URS: Evangelism as mission: the CCC story
Our church (Cincinnati Chinese) began from a bible study fellowship, active in outreach and evangelism on the college campus. This was likely similar to stories of a number of Chinese churches, especially in Midwest smaller cities, during the 1960s and 1970s. There were few established Chinese churches in the Midwest, but Chinese bible study groups seemed to be in every college campus. Many of these bible study groups morphed into churches under so-called “lay leadership.” Counter-intuitively, they were often unattached to any particular denomination or larger church system, and were not necessarily “started,” by ministers or pastors. Later on, and especially in large cities with significant Asian populations, minister-started churches were increasingly prevalent. But for us at the time, it seemed truly like a Spirit-led “natural gestation,” leading, from bible study group, to the “natural birth” of our church. For a neonatologist specializing in newborn babies, it seemed pretty normal to me!
As a bible study fellowship, we mobilized nearly everyone in our group to visit the university campus, on a weekly basis. It was really a heady time, meeting many overseas students, and getting good responses, when at the same time our new church was being planned and started. We could sense that it was truly a “historic,” time, and we were all quite excited.
Weekly, a team of 10 or so got together on campus on Saturday evening, and prayed for 30 minutes about the visits that night. Then we went out, two by two, just as advised in the Bible, to visit those we had contacted the prior Wednesday or Thursday. It was really quite simple, and very heart warming, to be able to go out in the name of Jesus, to meet all kinds of people, and to share the wonderful good news. When the outreach became more “established,” we tried to have about six sessions of training for newcomers before going out, but the most important training was still essentially on-the-job training.
Every time, by going out, in twos or threes, we were able to encourage each other, and the less experienced member was also able to watch and learn from the more senior person. I remembered vividly Pastor John Whitcomb (author of “Genesis Flood”) telling us about his youthful enthusiasm during his first evangelism visit: he was eager and well-prepared to debate with anyone he met. His first visit included a man who clearly did not want to be visited, who slammed the door, after making a sweeping comment that he could not believe “Jonah and the whale.”
John was eager to take him on, but his senior colleague gently brushed John aside. He knocked on the door again, and politely asked the man for a few minutes in order to simply present the main essence of the Gospel, and then afterwards talk about Jonah. To John’s surprise, the man agreed, and not that many minutes later, to John’s further amazement, he gave his life to Jesus. When asked by John, “What about Jonah and the big fish (it wasn’t necessarily a whale)?” the man said, “Somehow, that doesn’t seem to matter anymore.” Instead of a fruitless debate about Jonah and the great fish, the man had come to Jesus, which was clearly the important reason for the visit!
John often liked to say, “you could win the battle (argue and win the Jonah story), but lose the war (the reason for the visit)!” Far better to do things politely, step-by-step, and no need to get into unnecessary confrontations! There’s even a bible verse that says just that, 1Peter 3:15 “Always be ready to give an answer to everyone who asks you for a reason regarding the hope that is in you, yet answer with gentleness and reverence.”
John常常喜欢说“你可能赢了一场战役（辩赢了约拿故事），但输了整个战争（探访的原因）！”我么不需要无谓的对质。有礼貌地，一步一步地做事才是更好的方法。圣经正有一个经节告诉我们这个道理。彼得前书三章十五节说“ 有 人 问 你 们 心 中 盼 望 的 缘 由 ， 就 要 常 作 准 备 ， 以 温 柔 、 敬 畏 的 心 回 答 各 人。”
Nowadays, there are many manuals teaching us how to go out and witness … but in those days, 50 years ago, many of these were still quite novel. Because of that, we had many opportunities to devise our own system. For example, nowadays, Evangelism Explosion is well-established, and copyrighted, but then it was just beginning, so we could modify some of the principles for our own cultural or cross-cultural needs, and I think “our system” seemed to be just as helpful. Especially as we combined it with other approaches, such as principles of the Four Spiritual Laws of Campus Crusade, and the so called, “Roman way.” We even later printed our practical booklet in Taiwan, in Chinese, simply called “Visitation.”
Anyway, the fun of training, calling the potential person to be visited ahead of time, praying before the start of the visit, and experiencing the actual visit, were part of the joy and excitement of seeing many come to know the message of love! We learned so much by doing, and clearly, if we didn’t go, we would not have learnt!
No evangelism means a dead church. No evangelism, means no life. During the evangelism visits we could feel the Lord being with us at all points. It was just amazing. These visits were part of making everyone at the church a natural evangelist. It was great to see that, step by step, indeed, evangelism truly became our developing church’s lifeblood. After all, it is the good news: “gospel” is literally “good news,” in Greek, and in a wonderful way, in Chinese it is also simply and clearly fu (good) yin (news), 福音, good news, the news of a new life, the news of eternal life. What better lifeblood message could we be bringing?
The key was to go, go, go. We encouraged everyone to move out of their comfort box, to be concerned for others, to help others, to be the fuyin. Sometimes people just tagged along, but that was just fine, because it was such a good learning experience. Learning on the job is truly one of the best ways to learn. It’s role modeling, it’s apprenticeship, it’s mentoring on the go.
