by Sharon Mumper
Reports from around the world.
The Hong Kong church shifts into overdrive
As far as Hong Kong Baptist Church pastor Timothy Lau is concerned, 1997 has already come. The events of last spring, says Lau, gave Hong Kong a glimpse of its future after its takeover by China. It is not a pleasant sight.
Nevertheless, he says, "It is good we had a foretaste of the situation we will face after they take over. We can think through how to deal with them and help Christians prepare themselves."
Many people have become more serious about their faith since the Beijing massacre. "They are eager to learn and equip themselves so they will be well prepared for the future," says Lau. "Where before there was the feeling 1997 was a long way off, today there is a sense of urgency."
The chaotic events of spring brought another revelation to the church. "We discovered we lack a theological basis for facing political issues," says Lau. "When the crackdown came, a lot of pastors—including me—did not know how to react. How do we prepare our sermons in the light of these events? How do we teach our congregation?"
"Ten years ago, most people thought Christianity should not deal with political issues," says Hong Kong Baptist College philosophy and religion professor Leung In Sing. "But after China said they wanted to take Hong Kong back, political issues became more important."
Christians were at the fore of Hong Kong pro-democracy activity last May. Mass rallies and demonstrations drew of thousands of Christians. They were among the first to place—and sign—advertisements in local papers supporting the democratic movement in China.
"The church is changing," says Leung. "Many young people are saying 1997 is for us; not the old people. Beginning in 1987, young Christians became more active, pushing the church toward involvement."
Church leadership is younger than ever before. Thousands of Christians have joined the horde of Hong Kong residents who over the last five years have sought a more promising future in other lands. As a result, churches have been left denuded of mature pastors, elders, and teachers.
Half of Hong Kong pastors are 30 years of age or younger, says Lau. Inexperienced, pastoring large churches, and facing challenges that would daunt even a mature pastor, they are "crying for help."
Nevertheless, the church is reaching out to grasp the challenge before it. A preliminary draft of the report prepared by Hong Kong delegates at Lausanne II in Manila last summer said the crisis "cannot break our will and our determination to make Hong Kong our home and to take root in this city…"
The group adopted as its own the goals of Mission Hong Kong 2000, a seven-point plan developed by the Hong Kong Church Renewal Movement and signed seven months before by some 400 church leaders as a signal of their commitment to Hong Kong beyond 1997. At the same time, they declared their intention to increase the percentage of evangelical Christians in Hong Kong from 4 to 10 percent by the year 2000, and the number of churches from 800 to 2,000.
"We don’t believe this is the end of the scene," says Philemon Choi, general secretary of Breakthrough, a multi-media youth ministry. "In coming years, Hong Kong churches will be flooded with converts, because the message makes sense. You can no longer trust your own ability or rely on human governments. There is only one way to turn, and people are turning to Christ as never before."
A South African launching pad
How does a poor church become a missionary sending church? For years, David Mniki, consumed with a vision to establish a mission sending center, puzzled over this dilemma. Most churches in South Africa have trouble supporting their own pastors, let alone missionaries.
Today, he is director of Kholo Christian Mission Center in Transkei, a South African enclave with an annual per capita income of $86. The training and sending group has six missionaries working among Mozambican refugees. Four more graduated last fall. Within two years they hope to deploy at 100 more.
"We think the South African church hasn’t been tapped enough for finances," says Mniki. "Individuals say if they see a good thing, something they know comes from the Holy Spirit, they will be with it."
His plan does not, however, rely on the church collection plate. To date, mission work has been funded by proceeds from a business operated for the purpose of sending missionaries. Mniki plans to begin more businesses in cooperation with other missions-minded Christians. The government offers so many incentives to businesses, it is impossible to fail, he says.
Christians with their own businesses have grasped his vision and made commitments to support mission work. And, Mniki hopes to some teams of missionaries to other countries, where they will begin tentmaking businesses, and then reach out into communities.
Last year, some 200 churches formed an alliance to send and support missionaries through the center. Churches will not support the program directly, but are encouraging individual members to contribute, and are taking responsibility for recruiting missionaries and operating the program. Although initial goals called for sending 100 missionaries, every church indicated they want to send at least one candidate the first year of the program.
"We have a bright future," says Mniki. "We want to see the whole evangelical church in South Africa get into missions and work together."
China’s church: Bracing for persecution
"If the government tells me I have to join the Three Self Patriotic Movement or that I can’t worship God, then it is into the ‘lion’s den.’" There are some things Samuel Lamb, a 22-year veteran of Chinese prisons, is willing to suffer and even die for. Political ideology is not one of them.
The pastor of a thriving house church in Canton, Lamb turned down the request of students to hold a pro-democracy march and prayer meeting during the May student uprising.
