by David H. Adeney
With the rapid growth of the student population in the great cities of Asia, churches and missionary societies are increasingly eager to find new ways of reaching the university campus with the Gospel. Four million Asian students are on the march; among them, a small minority of Christians.
With the rapid growth of the student population in the great cities of Asia, churches and missionary societies are increasingly eager to find new ways of reaching the university campus with the Gospel. Four million Asian students are on the march; among them, a small minority of Christians. The Asian revolution is producing a mass society that is striving to integrate Western technology with local culture. Each nation is struggling to develop its own personality and independent status on the international scene. Students are in the forefront of this movement. Often they are extremely critical of the status quo, and in many countries they lead frequent strikes and demonstrations. Most of them are motivated by a purely materialistic desire to get through their examinations and to get a good job, but a vocal minority is involved in political movements. Some students are discovering that a materialistic philosophy of life leads into the wilderness of a purposeless existence, and among them are more than a few who are open to the message of Jesus Christ.
In many countries there is a strong trend toward a socialist form of government that may become totalitarian. Students are called to build the kingdom of man, and they tend to turn away from the religion of their parents. Facing the inroads of materialism, the religions of Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, and Shintoism strive to modernize their systems. At the same time militant, semi-political new religious movements like the Sokka Gakai in Japan are fighting to gain the allegiance of the students.
Recognizing that the university is one of the most strategic missionary areas in our generation, we must look at what Christian organizations are doing and seek to evaluate their effectiveness.
In 1964 the East Asian Christian Council and the World Student Christian Federation formed a joint committee. At ,a Consultation on Ecumenical Strategies in the Universities of Asia EACC leaders said "that for more than seventy years the WSCF has been the ecumenical agency which has sustained the Christian witness in the universities and colleges of Asia." They concluded that it should continue to carry this responsibility. The WSCF is the international movement to which the various national Student Christian Movements belong. The SCM stated its "religious and ideological position" as follows: "Generally the movements are open to all students, of whatever opinion, who wish to test the claims of Jesus Christ." Its primary aim is "to help students and other members of the academic community to share the Christian faith and to live out all its implications." The SCM’s basic platform emphasizes that "WSCF member movements are concerned with `Christian presence’ in the world and they believe that to be real this presence has to be ecumenical."
A wide spectrum of theological thought is found within the SCM. In many places liberal theologians and literature have a strong influence, but in countries where the churches tend to be more conservative, the SCM may have a more evangelical emphasis. Look what is happening in Korea, for example, where the church is generally recognized as one of the most conservative in Asia. In light of this, the report of the Korean general secretary of the SCM is most revealing. He writes:
"As the traditional methods of preaching the unchanging good news of God in Christ seem to become less and less pertinent to the needs of a secular society, the SCM of Korea is entering a period which can perhaps best be described by the words experimentation and risk …. The main concern of the SCM in 1965 was to actualize the Christian community as the presence of the living Christ in the academic world of Korea . . . . There is no objective way to measure the impact of our efforts on individual students. We do know that many students came to realize that they cannot face life as a Methodist, or Presbyterian,butmust face it as a Christian in relation with other Christians and also in relation with their nonChristian brothers all of whom are especially loved by God.
. . There were frequent expressions of desire for cooperation between religious and non-religious groups in seeking the common betterment of the university. We heartily welcome such expressions as providing an excellent opportunity to manifest Christ’s lordship of the campus and society."
The head of the SCM in Korea then goes on to discuss some of the conflicts among those seeking to minister specifically to students. "The first of these is the conflict between WSCF-related groups (SCM, YMCA, YWCA) and the various sectarian groups such as Campus Crusade, Youth for Christ, and Inter-Varsity. The appeal of the sectarian groups is strictly individual with the stress on personal salvation. They are making a much greater visible impact and can readily point to numbers of converts and statistics. We hope we make ourselves quite clear when we say we are entirely in favor of their efforts and rejoice at the souls brought to the Lord through their efforts.
One almost unavoidable result of their work, however, is an ever sharper separation of Christian from non-Christian.
This tends to create confusion on the campus as we attempt to preach the lordship of Christ over the whole university and school. It is not an insoluble conflict. We are seeking ways to combine our aims with those of the sectarian groups."
It is hard to understand how the lordship of Christ can be manifest over the whole university if it is not manifest in the lives of individuals. While it is important that Christians should maintain friendly relations with their non-Christian fellowstudents, it seems inevitable that there must be a separation be
tween those who acknowledge Jesus Christ as Lord and those who do not. While the SCM claims the support of the larger denominations, in many of the universities it has little impact upon non-Christians in terms of leading them to a living faith in Jesus Christ.
