“If I asked you to stay in Thailand for 10 years and not see a single fruit, would you obey?” God asked Radion’s Eugene Wee
Angels, God's messengers of truth and light, still walk amongst us today. This Christmas, Salt&Light brings you the moving stories of five "Angels in our Midst".
by Juleen Shaw // December 20, 2019, 5:25 pm
“We are very driven people, we want to see results. Results define everything. But that is not obedience," says Eugene Wee, seen here praying for an elderly villager. All photos courtesy of Radion International.
This is the second of a two-part story on Eugene Wee in our Angels in our Midst Christmas series. You can read the first part here.
Radion International’s early mistakes were costly.
In 2009, Radion, an aid agency serving the Hmong people in northern Thailand, came up with an ambitious plan to create jobs, so they bought breeding stock to start a pig farm, with a view to providing a livelihood for the disabled and meat for the poorest villagers.
“It all started off with this old lady, an outcast of society, who went begging at the market. We saw her asking for scraps of meat and the butchers would throw the meat on the floor. They treated her like a dog,” recalls Radion’s founder/executive director Eugene Wee, 38.
“We saw this old lady asking for scraps of meat and the butchers would throw the meat on the floor. They treated her like a dog.”
“I thought: What if we have a system where we could create livelihoods and also generate enough revenue to make sure that even the poorest can afford to have some meat to eat?
“In the first few months, everything went well. But soon after, half our pigs died. All poisoned by the villagers.
“It was a very painful lesson. Of course, in our minds, we’re thinking: I am trying to help your village and you poison my pigs!
“But as we investigated further, we discovered that the mistake we’d made was not communicating our idea to the villagers, who viewed us as a commercial threat.
“So we learnt from that and managed our PR better. When we started the next pig farm, we made sure the villagers knew our objectives and we invited them to come into the farm to have a look. They learnt the technology and replicated it.”
At its peak, Radion’s farm had 300 to 400 pigs and was the largest in the area. They subsequently started a fish farm as well.
“This does not feel like success”
But funding remained a struggle.
And Radion’s lowest point came when an organisation that had agreed to provide Radion with vehicles reneged on the agreement. Without vehicles, Radion’s work would not have been possible.
“Shortly afterwards, I shared about Radion’s work with a community of believers. But at the back of my mind, I thought we’re going to close down very soon. We had run out of resources and funding,” recalls Wee.
“When my partner and I received the cheque, we were tearing like mad because we said, ‘What else can this be but God?’”
A week later, a man at the sharing texted to arrange a meeting with Wee. Over coffee, he told Wee: “My group has been raising funds for a ministry in China, but it closed down and we have a sum of money. I felt the Lord asking me to give this amount to you.”
Wee says: “When my partner and I received the cheque, we were tearing like mad because we said, ‘What else can this be but God?’ That amount paid for our very first truck – it was a ramshackle one that produced more smoke than distance, but it did the job!”
However the struggle of ministry work in a hard place took its toll. By Radion’s fourth year, Wee was ready to give up.
“I told the Lord, ‘This does not feel like success. Every day we are struggling, half drowning. We don’t have community support, we don’t have sufficient funding. It feels like we are doing everything we can and yet people are still not turning to Christ. Why am I even here? Take me home, give me back my life.’
“And I heard the Lord, very gently, saying, ‘If I asked you to stay here for the next 10 years of your life and not see a single fruit, would you obey?’
“You know we are very driven people, we want to see results. Results define everything. But that is not obedience.
“I struggled with the Lord for awhile, then I said, ‘If that is your will, then I will continue to stay.’ And that was when we saw a breakthrough for Radion – people came to know more about Radion’s ministry, funds started coming in, and the ministry expanded.”
God has not forgotten you
Today Radion’s relief and development work in Thailand includes a rescue and recovery programme for abused children, where children from six to 21 are housed in safe shelters; medical care and emotional support for the disabled or elderly; mass food distribution; and medical relief. They also have a child protection and development programme in Laos.
The abused children’s recovery programme includes Christian discipleship classes. And every weekend Radion’s community engagement includes a combination of church and a health talk. True to his Singapore roots, Wee makes sure there is good food at the events as well.
“Our caregivers hold the hands of those in their last lap of life, assuring them that God has not forgotten them.”
“When we serve the community, we do not differentiate between Christians and non-Christians. That has always been Radion’s heartbeat,” says Wee. “In our eldercare programme, for instance, our caregivers hold the hands of those who have been abandoned by their family or those in their last lap of life, assuring them that God has not forgotten them. If they are open to being prayed for, we pray with them, if not, we still make sure they are cleaned, cared for and have some measure of dignity before they pass on.”
The highlight has been seeing how God has touched villagers’ lives in unexpected ways.
“There was this lady who always wore a turban of sorts, and she would come to our office, and join us for our mass food distributions. When she had muscle pain we would treat her and care for her, just loving her.
“One day she passed on and a villager came up to us and said, ‘Are you going for the Yao witch doctor’s funeral?’ And I said, ‘What Yao witch doctor?’ (Yao people are a subset of the Hmong people.) And they said, ‘That lady with the turban that comes to your place and received Christ at your place, that one. She’s very famous.’
“We didn’t even know that she was a witch doctor; she had never declared it. That was one of our first few conversion cases where a villager came to Christ through our work.
“One of the biggest lessons that I learnt is that, across all languages and cultures, faith can be felt.”
In January 2017, Wee married Radion’s Thai accountant, Puu Kanokrat, who had grown up in Petchabun.
After 12 years of shuttling between Thailand and Singapore, he counts himself as Singaporean in appetite (“Nothing beats chai tow kway and kway chap”), and Thai in sensibility.
“I have come to appreciate the nuances of the Thai culture. Sometimes I see the villagers sitting on their front porch, drinking tea, and I think, ‘They are richer than Singaporeans!’ They have no mortgage and no debt. They have learnt to be content with little.”
The shape of faith
Looking back at the past decade, Wee sees “the hand of the Lord working through the entire process”.
“Even in my corporate life, I was given the opportunity to write papers, manage assets and make presentations to high-level people, all of which helped when we were setting up processes in Radion,” says Wee.
“Actually my ‘wilderness years’ were the most painful, but they were also the most formative.”
Is present-day Radion how he had pictured it in the early years?
“Oh in the first few years, we really could not see ahead – really kua boh (Hokkien for ‘cannot see anything’)!” says Wee. “I remember a time when my wife, Puu, Radion’s accountant, came up to my office and said, ‘By my projection, looking at the books, Radion only has another two more months. Then we won’t have any more money. We have to close down.’
“If the kids who were drug addicts become ministers to drug addicts, how powerful would that be!”
“I replied, ‘Praise God!’ She thought I was joking and was very angry.
“But, you see, when we first started Radion, we were living day by day. We didn’t even have fund reserves for the next week. So if she says we now have funds for two months … thank God!”
When we journey with Christ, he adds, “sometimes we don’t get the full visibility of God’s plans for the next 10 years. But he does point you to the right direction and guide you, and slowly you will start to see the bigger picture”.
Wee’s dream is that one day the locals will take ownership of Radion’s work.
“If the kids who were drug addicts become ministers to drug addicts … If the girls who got sexually abused become ministers to womenfolk who have gone through the same … How powerful would that be!”
For now, his is a journey of obedience, day on day.
“When you fall in love with Christ, you realise it’s about giving of yourself more than anything else. And often you are required to give more and more out of your own life. Maybe that is essentially what faith looks like.”
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