‘Our common language was spiritual’

Hospital Chaplaincy: Walking with people in the hard times

By Christine Mao – Chaplain at Prince of Wales Hospital

Originally published in The Presbyterian Pulse Magazine (Dec 2015)


They had been visiting their son, intending to be in Australia for only a few weeks and then to return to Korea. But then there was a car crash, a broken back and endless months in hospital. Being the ward chaplain on the Spinal Unit lead me to this bewildered, isolated Korean couple – Mr and Mrs S.*

Only until I had entered the room did I realise both spoke no English. It was too late for me to organise an interpreter and rude just to leave the room. And so I approached the bedside, smiled at the couple and introduced myself to them as best I could. Mrs S had a translating App on her phone which allowed us to communicate in a somewhat patchy way to one another. She would speak Korean very quickly into the phone and a garbled translation of English would be spoken out. I would do the reverse.

I discovered that they were Christian and Mrs S was very keen for me to sit down and “talk” with her. Perhaps it was my Asian face, or the fact that I had time to stay and offer some sort of comfort – but each time I visited this couple they appeared more than eager for me to be there. I was able to read a Bible passage in English and Mrs S read the same back in Korean. Then I asked her how I could pray for them and did so in English. Sometimes she would turn on some Christian hymns and other times both the patient and his wife would be saying “Amen” throughout the prayer.

I did often wonder, ‘what is my role here?’ and ‘how much difference can I make without a common language’. However whenever I entered the room, I could see Mrs S’s face light up and she obviously wanted me to be part of this lonely experience of being stuck in hospital with her paralysed husband – no matter how small and insignificant this part felt for me. 

Our common language was spiritual. We were family in Christ. I was the “God person” amidst all the other strange faces. We were able to connect through His Word and His Spirit. He understood our languages. He was the One to provide comfort, strength and perseverance in this unimaginably difficult situation. It’s His work in the end and I felt privileged to play a small part in what He is doing in the lives of His people.

*Real names withheld

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