There is a coffee shop where you can sip a cup of coffee, savor a slice of cake, and even draw a picture and have a chat. Beyond just rejuvenating your day, it welcomes a new day, anticipating a new life by encountering God.
Located on a street in Bangkok, Thailand, the coffee shop is owned by a couple, Brian Ng (MCS 2012, DipCS 2010) and Karrie Wong (MCS 2012). Neither of them are baristas nor artists. Rather, they are missionary couple serving in Thailand. “Well Hub” is the name of the coffee shop. The idea came from the scene where Jesus talked to the woman at the well. They hope that “Well Hub” would become the “well” where anyone can come over to sit down and talk regardless of their background.
They did not follow the traditional way of planting a new church. Instead, they opened a coffee shop to share the heavy load of people’s lives, fulfill their dreams, and collaborate with others. The idea did not come out instantly but stemmed from their long observation and understanding of the land they love. Karrie frankly pointed out that there are churches everywhere in big cities such as Bangkok. There are just too many choices of churches. “The utmost need here is getting more people involved in transforming life ministry, pastoral ministry and Bible teaching to deepen one’s faith. Of course, in remote mountainous or rural areas, planting churches is still needed.” Having encountered local Christians for many years, Brian and Karrie gradually realized that something is missing in their life and the inadequacy of the depth of their faith are inseparable from the local culture, pastoral orientation and theological foundation. “Some converts to Christ with a Buddhist mindset and believes that if they do good, they would receive something good in return. Some feel good about themselves by participating in foreign religious activities just because they think ‘foreign is better’. Believers have various thoughts that mingled with folk religions. They do not know who they believe, not to mention what it truly means when Jesus Christ died for you and me.”
And there is an urge. “Many people think that Thailand seems to be cursed. Human trafficking, prostitution, child prostitution, gender identity issues such as homosexuality and transgenderism, you name it, you got it. Why is this the case? We really have no clue, but have observed that superstitious culture, economic poverty, weak family values, and even absent fatherhood have an impact on the milieu.” In order to get rid of poverty, some villagers “nurture” their descendants – from one generation to another – to earn money, like training professional child boxers, or even male prostitutes. In Thailand, the price of male sex workers is higher than the females. The price of the transgender is higher than both and the price of child prostitutes is even higher. Child boxers are forced to take part in the games on which the villagers bet heavily. If they lost, even if they were not beaten to death in the ring, they would be in danger returning to their villages. “How can people in Hong Kong imagine such families and life? Apart from the economic factors, absent fatherhood has the most significant impact. A lot of men merely care about drinking, gambling and philandering. Not going to work but relying on their mother or wife for support, the children witnessed such behaviors. Subconsciously, they might deny their gender identity, blurring the gender boundaries. In Buddhist culture, many parents perceive transgenderism as “Shackles of the past life, nothing can be done!”
Before stepping into Thailand, Brian and Karrie were social workers at boys’ and girls' homes. Karrie later served at the Breakthrough Ltd. Since they always love Thailand, they have the idea of moving there and opening a youth hostel. While gathering information, a higher way was waiting for them. “God opened the door to us according to the enthusiasm deep inside our heart.” They answered the call and applied to a missionary organization, equipped at CGST and stepped out to the mission field – first at northern Thailand and then in Bangkok. Their care and concern for the growth of young people remained the same despite the change of time and place. “Facing these gender issues, some young people who are serious about their faith asked, ‘How should I preach (the gospel)? How should I express what I believe?’ They were deeply confused when they did not know and were not taught. In fact, how can we stay away from these issues when we are here? They are in the church as well! I remembered once a deacon, knowing that there are homosexuals among the secondgeneration believers, talked to me, ‘Can you fix them?’ Fix? How to fix? All I care about is what future they are looking for, and what kind of change they would expect to see in their life. The change would not necessarily be ‘I am no longer a homosexual’, but the pursuit of a better life.” Karrie confessed that she used to participate the joint signature campaign against homosexuality, as she was resentful towards the issue. However, the Lord allowed her to meet different people serving here. Their sharing, which are filled with acceptance and grace, touched her. “If we always take a judgmental attitude, we sit inside the church and do not open ourselves and go outside, they will never come (to the church) and will not know the love of Jesus. If we are willing to go out first, then the boundaries will disappear and they will be more accepting.”
