Look below for a report on John Oakes’ missionary teaching trip to Hong Kong, two cities in mainland China, and Manila January, 2012.
Jan 2-4, Hong Kong
I arrive at 5:15 AM in Hong Kong, after a 15 hour flight from LA. I am met by Aaron Chow. He is the principal teacher for the churches in China and, along with his wife Theresa, leads the campus group for the church here. This is my second visit to the wonderful city of seven million on the southeast coast of China. Hong Kong is a beautiful city, set in very steep mountains right on the ocean, with much of the city, including the downtown on Hong Kong Island. Hong Kong is a prosperous semi-autonomous region of China which has much greater freedoms and a stronger democratic tradition than the rest of mainland China. Despite the global downturn, the economy here remains strong and there is a lot of construction. The politics here are very interesting. Recently, the government had so much excess money and no plans to spend it that they decided to give every citizen above 18 years a $6000HK (about $750 US) cash payment. If the people waited to the end of the offer of free money, they kicked in an extra $200. It is really hard to imagine having the problem of the government having too much money to know how to spend it. This is partially because the people and the government are very efficient here. The city is very safe and clean. The seven million people live in a small area which keeps the cost for infrastructure down somewhat. This is a city of skyscrapers. The great majority of people live in skyscraper apartment buildings of 25 stories or more.
The family structure is very strong in China. Education of the children is almost a national religion. The pressure for success of the children is incredible. Suicide rates for children as low as 10 years old are high. Aaron and Theresa explained that this year when they were choosing a school for their son in first grade he had three separate interviews. They need to have a resume for their first grader. This is not an exaggeration. He was tested on knowledge of three languages in order to enter first grade. Each student is required to be studying a musical instrument and to be involved in a group sport activity to be accepted to the school. They explained that even their three year old son had to be interviewed in order to be accepted to preschool. This is a shock to me.
Nearly everyone here is fluent in three languages. Their first language is Cantonese, the dominant dialect in Southeast China. They also must know Mandarin, the dominant language in most of China. The two languages are similar-perhaps as different as English and French, but they have different written characters, which makes learning both languages extra difficult. In addition, everyone I met knows English. Some are very fluent, but all know the language to some extent. The food here is really great. However, I have yet to see any Chinese food even remotely similar to what is called Chinese food in America. One meal here includes roasted pigeon, which is a new concept to me. The cost of living is extremely high here-well above what it is in the US, yet the minimum wage is just over $3 an hour, so the poor-mainly immigrants from mainland China-live in great poverty in unbelievably small apartments. A family of four may live in an apartment of 100 square feet.
It is a great blessing to meet with the church in Hong Kong. My main work is to teach for the campus ministry. They are having their winter “camp” to prepare for the new semester. The main campus ministry is at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. They have about 80-90 students in the campus overall. I got to meet four of the campus interns. Herbert and Ocean are married interns, while Raye and Bruce are single interns for the campus. The group is doing quite well and is growing recently. They love to have fun together. I had the opportunity to teach the campus on The Problem of Suffering as well as a lesson titled “The Bible, From God or Man?” The religious issues on campus here are similar in some ways to the United States, except that less than 10% claim to be Christians. Some are Buddhist or Taoist and many have a cafeteria style religion-taking from a mixture of Buddhism, Fung Shue, Taoism, Postmodernism and other ideas.
The theme of the campus camp is serving the poor. They are taking a challenge together titled 36 Hours of Poverty. Apparently the idea is adapted from some kind of reality TV show. Each student is spending 36 hours living on the street with no money. They have to figure out how to get food, where to sleep and how to get by for a day and a half. Part of the first day will be spent with a very poor family identified by HOPE so that they can make living in poverty more real for the students-most of whom come from relatively privileged backgrounds. The divide between the rich and the poor in China is wider than in the US. This 36 hour challenge is a great idea, as it is easier to ignore the poor in Hong Kong than in most other cities I have visited. The students really want to put what was taught about the Christian response to suffering into practice. A number of the students are deciding to seek careers in service rather than the stereotypical Chinese careers in engineering, computers, business and other “practical” subjects.
The church here in Hong Kong has between 1800 and 1900 members. In addition, they act as the principle supporting church for nineteen churches scattered throughout mainland China. These churches are not legal and must work “under the radar.” The government is jealous of any groups which meets the needs of the poor and uneducated because their biggest fear is a rebellion, not of the wealthy and educated, but of the poor and uneducated.
