by Sharon E. Mumper
CHINA: Amity rolls out the welcome mat In one of the most astonishing turns in the always surprising labyrinth of Chinese policy, top Chinese religious officials are shaking out a long-unused welcome mat.
CHINA: Amity rolls out the welcome mat
In one of the most astonishing turns in the always surprising labyrinth of Chinese policy, top Chinese religious officials are shaking out a long-unused welcome mat.
Especially remarkable, given China's well-publicized views on the "religious imperialism" of the foreign Christian establishment, is the enthusiasm with which the country is seeking contributions from Christians in the West.
"Gifts of personnel and money are invited," is the official word. The official channel of distribution is the Amity Foundation. Established last spring, the new organization immediately made international headlines with the announcement of its first project-a multi-million dollar printing plant to be funded primarily by the United Bible Societies.
The plant will give priority to the printing of Bibles, New Testaments, and other Christian literature, but will also produce other materials "of service to society," Although the UBS will provide funds and some expertise for the project, news releases stated that the facility would be "under the direction and ownership or control of the foundation."
Announcements of other projects followed quickly. Only months after its first formal board meeting, the foundation had recruited and placed 22 foreign language teachers funded by an assortment of religious organizations, including, in North America, the National Council of Churches the China Education Exchange, a bi-national, inter-Mennonite organization.
With both Chinese and foreign funds, the foundation has sponsored a host of other social service projects designed to "make Christian participation and witness in society more widely known to the Chinese people."
Formed by the Chinese Christian Council, the stated purpose of the foundation is to promote health, education, and social services in China. Its leaders adamantly state that the foundation is neither a religious organization nor a division of the Chinese church. It will not fund any church or church project.
For this reason, the foundation sees no contradiction between its fundraising and recruitment activities and the three-self principle so vigorously embraced by the leaders of the Three-Self Patriotic Movement, China's officially-recognized church.
Not surprisingly, Christians outside China have reacted diversely to news of the new foundation. China watcher Ralph Covell is entirely positive. Covell, who is academic dean at Denver Conservative Baptist Seminary, sees the foundation as "an opportunity to relate to the church in China in a nonpaternalistic fashion."
Others, including David Adeney, China Program coordinator, Overseas Missionary Fellowship, welcome the initiative, but are wary of the ramifications of the foundation's expressed desire to become an advisory and validating agency for "overseas friends."
Many organizations that minister to the church in China are concerned that Christians may come to see the Amity Foundation as the only legitimate channel for work in the country.
Evangelicals have already been working directly with the Chinese government to provide services, points out Jonathan Chao, director of the Chinese Church Research Center in Hong Kong. The new foundation could siphon evangelical funds, drying up the source of monies that organizations such as his use to minister more directly to the Chinese church.
Perhaps the greatest concern of foreign Christian organizations that minister in China is the possibility that the foundation will attempt to control all foreign Christian involvement in the country. Amity Foundation has categorically stated it will not do so. However, only a few months after the foundation was established, leaders derailed a major Christian project initiated by another group.
The real question, however, may not be whether the Amity Foundation wants to control all foreign Christian initiative in China, but whether it could possibly do so.
In the last couple of years China has seen firsthand the benefits to be reaped in making use of foreign funds for business and social services. Cities, universities, and whole provinces are competing for the attention of would-be contributors. No single organization will soon be in a position to control all foreign Christian involvement in a country the size of China.
SOUTH AFRICA: Missionaries on a tightrope
Many white missionaries in South Africa today are walking a dangerous tightrope. As expatriates they are well aware of their tenuous-and highly revokable- privilege as guests in the country. Yet in today's confrontational atmosphere, they may be pressured to take a stand on important social issues.
"The missionary needs to understand the relationship between evangelism and social responsibility," says Dal Congdon. A former missionary to South Africa, Congdon has been seconded by The Evangelical Alliance Mission to the Interdenominational Foreign Mission Association.
"If he feels he is required to be a social activist, and to be visible, his days are numbered as a missionary. This has always been true," he said.
Yet, even careful missionaries find their very presence in certain areas may give them-and those with whom they minister-an undesired visibility. During violent periods, gangs of youth roam the streets of black neighborhoods, posing a very real danger for white missionaries on business in the area.
But missionaries are not the only endangered species in black neighborhoods. "Increasingly, we are finding that the presence of the white missionary will jeopardize the well-being of the national Christian," says veteran missionary Duane Kruger of the Africa Evangelical Fellowship.
Kruger, who has attended a church in Soweto since 1954, said that when he returns to South Africa following his furlough, he will be reassigned to a Bible Institute at Pietermaritzburg.
"We are finding it necessary to operate at more distance," he said. Kruger said that fewer AEF missionaries are now working directly with local black churches. "A key need today is training nationals," he said.
Training nationals is not a new concept for missionaries to South Africa. For years, many mission agencies have had strong educational programs-a fact that has angered a segment of the white population.
Today, perhaps as many as 20 percent of whites blame missionaries for much of the black unrest, according to Church of the Nazarene missionary Tom Riley. "They feel that missionaries came and heightened the expectation of blacks by giving them education," he said.
Despite this, however, most whites have at least a grudging, if not wholehearted, respect for missionaries. "The whites see the missionary as someone who has often worked in areas where they would not care to work," he said. "They respect missionaries for it-although sometimes they think we are a little crazy."
