God didn't heal Kuaying Teng's leg but used it.by Ariel Ropp
When Kuaying Teng travels in Laos, he knows exactly who to call—a tuk-tuk driver known simply as Teep.
Teng, a Laos native and the director of Asian ministries for Mennonite Church USA and Mennonite Mission Network, met Teep at a bus station four years ago while traveling for work. The two became fast friends, and Teng has counted on Teep and his three-wheeled rickshaw for transportation ever since.
Kuaying Teng (right) poses with Sunai, a Myanmar man with polio. After Teng met Sunai at a Bible Missionary Church gathering, Teng gave him $100 to start a chicken farm to help provide for Sunai’s family. Photo provided.
A strong believer in “relationships first,” Teng intentionally maintains the friendship and uses the trips as an opportunity to share his faith story with Teep, who has since become a Christian and started his own church in Laos.
As director of Asian ministries, Teng travels to Asia several times a year to assist with church plants, encourage Mennonite leaders, promote peace and build relationships—including ones with people he meets on the street, like Teep. A natural evangelist, Teng feels comfortable engaging people from all walks of life and sharing his personal testimony, a story of healing and hope.
“Church work and ministry are my passion, even when I’m asleep,” Teng says. “It’s not just work. I consider it a calling. My calling is my life.”
As a boy, Teng never dreamed he would one day work for the church. Having contracted polio in his left leg at 7 months old, he spent most of his childhood convinced he would be a beggar. Growing up in Laos during the 1960s, Teng lived in a place where people with disabilities were viewed as sinners and often left to beg on the streets.
Fortunately, Teng’s father, a Chinese businessman, was able to save enough money to send him to a rehabilitation center for treatment and schooling. Still, this arrangement meant living away from his parents and nine siblings for the first 10 years of his life.
“I felt like an orphan,” Teng says.
Once he could walk, Teng was allowed to return home and enroll at a new school, where he excelled at math and foreign languages (he now speaks six). At age 16, he moved by himself to Thailand to work as a translator and to make orthopedic shoes for patients at a refugee camp with Handicap International, an organization that aided handicapped victims of the Laotian Civil War. Lasting from 1953 to 1975, the civil war was a central battleground in the Vietnam War and resulted in hundreds of thousands of civilian deaths and injuries. Teng, and later his family, were among thousands who fled to Thailand during this violent period.
It was in Thailand that a classmate invited Teng to church and introduced him to Jesus for the first time. A self-taught guitarist and keyboardist, Teng could play popular rock music by Santana and the Bee Gees and quickly became the leader of their church worship band. For more than a year, Teng jammed with the band but gave little thought to the meaning behind the music.
Then one day, an American missionary visited the church and shared John 9, the story of Jesus and the blind man. That message changed Teng’s life.
In this passage, Jesus’ disciples ask why the man was born blind: Did he or his parents sin? Jesus responds that the man was not blind because he had sinned but so God would be glorified through the man’s healing.
This story moved Teng. All his life he had been treated as a second-class citizen. For the first time, he felt he had worth as a human being—disability and all. Teng decided then and there he needed to learn more about Jesus. A few months later, he was baptized and began to feel called to mission work.
“I thought to myself, how many people in the world have disabilities? I knew it was time for me to … take the gospel message to them so they would know that Jesus loves them and values them just as they are,” Teng says.
Teng’s mother was not pleased with his decision to convert. A Buddhist nun from Vietnam, she found his Bible and asked him to move out of their one-room house in Thailand. Homeless, Teng stayed in the church building until he was able to enroll in Bible school in the capital city of Bangkok. There he taught Sunday school and eventually became the church’s pastor, a job he never expected he could do.
“I knew I could work with the handicapped people—that’s my passion—but I learned God can use me with physically healthy people, too,” Teng says. “When we say ‘handicap,’ I include spiritual handicaps, too. We all need Christ’s love and healing.”
