Hidden Church, Hidden Partner: The Role of Overseas Chinese in Reaching China

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Hidden Church, Hidden Partner

The Role of Overseas Chinese in Reaching China

by Samuel Ling

As July 1, 1997 approaches and Hong Kong returns to Chinese rule, China remains the home of the largest cluster of unreached people groups in the world. Incredible opportunities await Christians from outside China, who will take the time to listen, learn and develop meaningful relationships inside China.

These Christians bring blessing to China’s local and regional communities by being salt and light in various sectors; business, medicine, orphanages, education (e.g. teaching English), and serving the church in China (both registered and unregistered churches). As Christians serve the church and bless the people in China, the name of Jesus is lifted up, and men and women are drawn to him.

This is the hour to reach out to China. The United States, in an increasingly isolationist posture, is developing hostile rhetoric against China. Christians are not exempt from this China-bashing. China is increasingly becoming the next evil empire. And China has taken notice, by allowing young, brilliant authors and reporters to make America out to be the No.1 threat to world peace. A cold war in trade and culture has begun. In this atmosphere, various China-concerned sectors of the global body of Christ more than ever must learn from one another, partner with one another and develop cooperative strategies to reach China. Listening to the Hong Kong church as she changes her vocabulary or discourse with China is a good first step (How many western agencies are doing that? How many are truly listening to the counsel of the Hong Kong church as they develop strategies to reach China?).

But there is another hidden resource, another hidden partner, and it is the hidden church among overseas Chinese, in Asia, Australia, Europe and North America.

An emerging, hidden force for partnership

John Naisbitt, in Megatrends Asia (1995; the Asian/European edition is better than the U.S. edition; the latter omits the most important final paragraphs), says that Asia is the most strategic region in the world, and overseas Chinese make up the most strategic people-network in Asia. This is essentially the first of eight megatrends in his book. Overseas Chinese own wealth equal to the third largest economy in the world. And their spiritual resource is equally a force to reckon with.

I landed in Singapore in March 1996. Two Bible college students met me at the airport. The older of the two wanted to spend ten years, after graduation, serving in an overseas Chinese church, with a view to long term service in China. After 1 1/2 hours, I realized that he was not Chinese: his Mandarin was so fluent, it hid the fact that he was a Korean Christian. The younger man, in his early 20’s from East Malaysia, has the goal of personally witnessing to 20,000 people in the next 20 years. He has begun to work toward that goal, with every spare moment on weekends and holidays. In November 1995, I spoke at three services in a historic Chinese church in Singapore. During the second service, made up mostly of young people, 25 of the 200 made decisions for full time ministry when the call was given (with no advance notice). This is simply two snapshots of what God is doing among overseas Chinese, in Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Philippines, Australia and many other parts of Asia-Pacific.

In North America, over 700 Chinese churches were planted in the 1970’s and 1980’s, largely without the notice and help of western churches and mission agencies. While western Christians prayed for China and reached out to Asia, they largely neglected the incoming students from Taiwan, Hong Kong and Southeast Asia. Today, the Chinese churches in North America have the potential to reach China and the world with manpower, educational and spiritual resources which begin to rival the power of their Asian brothers and sisters.

A resource to reckon with; a neglected, hidden church. Such is the overseas Chinese Christian community. And they are doing a great deal to reach their ancestral homeland, and serve the church there.

Hidden, strategic partners

Western agencies involved in China do well to consult with overseas Chinese in Hong Kong, Asia and the West to learn from their wisdom. Unfortunately this is often not the case with U.S. agencies. My plea to the reader is: listen, listen, listen. Our goal is not to reproduce ourselves, or establish a “subsidiary” of our church or mission in China. The Chinese will smell denominationalism and imperialism from a distance. Our goal is to empower the Chinese to do what God has called them to do. Also, do not hasten to hire the first Chinese Christian leader who comes along. The most common and serious mistake mission agencies have made for the past two centuries is to hire the wrong person with long term consequences.

Overseas Chinese can be wonderful partners, if we take the time to find the right ones. Whom should western (or other Third World) agencies partner with?

1. An overseas Chinese church or agency which has proven itself in the ministry, which the western (or Third World) ministry wants to get involved with in China. In other words, such an overseas Chinese church or agency is already doing what you want done in China, and is doing it well.

2. An overseas Chinese church or agency which is opening partnerships with other churches and agencies, in policy, strategy and practice. It is not divisive, criticizing others or discouraging the western (or Third World) agency from working with other overseas Chinese agencies.

3. An overseas Chinese church or agency which is respected by other overseas Chinese agencies.

4. An overseas Chinese church or agency which will bring blessing to the western (or Third World) agency, but which may not necessarily need the partnership. This is something the western agency must learn to accept: find an overseas Chinese group which you need to partnership with (but which may not need your partnership). You will be blessed for it.

5. An overseas Chinese church or agency which is involved in reaching China and serving the church in China, but which may not publicize its ministry through printed materials or media presentations. This is simply the accepted Chinese (and wise) way of doing things.

As Third World missionaries are now making up more than half of the world’s missionary force, it is high time that western (and other Third World) agencies discover this strategic, hidden partner. For further information about referrals to potential partners, write: China Horizon, PO Box 4919, Wheaton, IL 60187, Fax: +1 630 961 5278, email: sling@chinahorizon.org We will be happy to help you find overseas Chinese partners.