by Sharon E. Mumper
Reports from around the world.
Repenting in China
"The first thing I had to do was repent." Emerging from the horrors of 20 years in a Chinese prison labor camp, repentance was the last thing on his mind when the pastor went looking for remnants of the small congregation he had left behind.
In the years since he had been wrenched from the church he loved, they had endured incredible suffering. Their church had been closed, their Bibles burned, their children indoctrinated with communist ideology. Perhaps a few brave souls remained, he reasoned.
Then the pastor discovered something about the faithfulness and power of God. The church he assumed had been fatally wounded actually had gained strength and multiplied in size several times over. It was time to repent, he said, because of his lack of faith in God.
The pastor was not alone in his surprise by what God had done in China. When China’s doors began to open to the West after years of seclusion, Christians from outside filtered back into the country, searching for the faithful few who might remain. What they found was a growing, witnessing, vital church. It was a church poised to explode in even greater growth as restrictions against it were eased.
Today, evangelical China watchers estimate the number of Protestant Christians at 30 to 50 million or more. Some 40 years ago, there were less than 1 million Protestants. After four decades of repression by a communist government, the church has multiplied 30 to 50 times. What happened?
"Some faithful men of God paid a heavy price for holding onto their beliefs and not denying Christ," said Jonathan Chao, director of the Chinese Church Research Center on Hong Kong. "Their faithfulness to Christ inspired the younger generation."
During the years of the Cultural Revolution, a period of violent upheaval in Chinese society, all Christians-along with many others-suffered physical or mental abuse. "This transformed the remnant of believers," said Chao. "Some became very good servants of God. They understood the place of suffering. What had been a timid church became a vibrant, witnessing body of believers."
As church leaders were imprisoned or executed, a strong lay movement emerged.
"If anything stands out in Chinese history of the past 35 years, it is the importance of lay witness," James H. Taylor III, general director of the Overseas Missionary Fellowship, wrote in Chinese Around the World (September 1986). "It is humbling to see what God has done in mainland China without the help of any missionary, as pastors were imprisoned and the responsibility to witness fell upon lay people," he said.
Taylor told the story of a Christian layman who on his release from prison could find no one in his home region who was a Christian. He began to witness, and in two years saw 7,000 people turn to Christ.
China observers agree that prayer has been a strong component in the revival of the church. "During the latter part of the Cultural Revolution, it was illegal to hold meetings," said Chao. Although Christians could not meet to hold services, they could pray. That was the beginning of a dynamic prayer movement that continues to this day.
"Through prayer, they experience signs and miracles and demonstrations of God’s power," said Chao. "This has contributed to massive growth." All Christian organizations that study the church in China can relate stories of large numbers of people who turn to the Lord after witnessing miraculous incidents.
Eye specialists turn away a blind woman whose condition is "hopeless." A Christian friend prays, her eyesight is restored, and her family and 30 other villagers accept Christ.
In response to the prompting of the Holy Spirit, a Christian coal miner in charge of security sounds an alarm, though it seems no danger is imminent. Some 400 men come out of the shaft and moments later it collapses. Realizing their lives have been saved super-naturally, they drop to their knees-and become the nucleus of a new church.
Such stories abound. One China research center says up to 20 percent or more of the mail they receive from Christians in China refer-often casually and matter-of-factly-to supernatural healings.
"Many Christians in China exhibit pentecostal and charismatic traits, but they aren’t called that," said Chao. "They don’t know the term. They experience remarkable healings and deliverances, and they exercise charismatic gifts. But there is no division among them because of it. If you speak in tongues, ok. If not, ok."
Part of the foundation for growth was laid by the very Cultural Revolution that sought to destroy the church and other social institutions. Although many Christians gained strength through the things they suffered, non-Christians were often devastated. It was communist ideology run amuck. When the chaos ended, an entire generation was completely disillusioned with communism and ready for something-anything-that offered hope.
"The Gang of Four (China’s leaders during the Cultural Revolution) has destroyed the Communist Party," a Chinese official told David Wang, executive vice-president of Asian Outreach, International. "But it has built the Christian church."
The growth of the church in China continues to amaze observers. Meanwhile, Chinese Christians work hard to reach their countrymen during this time of limited freedom. More than anyone else they know the future is not guaranteed. And, as citizens of populous China, they face perhaps the greatest challenge of the century-nearly 1 billion neighbors who do not yet know Jesus.
Hong Kong: Revising the priorities
"In China, we see a church whose experience is ahead of its knowledge," said David Wang, executive vice-president of Asian Outreach, International. "In Hong Kong, we have a church whose knowledge is far ahead of its experience. My prayer is that the two will come closer together."
Hong Kong is a resource center for the Chinese church around the world. Christian book publishers, audio-visual centers, seminaries, and Bible colleges abound. The little city-colony supplies Christian workers for Chinese churches in Latin America, Africa, Europe, Asia, and North America.
Scores of parachurch organizations serve some 700 Protestant churches in Hong Kong and hundreds more throughout the world. Christians in the prosperous British colony have been doing their share-and more. Who could fault them if the church was a bit complacent?
If the church was self-satisfied, the events of the last five years have shaken it to its roots. Faced with the prospect of coming under communist rule in 1997 when Britain returns its crown colony to China, Christians are re-evaluating their priorities.
Topping the revised priority agenda is prayer for church renewal in Hong Kong. Since 1984, several prayer and fasting rallies have drawn thousands of Christians, while thousands more have met in their churches to pray for renewal. A recently-formed church renewal committee is seeking to promote prayer and spiritual renewal in the churches. As a result of the crisis, parachurch organizations have published study materials and sponsored seminars on renewal and evangelism.