One approach to the non-Christian student world has been through the various kinds of Christian institutions of higher education. Some of them in Asia have a long history of valuable service in the academic world. By 1959 there were 171 Christian schools, including twenty-one universities and seventythree colleges with about 150,000 students and 7,000 full-time and 1,800 part-time teachers. Vast amounts of money have been spent on building up the Christian colleges; with the rising standards of education and the demand for academic excellence, the cost has increased tremendously.
While many devoted Christians have taught in these schools, it has become increasingly difficult to find qualified Christian teachers, so that, for example, the percentage of Christians on the faculties of Christian institutions of higher education in Japan averages only 51 percent. In some cases it is as low as 30 percent. From four to six percent of the entering students claim to be Christians, while two percent accept the Christian faith during their school year.
In Indian colleges the percentage of both Christian teachers and students is much lower than in Japan; the Christian witness seems to make little impact upon non-Christians. This is sometimes because nominal Christian students themselves show little interest in the Gospel and are a stumbling block to their non-Christian friends. In some colleges liberal influence has been strong and they stress a form of syncretism, so they don’t make much effort to lead non-Christians to true faith in Christ. The chaplain of one of those colleges told me that his work is made even more difficult by missionary teachers who don’t believe in the uniqueness of Jesus Christ. Sometimes there is a stronger witness by Christian students in secular institutions than in colleges that claim to be Christian. Some collegeshavemaintained a strong evangelical testimony, but the number of strong Christians graduating from these schools and later becoming leaders in the church is relatively small.
Another approach to reaching the university world for Christ is through student centers. In great cities, where students are often upset and dissatisfied with the dismal atmosphere of the overcrowded campus and cramped student lodging houses, a well-equipped student center can be very attractive. An increasing number of student centers has been started as one means of serving both Christian and other students. The World Student Christian Federation, related to the World Council of Churches, says that their effectiveness depends on, among other things, the extent to which they are related to the national Student Christian Movement and suggests that "it would be unwise to establish further centers without fitting into the ecumenical strategy now emerging in Asia." The WSCF concept of a center is a place for serious study of the Bible, of other religions, social concerns and, above all, of the academic work of the university. The centers are "instruments of ecumenical obedience in making the good news of Jesus Christ known to all."
More recently interdenominational missions have started to run well-equipped, sometimes air-conditioned student centers. In cities where student living conditions are very crowded, a comfortable center with games and library facilities naturally proves very attractive. Usually there is a full program of Bible classes, sometimes in several languages. In most of these centers, missionaries provide the leadership. But if student work is missionary-centered, it is hard to avoid the impression that Christianity is a foreign religion. The missionary may bear a true and devoted witness to Christ, resulting in conversions, but unless local Christians take the leadership only those students who are interested in English and in contacts with the West will be attracted to the center. When there is national leadership it is far easier to develop mature Christians who will keep their faith when they leave the shelter of the student center.
In some cases, student centers become a refuge for Christians and an excuse for neglecting active witness on campus. It is easier to sit around in a comfortable center than to go out and talk to non-Christian friends in the university. This danger can be avoided if the center cooperates with an on-campus Christian fellowship and encourages members to take part in the evangelistic activities and training camps of the local evangelical student group. Some of these evangelical student groups have their own centers that they use as a base for oncampus witness.
Especially where it is difficult to get accommodations within the university, a student center with a good library and quiet rooms for Bible study and prayer can be of great value. Much depends on the atmosphere in the center. It should never be "a club for Christian gentlemen" but rather "a barracks for training Christian soldiers." It should attract students who will come with a sense of need and definite objectives. Christians will come to pray, to study, to receive training, and to gain strength to return to the spiritual conflict within the university. Non-Christians brought by their friends will come to seek the truth, to study the Bible, and to discuss the problems of their own society.
The student center must never be a substitute for the local church. It will serve as a meeting place for students from many different churches. Through the meetings on campus and the training sessions in the student center, new believers will be added to the local churches. Where students themselves and young graduates are responsible for the upkeep of these student centers there will be a real awareness of the fact that the work belongs to them and is not controlled by a foreign organization. In somecasesstudents have sacrificed to provide the rent for such a center. Some have even taken menial tasks to keep the work going.
THREE TYPES OF STUDENT WORK
There are three main types of student work in Asian universities.
