Mai Chen and her Bible – a reality check on life

Prominent top lawyer, twice New Zealander of the Year finalist, and with qualifications too numerous to list, Mai Chen is a phenomenal success.

Her name opens doors. Today she is managing director of Chen Palmer Barristers and Solicitors, Australasia’s first public law specialist firm, a BNZ Board director, an Adjunct Professor at Auckland University Law School, and surprisingly… a Bible enthusiast.


Bible Society’s Sarah Richards speaks with Mai Chen about how the Bible influences her.

“The Bible is so important. I read it first thing every morning,” she says.

When I ask her how she finds time to read it she replies, “It’s easy. You just get up in the morning you switch on your morning devotion on your iPhone and you read it. I also have an NIV Bible app and I quite often run and listen, or walk and listen or drive and listen. It’s always good to hear the Bible and be bought back to the things that really matter.

“I would rather have the Bible going through my head than Katy Perry,” she says. Mai believes it helps with the self-talk we have going through our heads every day. “It (the Bible) helps me to have God in mind, it helps me enormously.”

“The wonderful thing about the Bible is it’s all about our imperfection. Jesus didn’t come for the wealthy and righteous, he came for the sick – so you just take what medicine you can when you can. I try and read it when I can, if I get some solitude at the weekend, when I walk or run the dog – I find it helps me. I listen to the Bible instead of listening to music or podcasts.”

Elaborating on this Mai says the Bible helps centre her and it’s her guiding light. “It keeps you on course. And I love it because it’s such a radical book and Jesus was such a radical person. He didn’t do what people expected him to do.

“He wasn’t mightier than thou, he didn’t look down on people, he said to the prostitute, ‘I don’t condemn you either, go in peace’. He healed sick people, he hung out with prostitutes and tax collectors. He annoyed people we could consider to be the high and mighty and it’s really good to be reminded of this when we read the Bible.”

I asked Mai what the Bible means to her personally.  She replied, “Well it’s the only way I can touch God really . Every now and then, I get a glimpse of God, some manifestation of him in my life and sometimes he speaks to me, otherwise I am learning by reading the Bible.”

However it was on a trip to Israel with her husband, Dr John Sinclair, whom she met at a Scripture Union camp as a teenager, that Mai gained a much greater appreciation of the Bible.

“Israel made the Bible come to life for me. Jesus could have come down anywhere on the planet but he came down in the Middle East. My husband got sunstroke and we were only there in october. And I thought about the verses in the Bible where Jesus said go out into the world, don’t take anything with you, not even a coat and I ‘ll just provide for you.  I thought about how hot the climate was when the disciples were told to not take anything.”

Another reason Mai loves the Bible is because it’s a reality check on life.

“The world tells us that it’s all about being happy  and not having any problems . And people think being Godly must mean their life is going to go smoothly. But actually his (Jesus’) life was far from smooth. So it’s good to be reminded about this when life is hard. We want to be rich, we want to be beautiful, we want to be loved, we want to be popular, we don’t want pain but the Bible says that those who follow him will have trouble ahead. But the Bible says he will provide.”

Mai Chen has accomplished many things such as writing the Public Law Toolbox and the Superdiversity Stocktake  and setting up the Superdiversity Centre as well as establishing groups including New Zealand Asian Leaders and Superdiverse Women.

She says there is no doubt her gifts are God-given.

“I can’t sit on them (the gifts). I have to use them and I am lucky to have them. I don’t have very many and there are days when I feel totally inadequate. But God gave me the ability to think. I have a good mind. I have a lot of ideas. A lot of these ideas drop into my head whole, I am really fortunate to be like that.

“Time is a gift. The question is what you do with it. I spend most of my time productively.  I read things, listen to things, think about things, or I am doing something meaningful with my family. It’s not often I slump on the couch, eat ice-cream and watch TV. Time is short and I don’t have very much of it, I don’t want to go with all my gifts not used.”

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Inspired by the Great Commission, The United Bible Societies has the ambitious vision to complete 1,200 Bible Translations by 2038 which will make the Word of God accessible to 600 million People.