The church in Hong Kong is led by Steve Chin and his wife Jane. They are experimenting with a model in which the acting church leader rotates every twelve months between the most mature leaders. Right now, one of the elders, Turner and his wife Elizabeth are taking the public leadership role.
On Wednesday I had the privilege of teaching for the whole Hong Kong church on “Acts and Church History.”
Jan 5-7 Eastern City, China.
Today I am up at 5:30 for a one hour 45 minute flight to an eastern city of China. It is a massive city at the mouth of the mighty Yangtze River. The official population is 18 million, but I am assured that this is a great underestimation of the actual population. It is somewhere between 25 and 30 million, making it the most populous city on the world. Shanghai is the business and economic center of China. It is the “New York City” of the country. Everything here is on a big scale, including the second tallest building in the world. The language here is Mandarin rather than Cantonese. The city appears modern and prosperous-more like the developed world than the developing world. The mainland Chinese are less formal and more intellectually oriented than their Hong Kong brethren. The society is definitely not as open as in Hong Kong. When I try to get on facebook, I find that it is blocked by the government, as are google and twitter.
I am met by Denson and Jimmy. Jimmy leads the church here, with just over 100 members. On Dec 24 they baptized their 100th member. Neither Denson nor Jimmy works for the church. They run a business together.
The church here is underground. The Christians take on Western names when they are baptized so that it will be harder for the government to track down who is a member of the church. They normally do not pray in public or sing in church for “security reasons.” On the way to the hotel I ask if I should mention [Chinese] names or specific places associated with the church. They tell me no, it is better to not mention that. Actually, the government is starting to be a little more open to letting small churches operate in some freedom. In the past two years they have started to be able to bring in outside speakers. I am the first teacher to visit here, but they have had two elders come to meet with the church. My translator is Philip Yu. His wife is Lu Lu. They traveled from Guangzho to translate for my visit.
The church here has about 20 campus students, 30 singles and 50 in the marrieds ministry. There is no teen ministry yet as there are no teens in the families in the church because the church was only planted in 2002. I spoke for the church on Thursday on From Shadow to Reality. Every seat but one was full. For the talk on Acts and Church History on Friday, there were many guests and it was standing room only. The church is outward focused here. They ask great questions.
On Friday we visited the old part of the city. It is really wonderful. We tour a massive garden which is so beautiful, it is almost magical. We spent time in the Bund, which is the old business center from the days of occupation by European traders. Shanghai has traditionally been a city which looks more to the outside world than the rest of the country, as it has always been the center of the export industry. The skyline of this city is the most impressive in the world. The food here is really great, but it is nothing like anything “Chinese” I have had in the States.. We have meals of Cantonese, local cuisine, Hunan and Szechuan cuisines.
Saturday included a class titled “The Bible, From God or Man.” After this, I traveled to the airport for a flight to Chengdu, China.
City in Central China Jan 7-10.
The flight to the central China city is two hours, thirty minutes. It is more than one thousand miles to the West. This is the capital of Szechuan Province. It is the gateway to Tibet, to the beautiful mountains and to the Pandas. It is a university city with a population of about ten million. The city is famous for Pandas and for extremely spicy food. I can attest that the hot food reputation is well earned. The hot pot restaurants are very popular. The food there is insanely spicy. Dinner here included cow stomach and duck intestine. This takes a little getting used to, but the food is very good here. The pace in the city is a bit slower than in Shanghai and the people are friendlier.
The church I am visiting has 110 members. It is very young, with about 30-40 campus and many singles. Many of the marrieds still have no children. Of course, here in China there is the one child rule, so most couple can only have one child. If they have more than one they pay a very large fine or have to keep the child unregistered. The country is opening to Christianity gradually, but the church remains underground. Believe it or not, Chinese still cannot buy Bibles except at authorized churches. The members here have to be very careful to not let their Christianity be known. Informants are everywhere. Some church meetings have had to be cancelled. Sunday included a sermon on Jesus in the Old Testament. This was followed by a class on the inspiration of the Bible. People here are able to maintain a longer attention span. The class, with questions and answers, lasted for almost 3-1/2 hours.
