Most Americans have never heard of Macau, and couldn't even begin to locate it on a map. But Macau packs quite a punch in its nine square miles off the southeast coast of China, an hour ferry ride from Hong Kong.
As one of China's two Special Administrative Regions, Macau has been a large beneficiary of China's growing economy. Because it doesn't have the same laws and regulations as Mainland China, including a ban on gambling, it has become one of the hottest gambling hubs in the world. Last year gambling revenues from Macau topped Las Vegas, and this year they should surpass the entire state of Nevada.
Though Macau's flashy casino culture has been making headlines, the casino industry is only a part of the fabric of Macau.
Until 1998, Macau was a Portuguese colony, and much of its older architecture reflects a unique blend of Portuguese and Chinese influences. Local restaurants likewise fuse the two cultures in many of their dishes.
About 80% of Macau’s people are Buddhist or believe in traditional Chinese religions, but Macau also has a rich Christian heritage and thriving Christian community.
While Macau has had many Catholic missionaries, Robert Morrison, the first Protestant missionary to China in 1807, is probably Macau’s best-known missionary. At the humble Morrison Chapel and Protestant Cemetery, there are hundreds of tombstones from men and women, many of whom died just days after getting to China.
Their legacy lives on today in places like Macau Evangelical Church, also known as Sheun Tao Church. It consists of 14 churches in Macau, two in Hong Kong, and one in Taipei. The largest of these has about 800 members.
Many members of the church and its church plants have neighborhood evangelistic outreaches, appealing to diverse groups. When I was in Macau, I attended one of the church's Sunday afternoon outreaches, where about seventy young people met together before going out into the community.
Some donated flyers to the elderly regarding a lecture on stroke prevention, and later that afternoon dozens of senior citizens packed into the church building, receiving potentially life-saving medical information.
Down the road, other youths were handing out packages of materials to the masses boarding shuttles for local casinos. The little packets were well designed for the gambling community, with small dice on the front, but inside they offered brochures for ministries and gambling rehabilitation programs.
Casino-goers eagerly received and looked through the packets, but looking at the numbers, on any given Sunday morning, Macau's casinos are far more packed than its churches. Although Macau’s visitors and locals are far more likely to see the tantalizing casino lights and massive monuments than these humble church buildings, the church members keep a larger perspective.
As we were leaving the church we thanked Celia, one of the church leaders. She simply smiled and said, "We work for God. We work for God."