by Chua Wee Hian
Outside mainland China there are about thirty million Chinese. Twenty eight million can be located in South East Asia, Hong Kong and Taiwan. Nearly four million are political refugees. The majority form the ruling clique in the Republic of Taiwan. A million refugees are now happily settled in the British Colony of Hong Kong.
Outside mainland China there are about thirty million Chinese. Twenty eight million can be located in South East Asia, Hong Kong and Taiwan. Nearly four million are political refugees. The majority form the ruling clique in the Republic of Taiwan. A million refugees are now happily settled in the British Colony of Hong Kong. The fourteen million overseas Chinese in the "nanyang" (literally Southern oceans) trace their histories to their adventurous ancestors who left the provinces of Canton and Fukien to find their fortunes in Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Burma and the Philippines. Most of these traders did not plan to stay in their lands of adoption forever. In fact, the dream of every Chinese migrant was to return to his beloved province in China and there to retire and die. At least, they could be buried with their ancestors.
But the lure of the tin mines and the rumors of gold mines plus their trading success led many Chinese to settle in South East Asia. During the colonial era, the Chinese were "middle-men". They helped the Dutch, Portuguese and British with labor supply; they grew rich through different commercial enterprises. All along, the Chinese despised the ways and customs of the "barbaric races." They set up their own schools and formed their own communities. They even imported trained teachers from mainland China to teach and educate their young. If we were to stop the clock of history at 1939, we would discover that the overseas Chinese formed a monolithic group. Politically, they looked to China as their motherland. During the Japanese wars, the overseas Chinese gave liberally to support the Kuomintang forces. When Dr. Sun Yat Sen was exiled, he received generous donations for his revolutionary coffers from overseas Chinese.
The post-war era was one of confusion for the overseas Chinese. The colonial powers were overthrown. China was divided into two main factions – the Communists and the Kuomintang.
The natives in South East Asia advocated a fervent brand of nationalism. National unity was the slogan of the day. When independence was gained, new laws were promulgated. Special privileges and rights were given to the bumiputras, the sons of the soil, in Malaysia and Indonesia. Chinese were discriminated against in Burma and Philippines. They were not allowed to own certain types of land; they were not permitted to be engaged in certain trades. There was very little choice. The Chinese had either to adopt new citizenship and the language and customs of their adopted lands, or else face expulsion. Being capitalists in outlook, very few Chinese wanted to return to mainland China.
Today there is no longer a monolithic group of overseas Chinese who think alike or act alike. Their political allegiances vary. Lea Williams in his book The Future of Overseas Chinese rightly pointed out that "worst sins are committed by writers seeking to present dramatic generalizations of the overseas Chinese. For example, some politicians and newspaper writers give their constituents or readers the impression that the Chinese could be knitted into a giant subversive net ready to paralyse and conquer Southeast Asia. "1
For us Christians, it would be equally futile if we worked out a masterplan to evangelize the Chinese of the diaspora. Evangelism, if it is going to be effective, must be done on a local level. Nevertheless, there are some ties and bonds that link Chinese together. When we understand these, they will help us in our task of evangelizing this sector of strategic people.
A FUNDAMENTAL ISSUE
J. Harry Haines in his monograph Chinese of the Diaspora reckoned that one out of every 28 overseas Chinese is a Christian in South East Asia.2 If we include Hong Kong and Taiwan where the percentage of Christians is higher, I believe that we shall discover that one out of every 20 Chinese is a Christian. In other words, 5 percent of the Chinese of the Diaspora are Christians; the rest are unchurched.
As we survey the Far East, we observe the presence of many Chinese churches, church schools, kindergartens and Chinese Christian publishers. There are tremendous resources financially and manpower wise. In the field of student evangelism, we have witnessed wonderful breakthroughs on the campuses of Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore and Malaysia. Hundreds of students are being won for Christ and led to a life of discipleship. The Chinese of the diaspora are not unresponsive to the gospel.
Who then are the best people to evangelize the Chinese of the diaspora? What is God’s chosen instrument in this strategic task?
