Development of the Overseas Chinese Church

By Rev. John Kao

In the last one hundred years, China experienced a period of radical change. Political turmoil in the past few decades, in particular, has had an immense impact on the development of the Chinese Church, both domestic and abroad. For the sake of brevity, let us examine four important transitional points during this period of time.

Four transitional points

1949: After the Mao-led Communist takeover of China, refugees by the hundreds of thousands fled the country and settled in Hong Kong, Taiwan, Southeast Asia, and various cities all over the world. While the Communist government practised isolationism from the outside world, it curbed religious freedom within the country, and evangelism appeared to have screeched to a halt. Because of the political change, some students who were studying abroad at the time were prevented from returning to China. In turn, they became a catalyst in an evangelism movement in Hong Kong, Taiwan, Southeast Asia, and beyond. Many ministries that were established during this time thrived for thirty years or longer thereafter.

Around 1967: From the mid-60s to the 70s, although the economy took off both in Hong Kong and in Taiwan, the few universities in the regions were unable to meet growing demands for post-secondary training. Consequently many families sent their children abroad to pursue further education. As well, since 1967, relaxed immigration policies in the United States, Canada, and Australia allowed many Chinese students to become permanent residents in these countries. Being young and open-minded, these students were open to the gospel. Their collective positive response meant a harvest for the gospel, and paved the way for the equipping of new leaders for an emerging Overseas Chinese Church.

The years leading up to 1997: Even in the 1980s, many Hong Kong residents began to follow through with their plans to leave the Colony, long before Hong Kong was to revert back to the regime in which they had placed little faith. Coincidentally, countries like Canada and Australia had relaxed their immigration policies. Significant out migration to the United States, Canada and Australia then followed, with profound effects on the Overseas Chinese Church. (In a slightly earlier period, a significant out migration from Taiwan to the United States had also taken place: many Taiwanese students had also chosen to stay after their studies were finished. Since most of the immigrants of this period were Mandarin speakers from Taiwan and the Mainland, Chinese churches before the 1980s were mainly Mandarin-speaking.) Now, as more Hong Kong immigrants arrived, especially into Canada, the Overseas Chinese Church had been infused with many more Cantonese speakers. The number of Cantonese-speaking churches also increased as a result.

1989: When China’s doors began to open in the 1980s, many Mainlanders from a growing intelligentsia studied abroad, some under the sponsorship of the government and some self financing. After the “June 4 Incident” in 1989, many sought refugee status and were allowed to remain. Out of this group many have since accepted the Lord, as have their families who have come to join them at a later time. With increased political stability and openness, many more student-scholars from China are out migrating, representing the single most significant source of newcomers to overseas Chinese communities.

Chinese immigrants from the different periods came with different needs and their arrival has had a profound effect on the development of the Overseas Chinese Church. We may describe its development in terms of three stages:

• The earliest Chinese immigrants were not well educated. Working arduously seven days a week, they neither had the time nor the desire to reflect on the meaning of life. As a result, the Overseas Chinese Church grew at a rather slow pace during this stage.

• During the 1970s, gospel ministries amongst the students brought many well-educated, enthusiastic and open-minded new Christians into the Overseas Chinese Church. Their arrival signified the establishment of a leadership core for the Church for many years to come.

• Since 1989, the steady influx of new immigrants from Mainland China has prompted the Overseas Chinese Church to respond by organizing Bible study classes and fellowships to equip future workers for the gospel needs of the China Mainland.

Spreading the gospel with one accord

It was in 1974, at the “International Congress on World Evangelism” in Lausanne, that some seventy Chinese church leaders first shared the vision of convening an international Chinese congress. Soon thereafter, in January 1976, the first “Chinese Congress on World Evangelization” (CCOWE) convened in Hong Kong and The Chinese Coordination Centre of World Evangelism (CCCOWE Movement) was established. The aim of CCCOWE is to encourage the Chinese church worldwide to spread the gospel with one accord. Ever since inception, CCCOWE conferences have been held every five years, in different locations. With everyone’s hard work in the past twenty-five years, we are happy to report that about thirty percent of the Chinese churches worldwide now are involved in world missions in some way.

Last modified on Monday, 01 April 2019 08:51


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