We would often debrief briefly at the end of the visit, either in the car, in twos or threes, or at some central meeting point for the evening’s team, when we could highlight the evening’s visits, depending on how late it was. That was always a great time to recap what happened, and to learn from each experience. It seemed we were experiencing a weekly spiritual high, and truly what a meaningful high!
I can remember many names of wonderful “visitation workers,” among them, Ivy, Gan, Chip, Meichi, John, Ken, Jiayang, David, Daniel, James, Mary, and leaders Shipei and Elaine, faithful people who continued to serve in many different cities all over the world. Some have indicated that these visitations were what started them on their lifelong journey of personal testimonies, everywhere, kind of like the effect of training programs that we later instituted for overseas short-term missions. Both are similarly great preparations for all of life!
我仍记得许多有恩赐的“探访同工”们，像是Ivy, Gan, Chip, Meichi, John, Ken, Jiayang, David, Daniel, James, Mary, 和教会的领导Shipei 和 Elaine。这些忠心的同工们之后去到许多国家城市继续服事。其中一些人指出那些早期的探访经历，接下来生命里在世界各地的个人见证有着启蒙作用。这跟我们后来为海外短宣所设立的训练课程有着异曲同工的效果。这些都很有效的为我们的人生装备。
There are many ways of outreach evangelism, and each person learns how to do it with their own creativity, given the different circumstances and personalities involved. One of the more interesting approaches, and a very touching one, was the later outreach to restaurant related people. Chinese restaurant workers are always so busy, and they usually don’t finish their daily work till 10 pm, which is totally different from the lives of many other people.
So, David, our pastor, took the creative step of going to the restaurants after 10 PM, starting Bible study groups there and then, or giving evangelism talks, and generally making friends with a neglected population. Soon, many people joined him in making these outreach efforts, and at one time there were like five different restaurant related Bible study groups all over the Cincinnati-Northern Kentucky region. Encouragingly, the children of the restaurant workers are now growing up in Sunday school, and have truly become the exciting next generation to serve the Lord. A wonderful testimony indeed.
One thing always very touching about Chinese churches actively engaged in evangelism outreach, is that there are many immersion baptisms. Often an Easter baptism service, and a fall baptism service. At times it seemed there were like 50 baptisms a year in our church, which steadily grew to 500, even as the turnover was great from the heavy student population who moved on after school, and the common move of families to bigger coastal cities.
Without any doubt, a key factor in all of this is that non-Christians have to see Christians in real life, and not just inside a church building. Especially for overseas students and scholars. We can be very practical and helpful to them in many ways, helping them go through difficulties in adjusting to the new culture, sorting out living arrangements, getting driver licenses, solving banking issues, and even language learning. By inviting them to dinner, just meeting and chatting with them, we can find many opportunities to love them as Jesus would love them. Showing them the love of Jesus is unquestionably ‘louder” than just talking about it! Just go for it!
And welcome them at some point to church at great times like Welcome New Students Party, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Chinese New Year, and Easter. As a church, we actually began to use all five of these occasions creatively, to have dinners and evangelistic talks, often including a quality music program, skits, or testimonies to make the evening interesting and lively. People need to see the whole church together, worshiping together, and experiencing a corporate joy that they may not find elsewhere.
There are lots of feelings of emptiness all over the world, a sense of meaninglessness, which the message of love can overcome. And in our context, it doesn’t hurt that our Chinese friends love to congregate where there is a crowd that is excited and exciting, where there is great renau (the not translatable Chinese word for festivity, noise and lots of people)! Church renau. All this is especially important in the context of always being salt and light, everywhere, at all times. See URS “salt and light” in reggietales.org.
爱的信息可以战胜这个世界的空洞和空虚。我们华人朋友们在有有趣或者值得庆祝的事情时喜欢招朋引友在一起聚会图个热闹。因此，我们随时随地都能在人群里作盐作光就更是重要了。 详情请看曾叔叔说故事reggietales.org 之“盐与光”
Let me conclude with a little story. I was driving around the campus of the University, and noticed a distraught young woman, obviously from overseas, walking on the streets looking confused and sad. She recounted often, years later that the phrase, “How can I help you,” was such a wonderful relief to her, and pretty soon, we were having a light meal, and helping her find an apartment. Of course, she came to church after that, and the rest is history. Nowadays she is very active in ministry and helping many young people herself.
She loves to tell this story of how she became a believer, and yet it is a story that could happen every day, if we remember to ask the simple question, “How can I help you?” Indeed, do that and you will be amazed how many doors will be opened, and how many lives touched!
I think all this reflects that evangelism truly is the blood of the church, and the clear realization that there are so many evangelism opportunities staring us in the face. Especially if we put our heads together, to think and plan creatively, as we pray for guidance for the right approaches. We should never waste these great opportunities! Go for it!