God brought us to a town with an ethnic minority population. We took a three-hour car ride to the bottom of a mountain, and, with the help of some locals, we climbed to our destination up a pathless slope. At times, a misstep would have certainly risked death down impossibly steep cliffs.

As we neared our destination, we noticed a lone, bare, tall tree towering near the peak. I curiously asked the brother who led the climb, “This tree looks unusual. Why is it there?”

He responded, “Over one hundred years ago, a western gospel messenger came here. In the beginning, no one believed in Christ, but later, village after village came to the Lord, and churches were established. This tree was planted so that people from all around would know the location of the church. This gospel messenger is buried here.”

We can only cherish the memory of this pioneer who left his home country and came to these barren mountains, where even the Chinese were unwilling to venture. He came to spread the Gospel to people unrelated to him. We were moved by what we saw and heard and were in awe of the legacy he left behind. Standing below the tree, we prayed together, “Lord, we are willing. No matter where you send us, we are willing to go. No matter how remote, how dangerous a place may be, we will go. To the least-reached people, or to the most challenging circumstance, we will go. We have seen the example of this self-denying, courageous gospel messenger, and we are willing to do the same.”

Following the trip, 2 Corinthians 5:14-15 rang in our hearts, “For Christ’s love compels us…that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.” There is a saying, “Do not go where the path may lead; go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.” This lingering urge pushed us to leave our familiar environment and venture to an unknown future beyond the horizon.

__________

Ministry Among Chinese Construction Workers and Scholars

The Chinese ministry in Israel is nothing short of a miracle. In the years leading up to our arrival, a local elder, without knowing the thousands of Chinese that would come over the next few years, purchased ten thousand Chinese Bibles at a discount due to a wrong cover colour. God was preparing the way for us!

At the beginning of the ministry, finding the workers was like a treasure hunt. We would drive down the road searching for a “cross” (a construction crane) in the sky and would stop to ask if there were Chinese workers on site. If they were open to visitors, we would start a weekly Bible study with them. Our van was equipped like a mobile church, including Bibles, Christian literature, a projector, screen, and audio gear to show the JESUS film. We met in unconventional places such as unfinished construction sites, cafeterias, rented apartments, or even in their living quarters which were, in fact, converted shipping containers. We visited sites every night of the week and all-day Saturday to reach as many workers as possible. They were starved for interaction; their hearts were of good soil, ready for the seeds of the Gospel. Thousands of them accepted the Lord in this challenging and lonely time of their lives, and over one thousand were baptized.

At the same time, there was also an influx of Chinese scholars who came to Israel with their families to pursue their studies and conduct research in Israeli universities. We rented a house near a prominent campus to be close to them. We would bag our lunches, join them in their cafeterias, or join in their activities like volleyball or soccer to reach out to them. As relationships grew, many came to study the Bible, and again, by God’s grace, many became believers and were baptized.

A home church is essential for all believers. It is a place for worship, discipleship, fellowship, ministry, and mission. During the ministry, we planted two churches, one for the workers in Tel Aviv and one for the scholars near the university campus. These churches served as spiritual homes and community centres with a library where people could learn Hebrew, play ping-pong, discuss current affairs, sing karaoke, and of course, share a meal. It was a place to celebrate Chinese New Year, the Mid-Autumn festival, and other Christian and Jewish holidays. In Israel, Saturday is observed as the Sabbath, a day of rest in accordance with the fifth commandment. This regular practice gave the Chinese a chance to come to church consistently. After a few years, more than twenty thousand Chinese workers came to Israel. At one point, the Tel Aviv church held three services every Saturday with a total of around two hundred worshipers.

For many, it is only a dream to be baptized in the Jordan River, but we are so blessed it was a reality for us. With so many interesting biblical sites to visit, the chance to experience the Gospel was too good an opportunity to pass up. The baptism trips turned into Holy Land tours, including Galilee, Nazareth, Bethlehem, Jericho, Jerusalem, and more. At its peak, we shuttled ten busloads of five hundred and forty people to tour around different holy sites, including climbing Masada and floating in the Dead Sea. Everyone enjoyed the experience, and many of them came to the Lord having walked where Jesus walked.

Over the years, we collected four big storage boxes filled with the written life-changing testimonies of the baptized brothers and sisters. Workers and scholars came to Israel to earn money and do research; however, many said their most significant gain was accepting Jesus and being baptized in the Jordan River.

Chinese New Year was the best time to reach out to the Chinese, especially construction workers. It was during this holiday the workers missed their families most since they were alone in the country. We planned activities, games, skits, Kung Fu demonstrations, and shared the Gospel. This celebratory festival drew out thousands from every corner in Israel. In 2002, we hoped for one thousand people, and the Lord blessed us with over two thousand in attendance. Hundreds could not make it through the doors for lack of venue capacity and overflowed into the streets. In 2003, thirty-two hundred were in attendance, and over four hundred came to the Lord. A Jewish pastor noted it may be the largest evangelistic meeting in Israel after the Pentecost; never did he imagine it would be hosted by the Chinese.