Therefore, the idea of the coffee shop was born. Brian described it as a “middle ground”, a portal of resting, for the young people in Thailand. If they are willing to share, they would know that someone is listening, and they can sense the ever-lasting love. “In short, there is a place outside the church, for those who feel miserable about their lives, their gender, their faith and are eager to have a chat. They can come over and we may explore together. This is our thought of the coffee shop.”
In order to search for various ministry models that are applicable for coffee shop, they travelled around to learn. They went to Taiwan to attend Zentangle Art and baking workshops. They hanged around cafes and tea rooms of different scale. After returning to Bangkok, they began to learn bakery at the cooking school. On the day of interview, they brought the coffee bread they made in the coffee shop. On the bread was the beautiful Zentangle drawing handpainted by Karrie. She said that her senses seemed to be opened af ter the painting class, which was beyond her expectation. “You know, from childhood to adulthood, I can merely draw the stickman!” The simple packaging of brown paper bag is just like a canvas, you can enjoy drawing while drinking, making use of the brush to express and get to know yourself through paintings.
For Karrie and Brian, this “Well” is far more than a coffee shop. It is a platform for collaboration. Just consider the coffee they use in the shop, there was a wonderful story behind about collaboration. The coffee beans were purchased directly from Doi Chaang, Chiang Rai, Northern Thailand, where local ethnic minorities plant coffee for a living. Karrie and Brian once were invited to join the brothers and sisters from Hong Kong to visit the missionaries in Northern Thailand, in which they met a pastor there. The pastor grew up in a boarding school run by a missionary. He devoted himself to the full time ministry and served churches in Bangkok for nine years. He then answered God’s call by returning to his own tribe and serving his own people. He realized that the young people on the mountain were unable to go down the mountain to work due to their limitations. He could not bear to see that they had to involve in drug trafficking to make a living because of poverty. Thus, he setup a coffee workshop and a café to help 25 local farmers and provide working opportunities for young people. He had to start everything from scratch – coffee plantation, roasting the coffee, and business practices. He was not paid on time and the amount in arrears was up to millions of baht. A Korean businessman was willing to purchase his business with huge amount of money, but he refused firmly. It was his response that deeply touched Karrie and Brian. Brian is still very impressed. “He said, ‘This is the ministry of God, I will not sell it!’ Because of his words, we feel that we must support it.” Karrie added, “Actually, we hope to connect more local missionary partners, so that we can complement one another and make good use of our resources and talents in the ministry. Networking is the training we had as social workers. We do not want to waste any resource.”
Apart from collaborating with local partners, they are eager to turn this Well into a channel for the Hong Kong young believers to accomplish their dreams and find their callings. “Have you ever thought of a ‘mission holiday’, which has both the elements of a working holiday and a short-term missionary experience? Whether you are a layperson or a divinity student, you are welcomed to stay for months or a year. We shall try our best to help you integrate your life experience, walk together and look for the calling from above.” Karrie said seriously.
Having listened to their stories, I would regard them as the trendy “slash” generation (with multiple jobs and identities). Beyond coffee shop, they also serve as guest lecturers at seminary and host workshops for local college students. Every Christmas, they help at the local church, which serves people in the slums. Brian could not help laughing and said, “Why are we getting into all these?! God opens the door for us. Whenever we see the opportunity God gave us, we take it.” “This is the greatest spiritual lesson we have learnt: If we refuse to renew ourselves, God might allow us to continue to do what we are doing; but if we are willing to renew ourselves, we will be able to see that HE has already prepared new things for us. This is truly a delightful experience!” Karrie reflected in gratitude and anticipation.