1. The Umbrella Approach. The umbrella approach makes every effort to unite all kinds of Christians in the university, and so manifest the "Christian presence," a rarely-defined term. Obviously, Christians should show the love of Christ in their relations with one another and present a united witness to their non-Christian friends. Students are impressed when they see Christians working together as one family in Christ, but if spiritual depth and conviction concerning the truth are sacrificed for the sake of an outward unity, there is bound to be failure. Without a firm doctrinal foundation and true spiritual life in the leadership, there can be little effective witness for Christ. Friendly relations between all who name the name of Christ are important, but effective cooperation must be based on a common loyalty to the person of Jesus Christ, obedience to the basic teaching of His apostles, and an acceptance of the authority of the Word of God. The umbrella approach, which seeks to reconcile widely different theological views, will produce an organization that may seem to be united and yet is so deeply divided that it cannot produce a clear witness.
2. Strategic Fishing Ground. Under the strategic fishing ground idea, trained workers from outside the campus are sent in to win as many students as they can for Christ, and Christian students are encouraged to attend off-campus training classes in personal evangelism. Many students have come to know Christ through this kind of mission to students. Sometimes, however, those who follow this approach fail to realize that the university is not just a collection of individuals, bat a unique community that must be regarded as a whole. Christian witness must be given in the context of university life. The university community will be impressed not only by the changed lives of individuals, but also by the character of the whole Christian group. It is tragic, especially in Asian universities where Christians form a small minority, to see evangelical students forming separate little groups, and failing to take their part in the witness of the local on-campus evangelical group. When loyalty to an organization, method, or leader prevents Christian students on campus from presenting a united witness, the message of the Gospel is incomplete.
3. Spiritual Power House. The spiritual power house operates within the university or college-a nucleus of men and women indwelt by the Holy Spirit. Through them the power and love of Christ reach out to their fellow-students. They are not controlled by one church or denomination, but their witness is a part of the spiritual outreach of the various local churches they come from and into which they channel new believers. They welcome all-Christians to their meetings and maintain New Testament standards of doctrine and practice. To be effective, this type of evangelical student group should have the following characteristics:
(1) Its members must be like the men whom Paul describes as those who "worship by the Spirit of God, glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh." It is possible to say you have a Christ-centered movement and yet to show little enthusiasm for the Lord Jesus and fail to talk about Him to your friends. The lordship of Christ must be revealed by the way students react to the daily problems of university life, including their studies and relationships with their fellowstudents. Paul spoke of proclaiming Christ, "warning every man and teaching every man in all wisdom that we may present every man mature in Christ." Students develop intellectually and socially while at the university and the Christian fellowship group must see that there is also spiritual growth. Thefaith ofChristian students must be related to their academic work as well as to the new responsibilities they will be facing in society. They can only do this when they have a close walk with God. Christian students who do not learn to study the Bible themselves and do not allow the principles o€ Scripture to control their daily decisions will go out from the university spiritually immature and unfit for service in the church of the Lord Jesus. In many cases university students face problems that are not dealt with by their own church youth groups, and they need the help of Christian graduates and fellow students in laying a foundation for their faith.
(2) The Christian student is called to do the work of an evangelist. He will meet students from many different backgrounds. There will be some from religious homes who have rejected Christian teaching. Others will be materialistic in their outlook and indifferent to all the claims of religion. Some will be deeply dissatisfied and conscious of the meaninglessness of life. They may be worried by the problems of evil and suffering. The Christian who knows how to listen and to sympathize may have the opportunity of pointing them to Christ. Christian students must never be satisfied to bring friends to a merely superficial acceptance of Christ. "I was told to accept Christ into my life. I did it, but I don’t feel I’m a Christian," a student told me. Further conversation revealed he had deep problems that hadn’t been solved. For one thing, he had not been prepared to face the cost of following Jesus Christ. Only after he understood all that was involved, and was prepared to face great difficulties in his home, did he enter into the joy of new life in Christ.
(3) Christian students must accept responsibility for leadership in the Christian witness on campus. The Christian fellowship group must be a part of the life of the university or college. In many Asian universities there are Buddhist, Muslim, and Catholic student societies. Evangelicals should make sure that a true witness to the risen Savior is maintained right on the campus. They may invite their friends to visit local churches, but must remember that some students who will never attend a church will take part in an informal discussion on campus. A Christian professor now active in his church testified that he would never have been converted if he had had to go to a church, but at a Christian fellowship meeting in a lecture hall he came to know Christ. At Inter-Varsity evangelistic meetings in Singapore, Malaya and the Philippines, where hundreds attended on-campus lectures, many came to Christian meetings for the first time. This was only possible because the local student evangelical fellowship group was recognized by the university authorities. They could use the lecture rooms and distribute thousands of copies of an evangelistic newspaper. Students could visit from door to door in the hostels and display attractive posters. In some universities the students staffed book tables throughout the meetings. Such efforts required a high degree of student initiative. NonChristians realized that it was their own fellow-students-not some outside organization-who were responsible. Christian students who have organized such evangelistic missions and have taken part in personal evangelism and follow-up work gain experience that will be of great value to them in their future service for Christ.