On Monday I am up early for a day touring the city. First we take a bus to the Du Fu museum. Du Fu is the most famous poet in the history of China. He lived in the eighth century, during the Tang dynasty. He lived in a thatched house here for six years. The gardens are very beautiful, with rivers, paths, wonderful trees and flowers. Remnants from the original settlement in the Tang period are on display here. We take a bus to the Wuhou Shrine. There we visit the Tibetan quarter of the city. There has been more than one riot here. The government does not trust the Tibetans, as they have not yet accepted being annexed by the Chinese government. We have lunch of cuisine from Northeast China. This is very different from other food I have had in China. Potatoes are a major part of the food from this area. I am having lunch with three female students who are studying the Bible, as well as the two sisters who are studying with them. One of the girls is in a very tough spot. Recently she committed her life to “The Community,” which means she became a member of the Communist Party at her university. As we study, she realizes that she cannot be both a Communist and a Christian because the Communist Party forbids its members to be Christians. She is very torn about this. As we explain she will have to decide, she breaks into tears. It is a very emotional moment. She has decided to be a Christian.
Then we tour the Wuhou Shrine museum. This is the largest museum in the city. It is a shrine to a famous political and military leader named Liu Bei, who lead the Chu Dynasty from the valley here during the Three Kingdoms period on the second and third centuries. Apparently his life and his commitment to his friends Zhuge Liung and others is considered an ideal example to the Chinese of loyalty, patriotism and service to the people. After this, we visit the chief shopping district for tourists. It is really wonderful with amazing experiences. I see interesting delicacies such as roasted quail, pig snouts and many more. They eat literally every part of the animals here.
From there I travel by bus with two very young student Christians back to the hotel and for dinner of Szichuan noodles, followed by a lesson on Acts and Church History for the Bible group leaders-about forty. This is followed by a long Q & A session.. The amount of knowledge of the Bible here is fairly low. They are very hungry both for practical ideas and for deeper teaching.
Tuesday AM I met with the campus leaders for many questions and a lesson on how to maintain a close relationship with God and deeper understanding of the Bible. It is cold today and raining. The afternoon included a visit to the Jianshu ruins and museum. This is an archaeological site of the Shu kingdom from 1200 to 1000 BC. There was a large city here-the capital of an empire which included much of Western China. The artifacts include much bronze, jade and gold. The craftwork from this period is very impressive. There is evidence of human sacrifice as part of the religious practice. That night I taught on Freedom in Christ to the student group. The students were encouraged to use their gifts to serve the community and the church. They call themselves “The people of the Mountain.” I propose that as they serve the community in order to be the “city on the hill” for Western China.
Jan 11 Hong Kong
I return to Hong Kong to teach one more class. I am happy to have more time with Aaron Chow as we dream of helping the teaching ministry in China. In the evening I taught a lesson to 250 for the campus and one of the regions of the Hong Kong church on “Christianity and the Paranormal.” Interest in astrology, séances, “luck” and superstitious beliefs are still common in China. Again, there are many questions.
Jan 12-16 Manila, Philippines.
The flight to Manila is only one hour thirty minutes. This is my fourth visit to the Metro Manila Christian Church. I am here to teach a class for the Asia Pacific Leadership Academy (APLA) on Hebrews. The class involves 23 hours of instruction over four days. Students from all around the Philippines as well as from Bangkok, Thailand take part in the class. It is great to see long time friends like Rolan and Wang Monje. Rolan helps the teaching ministry in Southeast Asia. I also get to catch up with Coco and Farida Enrile, the couple who lead the church of more than two thousand here in Manila. The participants in the class represent the 18 churches in the fellowship here in the Philippines. The church in Manila has begun to grow again recently and the Christians I meet here are very encouraged. They have faced difficult times with the recent flooding and mudslides on the Southern islands of Mindanao. None of the members there were killed, but several lost their homes and there are many needs. Rolan and Wang just returned from bringing aid to the church there.
Manila is a busy city of more than 10 million with difficult traffic, but very friendly people. I love the food here and the fellowship with Christians from all over the Philippines. Sunday included worship with the Pasig region, with 250 in attendance, followed by a class on Calvinism and the biblical doctrine of Predestination. After five days in Manila, I am very tired and happy to return to my family, having experienced many blessings visiting so many faithful Christians.