Without doubt, the best people are committed Chinese Christians. The most strategic instrument is still the local church. The greatest need is to mobilize these people for work through the churches. These are biblical ideals but are they realistic? Are not the Chinese churches like other churches plagued with nominal Christians? Surely, these are stumbling blocks to their non-Christian contemporaries. The church? Is it not plodding like a tortoise? There is so little evidence of creative and dynamic spiritual leadership both among the clergy and laity. How could it be God’s chosen instrument?
TRANSMITTING THE VISION
It must be the task of concerned leaders to call and train Chinese Christians to committed Christianity. We must submit to the lordship of Jesus Christ. He will then share his concern and compassion with us. His love will leave us no choice (2 Cor. 5:14). We shall be galvanized into action. We cannot keep silent about our living Lord and the reality of his life and power within us. We share the Pauline imperative. "Woe is me if I preach not the gospel!" (1 Cor. 9:16). We begin therefore to learn the best means and ways of communicating God’s unchanging love to our fellow men. We urge them to repent and believe the gospel.
The church cannot be a club or an exclusive refuge for Chinese Christians. Its members must shine as lights in a dark world (Matt. 5:14; Phil. 2:15) and act as "salt," an antiseptic against decay and corruption (Matt. S:13). They have the keys to the kingdom of God (cf. Matt. 16:19). They can offer to the spiritually hungry the "bread of life." Dr. Elton Trueblood reminded us that the figures used by Christ in the Gospels salt, light, keys, bread, water, leaven and fire have one common element: penetration He commented:
"The purpose of the salt is to penetrate the meat and thus preserve it; the function of the light is to penetrate the darkness; the only use of the keys is to penetrate the lock; bread is worthless unless it penetrates the body; water penetrates the hard crusts of the earth; leaven penetrates the dough and makes it rise; fire continues only as it reaches new fuel, and the best way to extinguish it is to contain it."3
How wonderful it would be if Chinese Christians could penetrate their societies with the gospel of Jesus Christ. Brougham in his thesis called the Indonesian Chinese the "carriers of the Gospel."4 In the world of politics, culture, economics and education, Chinese are found in practically every strata of society. Since many have benefited from a mission school education, and later, university education, they are not strangers to the Christian faith. But if committed Chinese Christians could learn to demonstrate the reality of the indwelling Christ, the beauty of an ordered life, and integrity in all their relationships, they could make a tremendous impact among their fellow citizens. Many Chinese will respond.
The failure to witness effectively and to mobilize the whole congregation for service and evangelism often lies with the pastor. Dr. Alan Cole, writing from a historical perspective about the lack of Asian graduates who train as pastors, stated:
"The churches (Asian) that God called into being, as in New Testament times, were made up of simple and uneducated folk, rich in faith. The first local pastors and teachers were drawn from this group….
"The result of widespread modern education, usually with a scientific slant, was to produce churches where many of the members were far better educated than the minister…. This in turn lowered the `image’ of the pastor in the eyes of his flock. No longer was he the trusted leader and guide. Instead he was regarded as humble, simple and old-fashioned willing servant of the congregation who paid him (or underpaid him). Many bewildered pastors did not help the image by their reaction to the new situation. They retired as far as possible from the problems of a life which they could no longer understand, into the blind traditionalism, a clinging to the cliches of the past, using time-honored method of worship or witness that were increasingly ineffective as well as irrelevant.
We must break down the image of the pastor as an errand boy, running hither and thither at the behest of rich and influential elders. He is not to serve his flock in this manner. His primary task is to teach and train his congregation to worship, love and serve the living God. This includes diligent preparation of sermons, finding opportunities for members with different gifts to serve their Lord with a deep sense of fulfillment. In other words, what we are advocating is a return to the biblical image of the pastor (see Acts 20:18-35; Eph. 4; the Pastoral Epistles). Unless we have this image restored, the Chinese churches will never be effective instruments in the purpose of God for our generation.
A brief survey of the qualities and training of Chinese pastors will disclose some horrifying facts. Most of them have not gone beyond a high school education. How can these cope with sophisticated and well-educated urban churches? How can they understand the questionings and doubts of the young people? Usually the best of our young men will not consider the pastoral ministry.
