Spirit of Hong Kong

Aged cleric still cares for the elderly when others don't

Pastor Lee Mo-fan has devoted his life to helping elderly people neglected by families or who have simply fallen through the cracks

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 20 July, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 02 December, 2013, 12:19pm

Lee Mo-fan's character is best measured through the stories of those he has devoted his life to serving.

People such as Tse Kam-wo, who at 75 was abandoned by his family, and found lying untreated in a Guangzhou hospital with cataracts and two broken legs.

My motto is and has always been this: regardless of religion, region or ethnicity, one must always help those who need it or ask for it
Lee Mo-fan

People like Wong Wah, 86, a disabled homeless man, tossed out of a Mong Kok mall for sheltering on the fire escape and dumped in an empty shop.

Both were rescued by Lee, a church pastor who runs four homes for the elderly, where many have similar tales to tell.

"My motto is and has always been this: regardless of religion, region or ethnicity, one must always help those who need it or ask for it," Lee says.

Tse had gone to Guangzhou for a cataract operation in November 2009 when he was abandoned by his son, with no money and no identification papers.

Wandering the streets, he fell because of his poor eyesight and broke both his legs.

The hospital he was taken to would not treat him or even feed him because of his lack of cash and identification and he lay there for two weeks, begging food, until Hong Kong authorities were alerted and he was returned to the city.

After Tse had been treated at North District Hospital, Lee, pastor of the Lord Grace Church, became aware of his plight and took him to the Lord Grace Home for the Aged in Tai Kok Tsui.

None of Tse's relatives - neither two sons, aged 29 and 39, nor his brother - visited him until the case made headlines.

In June this year, Lee read of the homeless Wong's plight in a newspaper after his treatment by staff at the Pioneer Centre sparked public anger.

He tracked Wong down and took him to the Lord Grace home, where he now enjoys regular meals, showers and his own bed.

Despite spending more than half his life helping the elderly, Lee, 84, shows no signs of weariness. He does, however, display a sense of jokiness that sometimes veers towards gallows humour.

Addressing a group of elderly people at the Lord Grace home recently, he told them: "You are all really valuable, you know that? I'm afraid that if you get lost, someone might kidnap you and slaughter you. After all, your eyes are pricey. Your heart is pricey. Your kidneys are pricey. Best to just write my number on your clothes, even your underwear, so that when the police or the hospital finds you, you can always come back and look for me."

Elected head of the YMCA Youth Fellowship in 1955, Lee went on to graduate from the Alliance Bible Seminary on Cheung Chau.

In 1960, he started the city's first elderly home for men, which was resisted by the government.

In the 1970s, he organised a holiday tour for people aged 60 to 94 years, during which they experienced air travel for the first time.

By the 1980s, he had set up several nursing homes that allowed families to visit their grandparents conveniently, prompting the opening of hundreds of similar homes across Hong Kong Island, Kowloon and the New Territories.

Lee said Bible study classes he conducted with the elderly in his early years had led him to begin his ministry.

"I originally just wanted to help people, not just specifically the elderly. But upon learning of their woes, I couldn't leave even if I wanted to. Their needs became mine," he said.

He said that one of his most memorable experiences was saving an old man who had mistakenly drunk Hung Fa analgesic oil instead of cough syrup.

"He was poisoned, so I took him to the hospital to detoxify his stomach, while at the same time trying to clarify to the police that it wasn't the pharmacy's fault, because they didn't intend to sell him fake medicine."

Having dealt with so many cases, Lee says that the plight of the elderly is truly a tragic one.

"Most of the elderly people who come here have been cheated out of their money by their own children", he said.

"As parents, they naturally have extremely soft hearts for their kids. They say, 'Here, have some money and buy yourself a house. Don't bother putting it under my name because it'd make things complicated when I pass away'. Then when they want to move in and live with their kids, their kids make them go and find somewhere else to live."

Lee said that the elderly are also abused in small, unseen ways in society.

"When some elderly people go to certain nursing homes or hospitals, people don't ask them, 'How are you?' Instead they ask, 'You ready to die yet?'. I never want the elderly people living in my home to ever feel that way."

Lee's homes are all privately run. His funds come from his own pocket, donations from the Lord Grace Church and government subsidies.

His homes have a unique characteristic - they hold fast to the value of giving the elderly their right to freedom.

"What satisfies them, what they like, is completely up to them and not up to us," he said.

"There's a certain kind of elderly person who likes to go out on the streets and do their own thing, but the problem is that when something happens to them, I won't be there.

"Thankfully, the police usually find them and take them to the hospital, or contact me because they know I will help them."

Lee's wife, Shek Ming-bun, a volunteer at his Honour the Elderly Home, says it isn't easy to give the elderly their freedom.

"Sometimes, I don't want to let them go, I miss them," she said.

"I'll bathe them, feed them till they are nice and fat, and then they just leave without a word. But there's nothing we can really do about it, we are just here to help them, and we are just here to do the best for them."

Connie Cheng Yee-ching, another volunteer and member of the Lord Grace church congregation, said the pastor was "extremely kind-hearted, humble and frugal".

"Ultimately, the thing that I respect most about Pastor Lee is that he never thinks about money," she said. "He always invites the needy in and takes care of them, never seeking anything in return."