From refugee camp to Canada
Teng later returned to a Thai refugee camp as a Mennonite Central Committee translator and started a small church plant. One night, a group of village leaders at the camp asked him to help a woman believed to be possessed by spirits. Teng came to the woman and prayed for her while she ran frantically around her house. After 20 minutes, the woman suddenly stopped, looked at him with bloodshot eyes and quietly lay down. A profound peace came over the room.
The village leaders were so impressed by the woman’s swift recovery that they encouraged their people to attend Teng’s church, which quickly grew from four families to hundreds of weekly attendees. The small room where he held services became so crowded that people would sit on trees outside to hear his sermons. Teng was only 22 years old at the time.
Mennonite Central Committee eventually invited Teng to Canada to attend Bible school and become a pastor. Though he had never heard of Mennonites, he was immediately attracted to Anabaptist thought. A Chinese Buddhist, Teng’s father had taught him to avoid violence whenever possible, even if it meant emigrating in times of political disturbance. Teng vividly recalls his father telling him as a boy, “If you meet a tiger in the jungle, what do you do? Don’t fight. Don’t run. Pray.” Growing up in this context made it easier for Teng to join the Mennonite church.
Over the next few years, Teng completed his studies at Evangelical Mennonite Mission Conference’s Aylmer (Ontario) Bible School and was installed as pastor at Lao Christian Fellowship of St. Catharines, Ontario. He was ordained in 1994. Four years later, he accepted a position as director of Asian resource ministries at the Commission on Home Ministries, a predecessor agency of Mennonite Mission Network. Teng and Khampha, his wife, continue to attend Lao Christian Fellowship. They have four grown children.
The mission of Teng’s ministry is twofold: first, to strengthen relationships between Asian Mennonite churches in North America and the wider denomination (Mennonite Church USA), and second, to promote reconciliation, healing and peace between Asians in North America and their home countries.
To sustain Asian immigrant churches in the United States—38 total—Teng meets with congregations and conference leaders, listens to their stories and communicates their needs to Mennonite Church USA. This can be challenging due to cultural and language barriers. He works to provide resources to these churches by offering, for example, peace education and Mennonite materials translated into Asian languages.
His second goal is to connect immigrant churches with church plants in their native countries—primarily Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia and Laos—where he visits three times a year to teach Anabaptist theology and offer consultation on cross-cultural transformation. He often invites North American immigrants to join him on his trips to foster networking and unity between the two groups, as painful memories from the war still linger.
“First-generation Lao remember the war, but those people who were born in Canada and the United States didn’t experience what happened,” Teng says. “My hope for the next [second] generation is that they learn the history, pick up the broken pieces and assemble them together again.”
Teng’s latest challenge has been to formalize the peacemaking process between Laotians. On May 19, he met with top Lao government officials to propose Laos Peace Community, a new organization that will allow Laotian Mennonites in the United States and Canada to minister in their country of origin. The group will engage in social service and peacebuilding activities in war-torn Laos once the government formally approves the initiative.
In Laos, Teng also visited the Xiangkhuang province, where undetonated ammunition from the Vietnam War continues to explode and kill hundreds of people each year. There, he visited victims in the hospital and shared his faith with children and others he met on the street.
“Teng is an inveterate friend-maker and a born evangelist,” says John Lapp, director of International Ministries at Mennonite Mission Network and Teng’s occasional travel partner. “He is a stranger to no one, especially anyone that he identifies as being from Southeast Asia. He wants to visit all the churches he can find and share the good news of God’s kingdom with everyone he meets.”
That good news is inextricably linked to Teng’s personal experience of healing. Teng realized long ago that he could use his disability as a way to connect with people and spread the word about Jesus, something he continues to do today. When people stare at his leg and the custom-made, four-inch tall shoe he wears on his left foot, he uses it as a conversation starter, then shares his personal testimony and the story of John 9. Over the years he has spoken with hundreds of people around the world, forming relationships and bringing his message of hope.
“Even though God did not heal my leg, he used it for his purposes so I could use it to travel the world and preach the gospel,” Teng says.
Ariel Ropp, Schaumburg, Ill., is a senior at Goshen (Ind.) College studying communication and psychology. She completed an internship in the Mission Network marketing and communication department this summer as part of the Service Inquiry Program.
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