Monday, June 6, 2011

Macau and Heyuan

We left Hong Kong by ferry at noon, arriving in Macau a little more than an hour later to an immigration hall that had apparently stopped working.  We found ourselves in a mob of hundreds (thousands perhaps) trying to get into the gambling capital of Asia.  It took 90 minutes, and the mob slowly morphed into “lines” at passport control, and we got through late.  A very rushed Timothy Lam happily met us, dropped us off at a hotel, and headed to the church where he had to lead a special baptismal service at 2:30!  We were met and brought from the hotel by Sam, the church’s administrator, and arrived as the baby dedications were ending and the baptisms beginning.  There were 46 baptisms!  It was amazing to watch, and as everyone was baptized, the congregation sang “Happy Day, happy day, when Jesus washed my sins away!”  44 of the 46 were adult converts!  Amazing.

Lam Ministries is the ministry of Pastor Lam, who came to Macau in 1971 to take over a dying church of 20 people.  They now have thousands in 14 congregations in Macau, 2 in Hong Kong, 2 in Taiwan—a multi-site approach.  Pastor Lam’s son, Timothy, pastors in the main church in Macau, assists his father in leadership of the ministry, and is our guide during our time here.  They have a vision for evangelism that is breathtaking.  They brought in Nick Vujcic last December and had 10,000 attend.  And they used the Venetian Hotel and Casino facilities to do it: they televised it through the region as well.  Timothy drove us around Macau, where we saw the famous fa├žade of the Catholic seminary that is a remnant of the work of Matteo Ricci, the first Catholic missionary to China.  We also drove by the cemetery where Robert Morrison, the first Protestant missionary to China, is buried.  Morrison’s work was groundbreaking, but also problematic.  He could only come to China as a translator for the British trading company, and their notoriously rapacious practices were indelibly linked in the Chinese consciousness with the arrival of Protestant Christianity.

Timothy took us through Macau, where we saw the huge expansion of the territory through land reclamation from the sea, mainly to build casinos.  Gambling is Macau’s lifeblood, and each citizen received $7000 (Macau dollars) last year from the profits.  10% of Macau’s workforce are card dealers, and this city of 500,000 had 23 million visitors to the casinos—75% from mainland China!  The challenges to the spiritual life of the people are great, but we have seen evidence of God’s work going on here.  We had dinner with the Lam family and staff to celebrate the baptism of Timothy’s son in the service, then Timothy headed off to preach in the evening service (the third of three worship services on Sunday) and we headed to our rooms; exhausted but blessed.

The next morning, we had breakfast in McDonalds (Todd was rejoicing in American food, and I was pretty happy to see golden arches just around the corner from the hotel).  Timothy Lam picked us up and we headed to the border crossing—a simple affair as we made our way back into China’s Guangdong Province. 

Lam Ministries is actively training workers in Heyuan—a fast growing city of 6 million.  These local workers are being trained to be church planters throughout the area.  One example of the fast growth of the work: one church was started 2 years ago and that new church plant has started 12 new branches, the smallest of which is 25 members, and the largest being 150.  Workers are trained in a center for one year, then they go to Macau for additional encouragement and leadership seminars.  By coming to Macau, they get to see the way the Macau church organizes the conferences so that they can take the model back to their own locations.  It is a model to multiply both outreach and discipleship in the new churches.   

The Lams were trained by Campus Crusade, and began their work with house (unofficial) churches, but saw tremendous opportunities to meet needs in the officially sanctioned church.  So now, they work with the TSPM churches (official church), finding wide open doors for cooperation and outreach.  They will survey the church situation, locate local church leaders and government officials who are amenable to Lam Ministry’s presence, and then if the doors are open, they come in.  Timothy said that one of the greatest hindrances to the growth of the church is the relationship among church leaders—a sad but universal commentary.

They have come to 30 cities in China thus far, and GBC facilitated a grant to assist expanding this work through the training and support of new workers.  The goal is another 20 churches through this effort.

Once across the border, our drive was a three hour ride, arriving at Heyuan around lunch time.  Unlike breakfast, lunch was very “authentic,” which meant a bit more questionable than other meals.  South China eats a very different diet, some would say a diet built out of poverty, that is harder to embrace.  Lungs, intestines, stomachs, heads and feet; these are main fare, along with some other more normal dishes.  Myron offered the oft-quoted evaluation by others:  Cantonese (those of south China) will eat anything with legs except a table, and anything with wings except a plane.  I have to remember that whatever we grow up with is “normal,” but I’m thankful for my “normal” nonetheless. 

We met up with Pastor and Mrs. Lam at our hotel.  Pastor Lam is a 75 year old dynamo who has used strong vision and relationship building to open doors that few in the USA would dream are even possible to open.  Evidence of this was immediately seen as we were also greeted by the current deputy chairman of the local religious affairs bureau, and his retired predecessor.  Both would come to the graduation with us and celebrate afterwards.

We drove about a half hour to the church where the training was being completed.  20 graduates finished the one year program set up by Lam Ministries, and the service was a real encouragement to all of us.  As we finished, they sang the hymn that captured their vision and made me long for the same vision at home:

Rise up, o Church of God

Have done with lesser things

Give heart and soul and mind and strength

To serve the King of Kings.

These newly minted church workers will, in many cases, serve without salary.  Some will go where no believers are and build up a preaching point for the mother church.  And this will all be done with a certificate handed to them by a government official, in a region far from the metropolitan centers of the country.  You would be hard pressed to tell me that work in this country must be covert.  In times past, yes.  In some situations, care may still be called for.  But there are more opportunities available openly than are currently being met.  It requires integrity, wisdom, patience, flexibility, and respect of Chinese ways and culture.  But registered churches in this region are accomplishing every bit as much as unregistered churches here and elsewhere, and here very possibly much more.

As we sat and talked with Pastor Lam afterward, we asked what opportunities were next on the agenda.  He mentioned one province that is particularly known as “resistant,” but he has been invited to bring his ministry there by officials.  Other provinces are waiting as well. 

Our Chinese government hosts banqueted us in the evening, with much unfamiliar food, and then we went to another official church that has prepared about 20 people to go out to villages.  I was one of those asked to share, and it was humbling to call them to faithful service, when I look at how much easier my road is than theirs.  Again, the religious affairs bureau deputy praised the work, even as the pastor shared about “Happy Friday” outreaches that bring people into the church to share the gospel.  The church has grown and is looking to multiply itself. 

One great challenge for the Chinese church is the relative lack of male leadership.  Most of the church workers and pastors are women, and they are the vast majority of the church population.  Part of the problem is that Chinese culture relies heavily on sons to provide for parents; and this, combined with the one child policy, puts great pressure on a young man to find a good paying job to support both sets of parents and his own wife and child.  Parental pressure against ministry for men, plus having more women in the church to begin with, accounts for this situation.  Add to this the rapid growth of the church and desperate need for evangelists and teachers, and you can understand why the situation is what it is.  We should pray for more men to serve.  But in the meantime, we should pray for the women and men who are seeking to share and serve faithfully.  We are not changing our desire and commitment to be faithful to what we believe we should do in obedience to Scripture, but my thinking is that we allow the Lord to bring the same convictions and understandings as His Word is understood and applied and the church grows in maturity.