“I’ve gained a lot more than I sacrificed”: Missionary who spent 12 years serving in Taiwan’s red-light district
Tan Sin Ee // April 27, 2021, 2:00 pm
"I’ve never had much contact with young children and I was quite anxious before the trip. Yet the Lord gave me the assurance and confidence. Knowing that I can depend on Him has helped me step out of my comfort zone to serve God and His people,” wrote Teo Sin Ee in her church bulletin after a 2002 trip to Cambodia that launched her into mission work. All photos courtesy of Sin Ee.
My awareness of missionary work started soon after I became a Christian in university.
A member of my Bible study group, David Tan (now the Executive Director of Wycliffe Singapore), was a PhD student. He and his wife Sharon planned to serve as missionaries after David’s graduation. I was amazed that an SAF scholar with a PhD would give up everything to become a Bible translator.
I realised that the words of our Lord Jesus have to be taken seriously: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” (Mark 8:34-37)
In 2002, I joined Adam Road Presbyterian Centre (ARPC). I signed up for the mission team to Cambodia. The trip to Cambodia was an eye-opening experience.
Stepping out of my comfort zone again, I joined the youth ministry as a youth leader.
“This girl doesn’t even like people! And she’s thinking about missions?”
Around the same time, I started listening to the music of a Taiwanese band, Mayday.
Since I was working for StarHub, I enjoyed staff discounts on my cable TV subscription so I watched a lot of Taiwanese programmes. I developed an interest in the politics, history, culture and people of Taiwan.
I decided to find out more about the mission organisations working in Taiwan. When someone from OMF Taiwan visited Singapore, David from my Bible study group accompanied me for the meeting.
Unbeknownst to me, at the time, he thought: “This girl doesn’t even like people! And she’s thinking about missions?”
Pray and wait
I also spoke to ARPC leaders about my interest in missions. Since I was relatively new to the church and ARPC hadn’t sent out any missionaries before, they asked me to pray and wait.
In January 2005, I visited three OMF teams in different parts of Taiwan to get a better idea of the Gospel work among the working class. Christine Dillon, an OMF church planter in Hengchun (a town on the southern tip of Taiwan), encouraged me to join her team as an intern.
Through the Taiwanese countryside, all I saw on both sides of the road were small red lights from lamps on the family altars.
To better prepare myself, I enrolled in the Graduate Diploma in Inter-cultural Studies at Singapore Bible College (SBC).
My father was not keen for me to give up my job in StarHub, so we made a compromise. I took no pay leave for a year and he allowed me to go to bible school.
At the end of 2006, with the support of ARPC leaders, I embarked on my one-year internship with OMF. As I learnt more about the working-class people of Taiwan, my compassion for them grew.
They live in spiritual darkness and fear, worshiping idols that cannot hear their prayers or give them true peace in their hearts. Some of them were afraid to step into a church building because they did not want to displease their gods.
On a long bus ride that I took in the Taiwanese countryside at night, all I could see on both sides of the road were small red dots – light emanating from the lamps placed on the family altars in every home.
Margins of society
At the end of 2007, I returned to Singapore to prepare for long-term mission.
I wanted to continue doing cross-cultural work, so a classmate told me about HealthServe, a community clinic in Geylang serving migrant workers.
I had not been to Geylang before, so it was a shock. “How can this be Singapore? It’s dirty and messy. The houses are rundown and over-crowded.”
It was also a step out of my comfort zone in another way.
“How can this be Singapore? It’s dirty and messy. The houses are rundown and over-crowded.”
After getting to know the Chinese workers here, I realised that they were not so different from my Taiwanese working-class friends.
They were here because of their desire to work hard and give their families a better life.
In Geylang, I felt God’s call to be with those who live at the margins of our society. Just as Jesus associated with sinners, prostitutes, tax collectors, we need to live among those who have the least chance of knowing Jesus.
In Geylang, I understood Frederick Buechner’s words: “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”
In 2009, I returned to Taiwan as a long-term missionary.
I joined the Pearl Family Garden ministry team to work with women in the red-light district. We organise weekly services, cell group meetings and discipleship classes to tell people about Jesus.
To provide income for poor and elderly women in the neighbourhood, we have a handicrafts workshop. We connect women with community resources, social services, other NGOs and churches.
We also mobilise local Christians and churches for ministry in red-light districts around the island.
Stories of others
The last 12 years have been quite an adventure.
God has changed me in so many ways as I step out of my comfort zone – from someone who “doesn’t even like people” to someone who can strike up a conversation quite easily with anyone.
Having heard so many traumatic stories, I have more empathy and a greater appreciation of the odds that some people have to overcome (broken families, abuse, poverty, lack of education, gender inequality).
“It is the process of taking action in response to the Holy Spirit’s urging that often provides the real clarity.”
I’ve learnt so much about God and His grace as I witness the miraculous ways in which He rescues people from the dominion of darkness and brings them into his kingdom.
When people ask me what I’ve “given up” for the sake of the Gospel, I always say: “I’ve gained a lot more than I’ve sacrificed.”
Doing what I love and growing in my experience of our Father’s love have been a privilege. And using my gifts in His service, I’ve enjoyed the fellowship of brothers and sisters from many countries.
As Jim Elliot said: “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”
If you think that God may be giving you a burden for a particular people group, do not be afraid to step out of your comfort zone and explore what He has in store for you.
Japanese Christian scholar, Tetsunao Yamamori, once said: “From the stories of others who have become involved in mission work, we learn that the initial inner urgings often seem very subtle, hard to discern. In fact, for most of us, the message really doesn’t become clear until we act.
“It is the process of taking action in response to the Holy Spirit’s urging that often provides the real clarity. Without responding, you’ll probably never know.”
Not out to “make a difference”: What one woman learnt about serving in Taiwan’s red-light district for 12 years