Mission call from Highway 16
Churches collaborate to reach the Chinese diaspora in Canada
Project Highway 16 is a new venture of the Mennonite Brethren Chinese Churches Association (MBCCA) started in 2013 to serve ethnic Chinese residents of northern B.C. MBCCA was initially formed by a group of MB Chinese churches in Metro Vancouver for fellowship and partnership to care for the growing ministry needs among Chinese-speaking congregations.
Although most Chinese MB communities are located in Metro Vancouver, MBCCA is responsible for connecting all MB Chinese churches across Canada. This includes one church in Winnipeg, one in Calgary, a fellowship in Prince George, B.C., and even two churches planted years ago in Venezuela. Now their sights are moving north.
Highway 16 is part of the Yellowhead route of the Trans-Canada Highway that extends from Haida Gwaii (an archipelago off the western coast of B.C., formerly known as the Queen Charlotte Islands), to Portage la Prairie, Man. The Highway 16 Project of MBCCA, however, only includes cities, towns and villages from Haida Gwaii to Prince George.
The population within this region is majority Caucasian, but there is a high percentage of First Nations, especially at the Haida Gwaii end. (The name change from Queen Charlotte to Haida Gwaii is one of the clauses in the reconciliation agreement between the Province of British Columbia and the First Nations peoples.)
As well, among the residents of the interior are thousands of ethnic Chinese who dwell in the settlements along the highway. Some are descendants of early immigrants who settled there decades ago. Some came recently to the region from Mainland China, Hong Kong and South East Asian countries.
Because of language and cultural differences, these Chinese groups seldom associate with local church communities and may never hear the gospel.
Actually, the gospel needs of these isolated, small Chinese communities are not limited to northern B.C. – they apply to every corner across Canada. “Wherever you find a settlement of people, you will find Chinese there.” Though this Chinese proverb is exaggerated, it is in some sense true: ethnic Chinese can be found all over the world. The number in each settlement may be small, but will become significant when added together.
Seeing that need, an organization called Chinese Christian Mission (CCM) started the “Small Community Mission” in 2002 hoping to reach out to these sparsely located people. After 11 years, the project has grown from a few CCM mission team annual visits within B.C. to an extensive program shared by a network of Chinese churches across Canada. While CCM still has its mission team, it now serves mainly as a coordinator for the network, with centres in major cities across Canada. CCM is a key resource for MBCCA’s Project Highway 16.
There are 12 mission routes within B.C., for example: three routes in southern B.C., two on Vancouver Island, three in central B.C., two in northwestern B.C. and one in northeastern B.C. Seven of these routes have been adopted by a church community, but CCM still needs more partners to create missional links with the rest.
MB Chinese churches have been serving northern B.C. for several years. Early in 2000, we started our ministry in Prince George, periodically sending missionaries to pastor Chinese Christians there. For a time, we even hired a full-time pastor in Prince George.
Since then, MBCCA has been sending pastors. Church mission teams are also frequent visitors to Prince George and neighbouring areas. MBCCA now wants to make this formal by adopting the route along Highway 16.
There are many towns and villages with Chinese communities along Highway 16. Other than the hundreds of Chinese in the two major cities, Prince George and Prince Rupert, there may be just handfuls of Chinese in other settlement areas. It’s a full day’s drive from Vancouver to Prince George, a full day’s drive from Prince George to Prince Rupert and another day from Prince Rupert to Haida Gwaii. And the route is difficult to drive, especially during the winter months.
Despite the long journey and scarce target population, MBCCA still feels this is worthwhile ministry.
The small number of Chinese people certainly wouldn’t warrant planting individual local churches. But all those people are loved by Jesus, and we owe them the gospel. Besides, Christians there also need pastoral support, some of them longing for a mission team to come to fill their spiritual needs.
We praise God that this vision is shared by several MB churches and pastors. In response to the invitation of MBCCA, four different mission trips were organized from June to August 2013. MBCCA hopes this will become an annual event so people along the route will be ministered to regularly.
—Joseph Kwan is editor of the Chinese MB Herald. This article first appeared in its July 2013 edition.