For their part, the black community respects missionaries who are willing to work among them, Riley says. "The bravery of the missionary is respected by the people," he said. "The missionary is seen as someone who really cares for them."
"The credibility of the missionary among black Christians is not based on political stance," said Congdon. His credibility is based both on his commitment to the gospel and on his willingness to suffer with the black church.
"The missionary's commitment to the gospel should lead him to express what he feels is taught in the gospel," he said. But missions will remain his priority, not political activism.
ETHIOPIA: The hidden story
Although rains came last summer watering parched hopes in drought-stricken Ethiopia, the country continues to need massive aid to feed some eight million undernourished or starving people.
A continuing crisis loses its emotional appeal after awhile, however. After a few months of sifting the deserts of Ethiopia in search of news, world attention has swept on to other more immediate crises, just as relief agencies predicted it would.
But even in Ethiopia's hour on center stage, when journalists swarmed over the countryside, at least one significant story escaped the attention of most secular observers.
It is the story of a suffering church.
During the last five years, hundreds of Ethiopia's churches have been closed by provincial government officials. Ethiopia has no national policy forbidding the practice of religion. Local political cadres, however, are permitted to restrict the church in any way they see fit.
In October, 1984, at the of a passionately patriotic 10th anniversary of Ethiopia's revolution, many local officials, apparently inflamed by slogans urging the suppression of "anti-revolutionary forces," began to close churches.
In a single week, 700 churches were closed in one province alone. Most affected by that crackdown was the one-million-member Word of Life (Kale Hiwet) church. The church is an outgrowth of SIM, International, which began work in Ethiopia in 1927.
Now, nearly 1,800 of the Word of Life's 2,500 churches are closed. At various times during the last few years as many as 20 denominational leaders have been in prison at the same time. Arrested and held without charge, they have been confined for periods ranging from weeks to years.
The second largest denomination is the Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus, with, a membership of nearly 700,000. Now a member of the Lutheran World Federation, the church traces its roots to Scandinavian Lutheran missions that first came to Ethiopia in the mid-19th Century.
About 500 of the Mekane Yesus' 2,000 churches are now closed. During the last several years hundreds of church leaders and members have been in prison for various lengths of time.
Even harder hit is the Meserete Kristos church, which was related to various Mennonite churches in the U.S. Top leaders have been in prison for years and none of their churches are allowed to function openly.
Pentecostal congregations, banned even before the 1974 revolution, are not allowed to function as churches. Many of those congregations have disbanded and members are now meeting with other denominations.
So far, the Ethiopian Orthodox church has enjoyed a tenuous freedom. At the time of the revolution, the church had a membership of 15.6 million-about 55 percent of the population. Not surprisingly, the new government found it expedient to work with the huge church.
The small Roman Catholic church has experienced little opposition from government leaders. Both the Orthodox and Roman Catholic church have lost influence, however, and some observers of the church scene predict their days of comparative freedom are numbered.
In view of statistics like these, some ask why Christian relief agencies continue to pour their hearts-and finances-into Ethiopia. Surely a country that persecutes Christians does not deserve to receive help from Christians.
World Relief Executive Director Jerry Ballard has struggled with the issue, and come to some conclusions: "We are to be concerned about God's people and others who live in poverty and have hunger needs-no matter what the political environment…We at World Relief will never allow our actions to further the cause of an ungodly government. But neither will we forsake the church or needy people because of a hostile political situation."
IFES: An international mosaic
From Marxist Angola came the plea, "Send someone who can work with us to build our evangelical student movement." The writer was a doctor who was converted in Zaire through the ministry of a Swiss student. The movement in Angola had been begun by a Finn and a Cuban doctor. Now more help was needed.
Who to send? Angola was a Portuguese-speaking country, so the student movement in Brazil was tapped. Yes, there was a worker who would be glad to go. But Brazil's mushrooming rate of inflation made it impossible to support a worker outside of the country. No problem. The student movement in Canada would send money.
"So here you have a Brazilian, sent by Canadians, going to Angola in response to a request by a man converted in Zaire through a Swiss to develop a program begun by a Finn and a Cuban," said Chua Wee Hian, general director of the London-based International Fellowship of Evangelical Students (IFES). "To me, that's a tremendous testimony of our oneness in Jesus Christ."
Such international scenarios are a distinctive of IFES, an association of 77 student movements around the world. Founded in the 1870s, the organization links about 180,000 students in 103 countries, including nearly 30 Marxist or Muslim countries where student groups are not permitted to affiliate with IFES.
The growth of the organization in recent years parallels a new openness to the gospel among students in many countries. Nigeria's movement is only 16 years old. But today, it boasts 200 groups with 40,000 students. In Singapore, 2,000 students belong to a single Inter-Varsity chapter in a university with a total student population of 12,000. Zambia's 1,500 members represent 11 percent of the country's total student population.
In several Latin American countries, student groups are flourishing as never before. "In Latin America, students used to be keen on politics," said Chua. "But they have come to realize that political parties or ideologies cannot solve the problems of a nation. So there is a stronger search for spiritual reality . . . many are open to the claims of Jesus Christ in a new way and are coming to faith in him."
Students around the world today are becoming increasingly pragmatic and serious about life, said Chua. This may be a factor in the growth of student movements. "When people are serious about life, they start thinking about eternal reality," he said.
The news is not good everywhere, however. Despite the fact that student work is blossoming in scores of countries, workers in Europe continue to battle campus apathy and cynicism.
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