Serena Shai-Hee (Cheung) of our morning congregation has a wonderful personal family connection to the missionary work in China that we heard about during Week 5 of the Jesus the Game Changer series.

Serena writes:

In Canton in the late 1800s, my great-grandfather [The Reverend LEE James Moy Ling, pictured] had the chance to learn English from missionaries, which enabled him to work in Australia as a Court Interpreter on the Victorian goldfields.

He became a pioneering minister when the Wesleyan church sent him from the goldfields to minister to the growing numbers of Chinese people moving to Melbourne, probably sometime after 1865. That would have been very challenging. My grandmother and siblings proudly had inscribed on his tombstone, in Melbourne General Cemetery, that he served 47 years until his death in 1911, the year of the fall of the Ching Dynasty. 

Lee James Moy Ling arrived in Daylesford, Victoria in 1856, five years after gold was discovered in that area. He became a Christian through the ministry of the Daylesford Methodist Chapel in 1865. As a Methodist Catechist he was sent first to Bendigo and later to Melbourne, where he established a Chinese Methodist Mission (the Gospel Hall Chinese Church) in Little Bourke Street.

Here is a Wesleyan Chinese Mission flyer from that time showing James (top left):

This is the Gospel Hall Chinese Church building as it appears today:

This sketch illustrates James preaching to a Chinese congregation in this building in the late 1800s:

As well as leading this congregation, James trained other Chinese men who undertook missionary work in a range of places including Sydney, Perth and Otago in New Zealand.

Family matters

James and his wife Kim had six children. One son, Samuel, died in infancy; but their other five children all followed a Christian path throughout their lives:

Lucie was a school teacher.

Josiah was a Clerk of the Court. He was a World War One conscientious objector who was subjected to harassment and humiliation because of his beliefs. He was aged in his thirties during this time. Serena has his Bible which was given to him on his 17th birthday by his family. Inside is a letter written by his sister Lucie containing words of Christian encouragement.

Laura played the organ during church services in the Gospel Hall Chinese Church in Little Bourke St. The organ is still there, and Chris Shai-Hee writes, “Our daughter Alexandra has since learnt to play and may one day play on her great-grand-aunt’s keyboard”.

Esther was Serena’s grandmother. Esther, her husband Thomas and daughter Morva lived in Hong Kong during the Japanese Occupation of Hong Kong. Morva and her husband Tom attended the 9.30am worship service at St George’s Anglican Church until the end of their lives in the early 2000s.

Benjamin, Lee James Moy Ling’s youngest son, was a ‘Chinese Anzac’. In 1915 Ben was the person who oversaw the running of the Sunday School in the Gospel Hall. He tried on a few occasions to enlist in the army but was rejected because he was Chinese, as only white people were allowed to join. However, restrictions were eased and he enlisted in 1917 – a Sunday School teacher in uniform. He was in France at war’s end.

Serena recalls hearing about Ben’s singing voice:

I was told that Ben was gifted with a strong voice, which echoed beautifully during solos in church in Melbourne.

In 2015, Ben was featured in the ‘Chinese Anzacs’ Exhibition which was held in the Chinese Museum in Melbourne.

You can listen to an interview with Serena and her husband Chris on the Culture Victoria website to hear more about Benjamin. It is clear from this interview that Benjamin, like his father, was a faithful Christian man with servant-hearted values, a love of family, and a lifetime of dedication to Christian service, as evident in an inscribed fob watch given to Benjamin by the Wesley Church in Melbourne for 25 years of service in the church.

A great legacy

Those nineteenth-century missionaries who taught Lee James Moy Ling to speak English could not have known all that he and his descendants would accomplish in God’s strength; but what a wonderful legacy they have left behind them!

As Serena writes:

The Chinese congregation (Uniting Church Gospel Hall, Melbourne) has grown so large that they can no longer fit into the building at 196 Little Bourke St. They now worship in the central Wesleyan Church at 148 Lonsdale St, Melbourne. In July 2020, this Chinese congregation will celebrate its 148th anniversary. To God be the glory!

Here is a photograph of the congregation celebrating their 135th anniversary in 2007:

Some of the details in this article have been adapted from