Hannah Lau: Spreading the Gospel amidst 16-hour work days
by Tan Huey Ying // March 4, 2019, 7:36 pm
Hannah left for China four days after graduating from university in Canada where she was born and raised. She worked in China for over four years in Dalian, Shanghai and Beijing, where she was in advertising. All photos courtesy of Hannah Lau.
Shanghai, China: It was 3 am when Hannah Lau finally left her office in a cab. She was tired but very much at peace.
Work in an advertising agency was intense and often entailed toiling into the wee hours. However, an hour earlier, Lau had just shared the Gospel with a colleague. Reflecting on their conversation in the cab, Lau felt pleased.
But she suddenly straightened in shock.
“I forgot to tell her that Jesus resurrected!”
Preach the whole Gospel
It had been just another late-night office conversation between Lau and her colleague, Wang*.
Wang was new to the industry while Lau had already cut her teeth in it. When Wang joined Lau’s team, Lau intentionally took time to teach and show her the ropes.
Lau even got to know Wang’s then-boyfriend. After she found out that the young couple wanted to learn English, she spent time giving them English lessons. Soon, the trio became good friends and would sometimes hang out on the weekends.
“I should tell her the Gospel now. Here. In the office. In China.”
In the office, Lau and Wang had many heart-to-heart talks during the long nights spent working together.
That night, their talk had broached the sober topic of life’s troubles. This time, however, Lau felt a strong prompting: “I should tell her the Gospel now. Here. In the office. In China.”
So, she did.
An opportunity to speak of Christ and a God who loves us in our troubles had presented itself and she had taken it.
Lau was satisfied.
Until the realisation of her mistake hit home.
“I was mortified! Needless to say, I didn’t sleep very well that night.”
After a restless night – spent in repentance and prayer, Lau said, only half in jest – Lau caught Wang at the elevators in the office the next morning, apologised and filled in the gaps of the Gospel story.
That Christmas, Lau gave Wang a calendar that was shaped like Noah’s ark. On it, were Bible verses about God’s love and care in the storms of life.
A Canadian in China
Hannah Lau is a born-and-bred Canadian Chinese with a degree in business and marketing. She heard the call of marketplace missions even before she graduated from university. China was on her heart; but was she called to it?
“China was my mission field. Some people dig wells, I was digging project plans.”
She had never even been to China. Let alone work there.
Four days after she graduated from university, Lau left Canada and moved to Dalian, China.
Fast forward a year later and Lau was certain she was in the right country albeit in the wrong job. Her business role in an IT company was a poor fit. A creative at heart, Lau explained: “I am fascinated with ideas. I wanted to go to where the ideas are born, not where they were used.
“All I knew was that ad agencies came up with the ideas and their clients implemented them. The factory of ideas sounded like a really cool thing.”
So Lau decided to move into advertising.
But getting a job was a problem because new entrants were usually only hired if they had done internships. Lau hadn’t done an internship. Neither did she have connections.
What she did have, however, was dogged determination. More than 200 résumés went out to “any agency who would leave an email address”.
It paid off. Lau landed her first advertising job in dynamic Beijing, China’s capital.
If God had opened the opportunity, there had to be something there, either to learn, grow, or bless people.
“Advertising is like banking,” Lau said. “All the hours and all the booze, but none of the money.”
Even in Singapore, the advertising industry is known for its fast-paced life. But in China, the culture is intense and, sometimes, cutthroat. “Your teammates might step all over you, other teams might steal from you, and you get clients calling you at 2 am.”
Lau said that she went in knowing “next to nothing” and was thrown straight into things. “They expected me to know everything but no one had time to teach me. So I just jumped in and tried to learn how the business worked.”
How did she survive?
“I probably didn’t,” Lau admitted. But the way she saw it: If God had opened the opportunity, there had to be something there, either to learn, to grow, or to bless people. “And I wanted to be there, I wanted to grow.
“Bear in mind: I went into China seeing it as marketplace missions. So this was my mission field. Some people dig wells, I was digging project plans.”
Bonding in the barracks
In a business environment where 16-hour work days were the norm, Lau recognised the opportunities that arose: “We were in the ‘barracks’ together. Think about it: I spent more time with these people than they do with their spouses and kids!
It’s a lot like being in a hospital waiting room, Lau said. “Interesting conversations happen when you’re tired.”
They talk about how their parents object to their jobs in advertising, about societal pressures of getting married and having children, about the time constraints that they face because they are perpetually working.
“We had such a wonderful relationship that I could share the Good News in a way that was contextualised and truly relevant.”
“Often people start complaining. But they’re talking about life,” Lau asserts.
That was her mission field: Building relationships.
“You want to talk about change? This is where you bring change into people’s lives.”
One story that Lau holds closest to her heart is how her relationship with Wang led to an opportunity that she never imagined.
A few years on, after Lau had moved to Ogilvy Singapore, she was invited to Wang’s wedding in Shanghai. Lau could not attend but, at Wang’s friends’ request, she sent a video recording of her well-wishes to the couple.
In it, Lau thanked them for their wonderful friendship and talked about how storms in life and in marriage were inevitable.
Then, referring to the calendar she had given Wang for Christmas, Lau went on to speak of God’s love and care for the couple and how it was only His love that could demonstrate the true expression of love.
Lau sent off the video and gave it no further thought.
Unexpectedly, during the wedding banquet, Lau received excited texts from ex-colleagues: “Hey, I saw you on video!”
As it turned out, the whole of Lau’s message had been inserted into a longer video and played publicly. Lau said: “I realised I had basically shared the Gospel with everyone who attended her wedding!
Laughing, Lau admits that this was one of the most memorable examples of how God orchestrates things. “We had developed such a wonderful relationship that I could share the Good News in a way that was contextualised and truly relevant. And that enabled me to speak into her life and have the Gospel shared with all of her wedding guests!”
This incident marked the first phase of her days in advertising: A simple obedience to the call, lived out in authenticity in the advertising world.
“Go into all the world and preach the Good News to everyone.” (Mark 16:15, NLT)
A life of faith beckoned. There was more to come in equally unexpected ways.
* Name has been changed for privacy