Written By Alvin Chia, Singapore
Would you bear eating your deceased pet dog instead of burying it?
That was one of the hard decisions Singaporean Eugene Wee, 35, had to make while living among the Hmong, an ethnic minority in Phetchabun, a province in northern Thailand, sometime in 2008. His adopted dog had been tragically run over by a truck that day and villagers were looking on to see who would take the carcass home to eat if no one made a claim.
Improving the lives of the Hmong was why Eugene, a former public servant, had set up Radion International, a Christian non-profit agency, in 2007. Radion advocates putting the Christian faith into sincere, practical actions. The organization runs programmes to provide aid to marginalized communities. Their work includes sheltering the poor, helping at-risk children and youth who are vulnerable to vice and drug abuse, as well as women who are victims of domestic violence.
It all started with a feeling of emptiness when things were going well for Eugene in his career. “I often pondered if a nice career, cars and wine was all to life and what would all these mean at the end of the day? What would I say when I stand in front of my Maker? That I have invested my entire life chasing the glitter of the world?” he says.
So he quit his job at the age of 26 to volunteer at a refugee camp among the Hmong for a year. After returning from the stint, he did more research on the Hmong community. He says, “The more I read, the more my heart bled. There were just so many needs, so many social issues, so many communities that have been unreached, yet so little help actually trickles to the ground.”
Image by Radion International
Despite that realization, he struggled to make the decision to go into full-time mission work for the long term. “I was torn between my career and going up to the mountains,” Eugene says.
Two back-to-back sermons in his church from the book of Haggai finally convinced him. “The whole book of Haggai questions how we can continue to live in the comforts of excess when there is so much need out there,” he explains. He was particularly struck by Haggai 1:8, where God instructs His people—who had been focusing on building their own houses—to build His house. Eugene told God that if he were to hear the same verse the following week, he would take it as confirmation that God wanted him to go.
Image by Radion International
His heart skipped a beat when the same preacher walked up to the pulpit the following week. She opened the book of Haggai . . . and read from Haggai 1:8. Eugene was reduced to tears. That same week, he packed his bag, cancelled his order for a sports car and flew to Thailand. He shares, “I used to joke with my Christian friends that when I first heard the call, tears rolled down my cheeks—tears of pain.
“There was so much to hold on to in Singapore—fast cars, fine wine and a high-paying career. Putting them all aside was contrary to everything we have been brought up to pursue.”
But a vow he had made to God at the age of 16—that he would follow God no matter what the cost was—kept him from backing out. Eugene, who grew up in a Taoist family, became a Christian in Secondary 3 in 1996. His parents followed suit in 1998 and his older sister, a year later.
Setting up Radion with his friend was difficult from the onset. In the first year of his operations, he was living from hand to mouth and paying for most of his relief projects himself. He forked out more than $50,000 in the first two years. “I guess at that time, we didn’t know how long we would be there. But when we saw that the only way to really help was to stay for the long term, that was when the realities kicked in,” says Eugene, who returns to Singapore four times a year to raise awareness for the work.
On top of the financial challenges, there were also emotional struggles—such as when his beloved pet dog, which he had named Kaew, died. Eugene recounts, “What was difficult was not just its loss, but what ensued.
“If I had buried the dog, the word will spread and villagers will be offended, as it will be a waste of good meat. But letting the neighbors eat my pet was a little too much for me to bear, so eating it ourselves was the most culturally sensitive option. It was a struggle to keep my feelings in and it was definitely one of the hardest things I had to do.”
Despite the challenges, Eugene has seen how God used the ministry to provide for the poor—both physically and spiritually. In 2007, for instance, his team distributed 1,600 blankets to Hmong refugees just before winter. This group includes a large number of people from Laos. They sought asylum in Thailand following their involvement in fighting for the United States in the Vietnam War as well as their battle against the Communists in the Laotian Civil War.
Image by Radion International
Eugene later found out that the refugee leaders, who were Christians, had been praying that God would provide blankets for the elderly and children. He says: “They wept while sharing how they had hoped that God would listen and that if He was real, He would have mercy and move the Thai soldiers (who were guarding the camp) to provide some. So when they saw thousands of blankets coming in, they knew God had answered and was real beyond a doubt.”
Since 2007, his organization has also had the opportunity to share the Good News in the course of their work. Their first impromptu outreach happened in a crowded little hut where they shared about how God does not forsake His people. The villagers broke down in tears and stayed on to listen instead of rushing out to collect the relief items. On that day, 60 people came to know the Lord.
This goal to reach out to more people with the Gospel—keeps Radion, and Eugene, going. Eugene says: “We share a similar hope (with other Christian missions) that more lives will be pointed to Christ.”