"Paul says we are to obey the government," says Lamb. "We don’t get mixed up in political things." Nevertheless, pastors like Lamb and their churches may suffer the consequences of a conservative backlash unleashed following the violent June 4 putdown of the student movement.
"Serious persecution of the church is inevitable," asserts Tony Lambert, chief researcher for the OMF China program. "Every time the communist government has veered to a more Maoist or leftwing position, the church has always suffered."
A small number of Christians were involved in last spring’s pro-democracy demonstrations. Seminary students in Nanjing and Beijing joined other students in marches and demonstrations. Some Christians in Beijing provided food to student demonstrators. Most significant, Bishop K. H. Ting, head of the TSPM, issued a statement in May supporting the pro-democracy movement. His retraction two months later is not likely to take much of the heat out of the firestorm that seems to be brewing just over the horizon.
Meanwhile, many Christians in China are warning Hong Kong friends to take a lower political profile. "Why do you bring those Hong Kong newspapers here [telling of the brutal suppression of the pro-democracy -movement]? It’s dangerous and we don’t want them," one group was told. Some house church leaders scolded the Far East Broadcasting Corporation for broadcasting news, warning them that news is always seen by communist governments as counter-revolutionary.
But there is a broad silver lining in the storm over the church in China. Many students, disillusioned by their government and their own futile attempts to bring freedom, have turned to the hope of the gospel. In the month following the suppression of the student movement, some 500 students were baptized in one house church. In another city, 50 were baptized in one day.
In fact, most of the 800 members who attend Lamb’s church in three shifts are young people. Jammed shoulder to shoulder, filling the aisles and every available nook on two floors of an old house, they sit motionless through two-hour sermons, drinking in every word in silence broken only by the rustle of the pages of the printed sermon notes distributed before every service.
These are the people who, if intolerant forces continue to dominate China, may one day face a "lion’s den" decision, just as their pastor did.
Harvest time in the philippines
Philippine church leaders joke that the speakers at their July Philippine Congress on World Evangelization were forced to practice firstâ€”at Lausanne II in Manila, the Second International Congress on World Evangelization.
In fact, some 6,450 participants from throughout the Philippines heard many of the same speakers who presented messages at the historic Lausanne II congress. Meeting in a hall only five minutes from the Lausanne II conference center, the parallel congress covered many of the same issues, focusing especially on concerns relevant to the Philippines.
"When we heard all these servants of God would be here from throughout the world, and yet only 50 Filipinos would be able to attend as participants, we asked the international program committee for permission to have a parallel congress, using the same speakers," says Fred Magbanua, managing director of FEBC Philippines, and vice-chairman and treasurer of the committee that organized the conference.
Permission was granted and a congress of "firsts" came into being. It was the largest gathering to date of pastors and lay leaders in the Philippines; it represented the broadest coalition of Protestants ever to cooperate on a major program; and it was funded and organized indigenously.
The congress also gave a boost to the prospects of DAWN 2000, the cooperative church program with a goal of planting a Bible-believing church in every barangay (community) by the year 2000. The project was incorporated into the Manila Covenant for World Evangelization, which was presented to conferees at the end of the conference.
The ambitious plan would mean the multiplication of some 19,000 Protestant churches to at least 50,000 by the end of the century. Magbanua is optimistic. "I’ve been a Christian since 1949," he says. "I’ve never seen the country so ripe for the gospel as during the last 10 years."
Three churches a day, one every hours, is planted in the Philippines, according to Jun Veneer, general secretary of the Philippine Council of Evangelical Churches.
The last decade has seen the emergence of a strong charismatic movement. Eddie Villanueva, pastor of the Jesus is Lord Fellowship, estimates hundreds of thousands attend the new independent charismatic churches. Some 100,000 in Metropolitan Manila belong to his fellowship alone.
Villanueva, whose church is probably the country’s fastest growing, attributes the growth to "the anointing of the Holy Spirit manifested in signs, wonders, and miracles."
Manila’s overflowing megachurches, however, are the exception, rather than the rule, in the Philippines. The median size of Philippine churches is 35 members. This concerns a number of missionaries who believe churches are being pushed to reproduce daughter churches before they are able to function well on their own.
"There is constant tension between creating a strong discipleship base, and continually focusing on outward growth," says Jeanie Curryer, director of research for Philippine Crusades.
Nevertheless, churches are growing. "I don’t know anybody who just preaches the word of God and the congregation does not grow," says FEBC’s Magbanua.
How long will the Philippine revival last? "Other countries have had revivals and harvest, but eventually they die out," says Magbanua. "I’m praying the Lord will keep the momentum going."
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