We encouraged the believers who returned to China to keep in touch with each other so they could transition back home into a local church. Later on, we had the opportunity to go to China to visit with some of the brothers and sisters who became believers in Israel. It made us incredibly happy to see them and their families; many not only continued to follow the Lord but also led their entire families to Christ. Changed by the Gospel, they became better husbands, fathers, sons, brothers, and blessings to the local church. Some brothers created blogs to share the good news, others became full-time preachers, and others even built buildings as a meeting place for worship. In Israel, some brothers invited us to their living space in a shipping container and treated us to their afforded diet of five hard-boiled eggs. Out of gratitude for introducing them to the Lord, these same brothers insisted on putting us up in the five-star hotel when we visited them in China.

There’s a saying, “Where the sun shines, there are Chinese people shedding sweat. Where the moon shines, there are Chinese people shedding tears.” Among the migrant workers and the hard-working scholars, all of them had personal difficulties which they did not want to share with others. Our prayer, not only for the Chinese people, is “Where the sun shines, may there be messengers of the Gospel. Where the moon shines, may there be songs of praise.” In journeying together through tears of loneliness, hardships, and the joy of salvation, many of us have become lifelong friends. Psalm 126:5 says, “Those who sow with tears will reap with songs of joy.” The days in Israel have been a highlight for many of our lives.

Many short-term mission teams visited over the years. Their contributions of prayers, participation, and resources helped sustain the ministry over time; we are eternally grateful. After coming to minister alongside us, one brother donated one year’s worth of rent for the Tel Aviv church. One sister brought fabric from her home country to sew curtains for the church building. Another brother sent us eight thousand Christian music cassette tapes for distribution. Because of donations like this, we could distribute thousands of Bibles, music and preaching cassettes, and printed thousands of Bible study materials. Through all contributions, both large and small, the Lord blessed the ministry by bringing partners every step of the way.

__________

A Life in Ministry

As the ministry evolved, we had the opportunity to work and serve in three other countries along the Silk Road. In 2004, I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease. In 2012 we returned to Canada, where I underwent deep brain stimulation surgery. Following this operation, my voice became very soft, and I could no longer preach by 2016.

Despite my health situation, we continued to look for ways to serve. We started the Dedicator’s Fellowship, a fellowship to provide mentorship and encouragement to brothers and sisters seeking to dedicate themselves to serving God in full-time ministry. We organized an event known as the “Life Game” to raise up workers for the Kingdom. Our greatest joy is to see people coming to the Lord, growing in the Lord, and serving Him in different ways. In 2017, we published a book called “Love Beyond the Horizon: The Chinese in Israel’’ where we talk about God’s work in the lives of Chinese in Israel.

We thank the brothers and sisters who continued to care for and pray for our children in our absence. Daniel (Grade eight) and Joyce (Grade six) attended a boarding school in Germany and returned to Canada for university while we were working overseas. Daniel, with his wife Emily and children Lucas and Madeleine, and Joyce with her husband Andrew and children Hannah, Stephanie, and Benjamin, love and follow the Lord. We love all of them very much. May God continue to guide and protect them.

We thank God for His mercy and grace and praise Him for how He designed the Body of Christ to care for, pray over, and support His diaspora ministry. We are humbled God can use ordinary people from non-Christian backgrounds like us to be His servants. “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit―fruit that will last―” (John 15:16). God compelled our hearts to leave what was familiar and build a church in a far-away land where there was no church; we obeyed and went, and the rest is history. We are glad we went. Whether you work in full-time ministry or in the marketplace, listen to His whisper. When God calls you, step out of your comfort zone and go, your life will never be the same again.

Diaspora Ministry

Luke 7:22 says, “So he (Jesus) replied to the messengers, “Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor….”

The good news is proclaimed to the poor and goes out to the diaspora. These people are all around us. Jesus has not forgotten them, and He loves them. A diaspora ministry may not have a considerable return for the time being due to the nomadic nature of their situations, but it is definitely worth the investment. After becoming believers, those impacted by diaspora ministries spread the Gospel to the people around them and their home countries. The impact is profound. In Missiology, this is called the Reverse Mission.

A diaspora ministry can fall within a specific window of opportunity during which people are more receptive due to particular circumstances. We need to be aware of these openings, catch the wave and take advantage when they are presented. We need more gospel messengers with creative, flexible, and committed spirits, willing to take the risk, pay the price, and reap the harvest for the Second Coming of Christ.

The history of the Church is like a symphony. God is the composer and conductor; we are merely one of the musical instruments. Let us play our music beautifully and in time.

This is an excerpt from the book, On Mission Volume 2. Download your free copy today.

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