"We must build a stronger church-one that will be ready for whatever the future holds," said Theodore Hsueh, general manager of Christian Communications, Ltd., of Hong Kong. He said that after 1997, Hong Kong Christians may have a "God-given opportunity" to display their Christian character.
"But a price may have to be paid," he said. "If Christians can withstand the test, they can influence not only the people of Hong Kong, but also those in China."
Meanwhile, Wang is hopeful for the church "whose knowledge is far ahead of its experience." God is working in Hong Kong. "I see some very positive signs," he said.
Two plums in the basket and one more to go
With two plums ripening for harvest in the 1990s, China is eyeing the biggest and juiciest plum of all-Taiwan. If it can be plucked, it probably won’t be in this generation.
Hong Kong and Macau were relatively easy to get. Hong Kong is a British Crown Colony acquired from China during the Opium Wars in what China frequently refers to as an "unequal treaty." A large part of its territory is on China’s mainland. That section, which supplies most of the colony’s natural resources, is leased from China. The lease will be up in 1997, and China made it clear some time ago it would not be renewed.
Ever pragmatic, Great Britain began negotiations for the return of the entire property. In 1984, a Sino-British joint declaration was signed, providing for the return of Hong Kong to China in July, 1997.
Just three years later, in April, 1987, Portugal signed a similar agreement with China for the return of its former colony. There is evidence Portugal will be glad to get rid of the little gambling haven. Occupied by Portugal since 1557, the six-square mile community was re-defined in 1974 as Chinese territory under Portuguese administration. Portuguese troops left, and nothing but China’s distaste for the city’s main business protected it from reunification.
Apparently, China has decided it can tolerate Macau’s lifestyle. The former colony will revert to China in December, 1999.
Chinese officials hope an orderly and successful transfer to Chinese rule by these two colonies will encourage Taiwan to respond to China’s advances. So far, Taiwan is having none of it. The generation that fled the mainland in 1948 is not yet gone, and they have taught their children well. Moreover, there is no colonial power to turn them over. China has not yet seen a territory submit to voluntary re-unification.
The Antioch of Asia
While the church has grown in suffering in China, it has thrived in prosperity in Singapore. The former British colony located at the southern tip of the Malay Peninsula is predominantly Chinese. It is the young, professional Chinese who are responding most enthusiastically to the gospel.
Secondary school students are the most receptive segment of Singapore society, according to Keith Hinton, author of Growing Churches Singapore Style (OMF Books).
University campuses are fertile ground for the gospel as well. More than 40 percent of college undergraduates belong to one of three evangelical student groups: The Navigators, Campus Crusade for Christ, and InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. On the medical campus, 76 percent of students belong to one of the three groups, according to Benjamin Chew, a retired medical doctor who now serves as chairman of the Evangelical Fellowship of Singapore. He said most university administrators are evangelical Christians.
Each year, 1,300 members of Christian student groups graduate from Singapore colleges, producing a "remarkable effect on the churches, government, and business," said Chew. Today, nearly 40 percent of parliament members and 35 percent of cabinet members are Christians, he said.
In the last decade, Singapore has seen a phenomenal upsurge of interest in Christianity, especially among young, English-speaking, professional Chinese who, though a minority in Singapore, wield tremendous influence.
In the last 10 years, the nation’s churches have experienced what Chew calls "an evangelical shift." Churches and seminaries that once were liberal bastions are now "solidly evangelical," said Chew. Trained, dedicated young people fill pews and pulpits. But the influx of Christian young people is only part of the reason for the revitalization of staid mainline churches.
"The charismatic movement has affected all the mainline denominations," said Chew. "Now we can see there is life in these churches. People are singing with gusto; when you speak with them, you see the sparkle."
The Full Gospel Businessmen’s Fellowship, International, has influenced the growth of the charismatic movement in Singapore, and the church in general, said Alfred C.H. Yeo, general secretary of the Evangelical Fellowship of Singapore. Partly as a result of the charismatic fellowship’s influence, Singapore’s business community has been profoundly affected. A 1980 survey showed that 28 percent of professional and technical workers were Christians. Some 25 percent of administrators and managers were Christians. Most Christian workers believe those percentages would be higher now.
Despite the church’s rapid growth, Chew estimates only 12.5 percent of the general population are Christians. This is because only 2.8 percent of those with less than a secondary education are Protestant Christians, according to a 1980 census.
"The church is very much professional and upper-middle class," said Hinton. The gospel has made little impact among members of the non-English speaking blue-collar working classes who comprise the majority of Singapore society. "The only hope I see for the redemption of the masses is first, through the charismatic . . . and secondly, through the few professionals who have the desire and capacity to cross social barriers downwards."
A fresh desire to reach these other language groups is reflected in the Luis Palau crusade sponsored last summer by most Protestant churches in Singapore. Messages were interpreted in four Chinese dialects and printed in seven more languages. Some 11,800 people responded to altar calls, 60 percent making first-time decisions to follow Christ. A significant number of these were non-English speakers.
The new interest in outreach to Singapore’s unreached groups may be a result of the community’s missionary vision. Some 365 Singaporeans serve overseas as short or long-term missionaries, Yeo said. Despite the recession that is tightening the city’s belt, Christians are giving freely to missions and other ministry outreach.
What does this mean for the future? "I believe Singapore will become a Christian center," said Chew. The city bears a striking resemblance, some leaders believe, to another famous missionary city of 2,000 years ago. It is possible, they say, that Singapore could become a new Antioch-perhaps the Antioch of Asia.
Copyright © 1987 Evangelism and Missions Information Service (EMIS). All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced or copied in any form without written permission from EMIS.