(4) Christian students must learn to give sacrificially to extend the witness to every center of education in their countries. The indigenous character of the local evangelical student group must be carefully preserved. Staff workers should come from their ranks. If western leadership is prominent, and the work depends on foreign resources, the foundations of the local student group will be insecure. In most Asian countries staff workers of the national evangelical student organizations receive almost all of theirsupport fromlocal gifts. Non-Christians will respect the movement that is rooted in their own country and supported by their own people. This does not mean that no help can be received from outside. The testimony of teams of Christians from different countries, from both East and West, can be very effective. Christians from other lands must be free to share the financial burden of their brothers and sisters in need, but receiving occasional gifts for special projects is far different than being dependent on a regular gift from abroad for staff salaries. Some of the greatest blessings have come in areas where students, out of their property, have given sacrificially for the support of the work.
(5) Christian students must maintain close links with their own churches. Many Christian student leaders hold responsible positions in their church youth organizations. In Japan over a hundred graduates of the Inter-Varsity movement are now serving as pastors. Thirty graduates of Inter-Varsity in the Philippines are in some form of Christian work. In Singapore and Malaysia a good number of graduates are serving God in a non-professional capacity. A quarterly missionary news bulletin brings news of Christian doctors, dentists, and teachers who have been used to pioneer new churches. In India several Christian graduates have taken teaching positions in areas where it is very difficult for the Christian witness to penetrate. Almost fifty young Asian graduates have become staff workers of their national evangelical student movements. Some have given up well-paid teaching or medical positions to do so. Many of the evangelical movements have a missionary fund, and they hold missionary conferences to enable church and mission leaders to challenge Christian students with the needs of unevangelized fields.
WHAT MISSIONS AND CHURCHES CAN DO
What should be the attitude of churches and missions to the work of these national evangelical student movements? In some cases the work is weak and the local student group is only touching a fraction of the thousands on campus. Student leaders may make mistakes and it may seem that more experienced workers are needed. But to criticize or start another movement is not the answer. Patience and understanding are needed. Older, more mature Christians who can win the confidence of students and bring encouragement and guidance in the work may see the building up of a work that truly belongs in the university and is not regarded as an outside movement.
The students must be willing to receive help. The fact that the student group has a measure of independence and relies on student leadership doesn’t insure spiritual vitality. If a group develops a narrow exclusivism that makes it unwilling to accept advice from others, or to receive help and teaching from older and more experienced people, it may become sterile and ineffective. Only when there is a spirit of prayer and a humble seeking to know the will of God can there be effective witness.
The local evangelistic student group needs the sympathetic support of the local churches. Pastors who understand the thinking of students, and who are able to make clear the great truths of the Word of God, will be welcomed in campus fellowship meetings and conferences, but they must not promote their own denomination on campus. Too often when pastors object to their young people taking part in on-campus activities it is because they have a narrow view of the mission of the church. The church that encourages its young people to be active in the campus witness to Christ may have to accept some limits on the time the student has to give to church functions, but in the long run this is more than worthwhile for both the student and the church. The Christian student who keeps closely in touch with his church, and who enjoys the prayer support of the pastor and church leaders during his time in the university, will be able to lead new Christians into the church and at the same time will be prepared for more effective Christian service to the church after graduation.
Missions and churches mast also recognize the importance of the teaching profession. In a number of Asian universities there are outstanding Christian professors who by both the excellence of their teaching and their zealous witness are making a vital contribution to the cause of Christ in the academic world. Unfortunately, the distribution of these Christian teachers is uneven. In the Universities of Singapore and Malaya strong groups of Christian faculty members enjoy fellowship together and are an encouragement to the undergraduates, but in other places struggling groups of Christian students receive little, if any, help from the senior members of the university.
Leaders of local churches, together with their fellowworkers from overseas, should survey the situation in colleges in their areas. Future leaders in these countries may be influenced for Jesus Christ if they can be brought into touch with humble men of God who will understand their problems, sham their concerns, and introduce them to the risen Savior. Working with Christian students and graduates, leaders of the churches must encourage the penetration of every institute of higher learning with cells of student and faculty disciples whose loving dedication and enthusiastic witness will convince students of this generation of the truth of the unchanging claims of Christ.
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