The other problem is the type of seminary or Bible school training that has held sway and is still practiced today. Frankly, the syllabus and the methods of training are for congregations of four decades ago. These might be suitable for pastors of rural churches, but these are totally inadequate for the church life in the bustling seventies. Graduates of these seminaries feel insecure. When they meet university graduates and students in their congregations who are well-read and efficient, they are regarded as threats or rivals to their pastoral calling. They have not been able to work on a team basis. Laymen are asked to raise funds or assist in the maintenance of the organizational structure of the church; they are not involved in any direct spiritual ministry. Those who have a voice in the running of theological schools should insist that every seminary student be trained to train others.
The recent attempts by different groups to upgrade theological education have been encouraging and hold promise for the future of the church in Asia. The interest in the theological education by extension for laymen and pastors is something to be thankful for. We look to the day when these courses will be adapted for use in Chinese Christian communities. In January, 1971, the Lay Institute of Theology sponsored by the Graduates Christian Fellowship, Singapore, offered select courses to Christian graduates. These are geared to equipping key graduates to teach and preach. A similar lay training scheme was undertaken in April, 1970, in Kuala Lumpur, West Malaysia, with good response and results.
SOME STRATEGIC APPROACHES
Having seen that God’s work must be done by God’s men, let us consider some of the strategic areas for evangelism.
First, we need to ask ourselves, "Why is it that Chinese Christians find it so difficult to tell their friends about Jesus Christ?" It is true that we organize annual evangelistic campaigns. At the most, we invite our friends to the meetings, but we never talk to them about the Master. We have the unbiblical attitude of leaving it all to the preacher. We do not mind ushering, singing in the choir or giving towards the expenses of the campaign. What we have done is not evangelism; it is vicarious evangelism. Someone does it on our behalf.
As a race, Chinese culture has taught us not to offend others. The Confucian virtue of politeness is instilled in us. When we ask a man to turn from idols to serve the living God, it might sound offensive. There is also the element of pride. We do not want the non-Christian to know that we do not have all the answers. This is of course a wrong attitude, but nevertheless it has hindered hundreds of Chinese Christians from opening their mouths to testify for Christ.
To overcome this, I strongly recommend that we do not make personal evangelism the only way of witnessing. We could tailor our approach to fit the cultural and sociological outlooks of the Chinese. We shall find that cell or unit evangelism is probably more conducive and effective for Chinese Christians. In twos or threes we could collectively introduce Christ to our non-Christian friends. We shall experience much joy in this form of partnership in the gospel.
The Chinese family unit is still a strong factor in spite of the upheavals of social life in many of our urban communities. Where the issue of religion is concerned, it is the family that decides. The teenage son who comes home and announces that he wants to become a Christian will notice the tense atmosphere from other members in his family. The first thought that springs to the father will probably be: "Who’s gong to take care of the family shrine when I die? If he is baptized, then it might well be the end of our tradition and lineage."
Would it not be better if we sought to evangelize the entire family? J. Robertson McQuilkin cited an example of family evangelism undertaken by a Japanese church:
"We will find that the `sweet potato-vine’ evangelism as the Japanses call it – cultivating the family stalk – will prove more effective than our Western mass appeal to the individualistic ego. Bishop Mural of the Spirit of Jesus Church, Japan’s fastest growing and second largest Protestant Church, tells me that he gave up evangelistic campaigns many years ago and that he now follows family lines in evangelistic outreach."6
The popularity of home or cottage meetings indicates the strategic role of the Christian family or home as as base of evangelism. In a Chinese church where I was the associate pastor, we discovered that most of the conversions (about 80 to 100 per year) took place in the home. We should therefore encourage and teach our families the values of hospitality and the use of their homes for informal meetings and discussions.
Without doubt, youth and children are most responsive to the gospel. What is sadly lacking is the nurturing of those who profess faith in Christ and those who pass through our Sunday schools. Special training units should be set up in seminaries, churches and Sunday schools.
There is dire need for Christian educators to train Sunday school teachers in programmed teaching, making the lessons at the same time more interesting and relevant. A Christian publisher in Hong Kong has set up an audio-visual department to help Sunday school teachers and youth workers to improve their communication lines. This is a commendable effort.
Ours is an age of mass media. There is a radio or transistor in every Chinese home. What do they listen to? How do we gain their hearing? This means quality radio scripts and productions. Then there is the field of television. In a recent survey, we are told that half of Hong Kong’s four million population watch a locally-produced program "Enjoy Yourself Tonight." What makes this telecast so popular? What can Christian communicators learn from this?
