Macao—A Record of Endurance
AS THE oldest Western settlement on the China coast, Macao has endured for well over 400 years. But in this land of contrasts, another kind of endurance is seen—an endurance that leads to hope.—Romans 5:3, 4.
Shortly after Columbus discovered America, Portuguese explorer Jorge Alvares came to this small one-mile by three-mile peninsula at the mouth of the Pearl River. Realizing its importance as a gateway to the famed Cathay of Marco Polo’s travels, Portugal secured its possession of Macao by signing a treaty with China in 1557. It soon became the busiest trading post in the Far East.
Its Religious Life
It has been said that the Catholic Church was only a half step behind the explorers and traders. By the time Macao became important commercially, it had also become “the head of Christendom in the East.” During its “golden age,” the diocese of Macao exercised jurisdiction over the church’s interests in all of China and Japan. Today, the majority of Macao’s residents, being Chinese, follow no particular religion, other than perhaps the traditional Chinese customs associated with ancestor worship or with Buddhism. They make a great showing at weddings and funerals and on holidays.
It is a paradox, however, that this “head of Christendom in the East” actually derived its name from that of an Oriental deity. The Catholic Encyclopedia tells us that the Portuguese name Macau “is supposed to be of Chinese origin, compounded of Ma, the name of a local divinity, and gau, ‘harbour.’” Indeed, A-Ma is traditionally the name of a Chinese goddess of sailors and fishermen, and her shrine is the Ma Kwok temple. In an attempt to Christianize it, the Portuguese used the official name “A Cidade do Santo Nome de Deus de Macau”—A City of the Holy Name of God of Macao.
If any god can be called the “God of Macao” today, it would probably be the god of “Good Luck.” It has been said that Macao boasts more churches than Vatican City and more gaming tables than Monte Carlo. In addition to the casinos with their wide assortment of Chinese and Western games, there are jai alai, horse trotting, greyhound racing and the annual Macao Grand Prix auto and motorcycle races. They attract gamblers from all over the world, and they keep Macao alive financially, greatly affecting, if not dominating, its way of life.
How True Religion Came to Macao
It was not until 1961 that a glimmer of light about the true God began to shine in this “City of the Holy Name of God.” This was the beginning of a more important record of endurance.
A lone witness of Jehovah from Portugal came to Macao with her husband, who was in the armed forces. Her efforts at preaching among the Portuguese-speaking people did not meet with much success, and new “friends” soon avoided her. The one person who showed interest and started studying the Bible did not speak Portuguese, and progress was slow. Soon, however, the sister’s husband was transferred out of Macao, and no one was left to carry on the preaching work.
Because of their proximity, Macao allows Chinese residents of Hong Kong to come and go without any special visas or permits. So, in February 1963, two Chinese special pioneers (full-time preachers) came over from Hong Kong to reopen the Kingdom-preaching work, especially among the predominantly Cantonese-speaking population. Though this was “virgin territory,” the message about the true God and his heavenly Kingdom government did not receive a hearty welcome. Most people were just too busy and too burdened with trying to make ends meet to take an interest in spiritual things. Nevertheless, an interested family from Indonesia was contacted. By means of a mixture of Cantonese, English and Indonesian, eventually the older boy, Johnnie, and his sister Shirley did accept the Bible’s truth. Now Shirley and her husband, who came from Hong Kong in 1975, also serve as special pioneers in Macao.
Though two proclaimers of the good news resulted fairly soon from the initial witnessing in Macao, the years that followed proved to be ones that called for unusual endurance. Tests and discouragement were to come from many directions. Between 1963 and 1968, nine special pioneers were sent to Macao, but by August 1968, only one remained to help the small group, then numbering five. What had happened?
Pressures From Many Sides
Since there was just a small isolated group of Witnesses in Macao, only shortened versions of the weekly meetings were held. Response to the Kingdom message was slow, as was the pace of life. This caused some of those who came to help to become discouraged, if not homesick. So they returned to Hong Kong. Others left for personal reasons.
One day in 1965, the Portuguese secret police in Macao appeared unexpectedly at a Witness family’s home where a Bible meeting was in progress. They confiscated all the Bibles and Bible literature and warned everyone about attending such meetings. Because the work of Jehovah’s Witnesses was banned in Portugal at that time, the Macao authorities arrested and deported two special pioneer sisters. Needless to say, this was quite a blow to the small group of new ones who had begun to serve Jehovah.
Still, the few Witnesses remained firm. A few months later, other special pioneers arrived to work with the brothers and encourage them. Caution required that they concentrate their preaching work in the Chinese territory entirely so as not to arouse opposition again. But more tests of endurance yet lay ahead.
In 1966 unrest in mainland China was strongly felt in Macao. Riots and other pressures were brought to bear on the Macao Portuguese government for recognition of Chinese demands and sovereignty. It then became imperative for the Witnesses to avoid not only Portuguese territory but also any area with strong communist leanings in order to avoid mob harassment or even more serious predicaments. Sometimes, however, the pioneers would unexpectedly find themselves confronted by groups of menacing and fanatical people. Silent prayers and alertness provided the escape in many such close calls.
Since then, things have subsided considerably. That, along with official recognition of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Portugal, meant that the few Witnesses in Macao could carry on their work with little interference from either the Chinese or the Portuguese authorities.
Job and housing shortages, due to the influx of refugees and other immigrants, posed another obstacle for the Witnesses. Competing for what work there is, most people work many hours at meager wages, with perhaps only two days off per month. Rents are so inflated that a tiny room or even just a bunk-bed space in an apartment would eat up most of their income. It is easy to see why many find it difficult to act on what they have learned from the Bible.—Matthew 6:33; 13:22.
Because of this, progress has been slow. Over the years some who have accepted the truth have had to move away, while others have fallen victim to the pressures and temptations of this system of things. Thus, even today, there are only 11 proclaimers of the good news associated with the one congregation in Macao. Yet there is a fine, happy and positive spirit, and the brothers are not discouraged. Visits by traveling overseers from Hong Kong and attendance at circuit and district assemblies there are highlights that the few publishers find most faith strengthening.
In August 1979 a missionary couple from Portugal came to Macao to work with the congregation. This has proved to be a great blessing. For not only have they been able to give a thorough witness to the Portuguese community but they are also learning Cantonese to work among the Chinese population.
This, however, has not gone unnoticed by the Catholic Church. Warnings about the “poison” of Jehovah’s Witnesses appeared in church publications, and Catholics were advised not to talk to the missionaries unless they were “prepared.” But such warnings have had just the opposite effect. They opened up many opportunities for interesting conversations, and people who in the past showed no interest asked for Bible discussions.
Recently, the Society purchased a missionary home to serve as living quarters for the missionary couple and a special pioneer. The “spacious” living room also serves as a fine Kingdom Hall. In March 1983, 38 persons were present to observe the Memorial of Christ’s death. To help these interested ones on a regular basis, all meetings are held in the evenings because many of them have to work seven days a week. About 20 come to the public Bible lecture each week; many of them also attend the other meetings. The few brothers faithfully prepare all the meeting parts week in and week out without a word of complaint. What a fine example of endurance!
Over the past 20 years or so, many, many hours have been spent in placing tens of thousands of pieces of Bible literature in the hands of Macao residents, both Portuguese and Chinese. Though the increase has been small numerically, the few, faithful Witnesses here continue to build a fine record of endurance. They remember Jehovah’s words to Ezekiel: “You must speak my words to them, regardless of whether they hear or they refrain.” (Ezekiel 2:7) This they are doing, and will continue to do, to Jehovah’s praise.
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