The ingredients of this program consist of popular songs and simple skits or sketches with occasional dances. The choreography is superb and the stars of the show are very versatile.
Surely, we can discern the importance of good music. Christian concerts have drawn large audiences. The musical nights organized by a student group in the University of Malaysia attracted 400 to 500 students a night for four nights and at least 70 percent of the audience were non-Christians. These would not have normally gone to an evangelistic mission because they were afraid to be "got at." Music can be a bridge for the proclamation of the gospel.
The medium that attracts the largest crowds is undoubtedly drama. It is said that Hinduism is communicated by drama and not by the worship service because it has none. The wayang kulit (shadow play) in Indonesia reenacts the dualistic conflict of good and evil. It has never failed to attract the crowds. The same could be said for the Chinese opera and for simple sketches. The audiences are tantalized and gripped by these productions. Mao Tse Tung in China saw the significance of the theater. One of the severest purges in the Great Cultural Revolution was the Peking Opera. His own wife, Chian Ching, reorganized the whole opera so that it would produce and stage undiluted communist ideology.
Chinese Christians must make better use of drama in order to communicate the faith, Christian values and thoughts to the masses. Young and creative men and women should be encouraged to train as producers of TV programs, and gifted ones be called to act for God.
The same could be said of literature. In a survey on the attitude of Hong Kong youths towards religion, only "3.2 percent of the respondents stated that religious publications were the greatest influence in leading them to their religious faith.7 In the same survey over 43 percent gave "lack of information" as the chief reason for not professing a religious faith. Surely, it is the task of Christian writers and publishers to publish more readable books giving information on the basic subjects of God, Jesus Christ, man, sin, the purpose of living, and faith. There is an excess of devotional and biographical Chinese Christian literature. The tracts that are churned out by the millions cannot speak to the increasingly literate Chinese readership. Well produced books and booklets are necessary if we want to sow the gospel seeds in the hearts of the Chinese in the diaspora.
Recently, I walked in a predominantly Chinese neighborhood in Singapore. In nearly every home there were family and ancestral shrines or tablets. Joss sticks were burning fragrantly. If you asked the occupants what religion they belonged to, the reply were be, pai shen, which literally means "worship or reverence of the gods." The term shen is used by many Christians as synonymous with God. To many non-Christians, we are thought to be worshippers of a Western deity – Jesus!
There is a tremendous need for us to give basic teaching on the true and living God and his way of salvation. Careful consideration should be given to the publication of articles or booklets on "The Christian and Ancestral Worship," stressing the positive aspect of Christian young people as ones who love and honor their parents. Although becoming a Christian means turning away from the false worship and values of Chinese religion, we must do all we can to assure the new converts that they are not left in a vacuum. They are welcomed members in the family of God. This is where a live local church characterized by love can play a vital part in strengthening these new believers.
The aim of evangelizing the Chinese of the diaspora must be subordinated to the overall aim of world evangelism. Although it is true that Chinese Christians have to play a major role in this task, yet we must not allow ourselves to become chauvinistic or exclusive. It was most refreshing for me to hear a senior Chinese Christian in Manila tell how the Lord led him and a few other Chinese Christian leaders to support the work of an indigenous Filipino missionary fellowship. We should seize the opportunities of witnessing to people of different cultures.
As God empowers and enables us to reach out to our kinsmen, we should also reach out to those of other races and cultural backgrounds. Let us pray that the Spirit of God will lift us out of our lethargy and half-hearted commitment, and spur us in partnership with his people, to evangelize and make disciples of all nations.
1. Williams Lea E., The Future of the Overseas Chinese in Southeast Asia, p. 3.
2. Haines, J.H.,Chinese of the Diaspora, pp. 34-38.
3. Trueblood, Elton, The Company of the committed, p. 68.
4. Brougham, David, Training of the Chinese in Indonesia, p. 157.
5. Cole, Alan, Men for the Asian Ministry, "The Way," No. 2, 1970, pp. 2-3.
6. McQuilkin, J.R., The Japan Christian Quarterly, Fall, 1967.
7. Lee, W.Y. and Dingler, W., Youth and Religion, p. 13.
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