The growth of Chinese MB churches
Ethnic Chinese have been living in Canadian cities for a very long time, but the development of Chinese Mennonite Brethren churches has only occurred fairly recently. In 1972, pastor Henry Klassen of Pacific Grace Mission Chapel in Vancouver saw the increasing number of Chinese residents in his area and decided to pioneer outreach to the Chinese. Since then, the Chinese MB family has grown to over 20 churches in three countries.
I. THE TWO OLDER BROTHERS
Pacific Grace MB Church
Pacific Grace Mission Chapel started as an English (and German) speaking church in Vancouver, with the first Sunday worship service taking place in March 1964. Some Chinese residents participated in the church, and as the number of ethnic Chinese residents in the area grew, specific outreach programs began. By fal l 1972, there were 22 Chinese attenders, and in 1973 they asked to meet separately due to their increased numbers. In 1974, a Chinese department was established, with meetings conducted in Cantonese. In 1977, the English services were discontinued, and the church formally English-speaking Christians stayed behind until 1983 to help the church develop and to teach in the children’s Sunday school.
The first few years were full of trials for the church. Henry Klassen had invited Li Him-Wor (Paul Li) from Hong Kong to lead the Chinese department, but Li passed away suddenly in 1975. The second Chinese pastor, Chu Yu-Man (Eddie Chu), soon left for further studies, and the church was without a pastor for two years. For a time, Chan Chung-Ton (Stephen Chan) helped lead Bible study classes and preached during the Sunday worship services.
In 1980, Wong Cheung-Ho (Enoch Wong) arrived to pastor the church, and the church thrived. It was officially registered in 1981, and the membership grew from 20-30 to 105 in 1983. Three members of the church entered Bible college, including Zhuang Jian (Miller Zhuang), who joined the pastoral staff in 1987.
Enoch Wong retired in 1987 due to health reasons and was succeeded by David Chan. Due to worries over the imminent 1997 takeover of Hong Kong by China and the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989, a large influx of immigrants from Hong Kong began entering Canada in the late 1980s, and Pacific Grace seized the opportunity to reach out to these immigrants. Membership jumped from 155 in 1987 to 240 in 1989. The deacons tried frantically to find a bigger meeting place, but no appropriate site was found. To temporarily alleviate the overcrowding problem, the church moved to two Sunday worship services. Keynes Kan joined the staff in 1988, and Valerie Yiu in 1989, and Yiu began an English worship service for English-speaking Chinese youth. Associate pastor Miller Zhuang was sent to Venezuela, and two Chinese churches were established there.
As the membership continued to grow and space became more of a pressing concern, the Lord did not provide a bigger meeting place, but instead gave the leaders a vision for developing new congregations. In 1990, a branch congregation, Burnaby Pacific Grace Chinese Church, was established. South Pacific Grace MB Church was established in southern Vancouver in March 1995, and North Shore Pacific Grace MB Church in North Vancouver in 1997.
As the number of new immigrants from Hong Kong declined over the last several years, Pacific Grace changed direction. In 1999, simultaneous translation for Mandarin-speaking Chinese was added to the worship services.
Bethel Chinese Christian MB Church
Although Pacific Grace MB Church was the first Chinese MB Church to be established, the first Chinese MB church that was registered with the government was Bethel Chinese Christian MB Church, established in 1978 by the B.C. MB Conference Board of Church Extension under the leadership of David Poon. Sixty-two people attended the first worship service in the former location of Fraserview MB Church in Vancouver. In January 1979, the church moved to the new Fraserview MB Church location in nearby Richmond, B.C. and in February to the facilities of Richmond Bethel (MB) Church. The church was formally registered on July 29, with 31 charter members, including four who were newly baptized. It officially joined the B.C. MB Conference in 1980, becoming the first registered Chinese MB church in North America.
In August 1980, the church moved back to Vancouver, renting Wilson Heights United Church as its meeting place. In 1981, a building at 235 East 15th Ave. was purchased for $280,000. An expansion of the building began in 1984, the church became financially self-supporting in 1985, and by 1988 the church had paid off its mortgage and begun a missions program. In 1995, a larger building at 3215 School Ave. was purchased, with the church borrowing $580,000 om members of the congregation. The new mortgages were paid off by 2000. In 1997, a daughter church, North Shore Bethel Christian MB Church, was established, and in August 2000 pastor Poon led a team of 11 people on a short-term missions trip to Jianmen and Qingyuan, China.
II. THE HARD TIMES OF THE 1980s
The two Chinese MB churches established in the 1970s were located in Vancouver, where a significant number of Chinese were living. During the 1980s, churches were also established as a result of outreach programs to refugees from Southeast Asia as well as students from Hong Kong. Regina Chinese Community Church and Winnipeg Chinese MB Church were founded under these circumstances. The high number of overseas students created a special challenge for these churches-because the turnover was high, establishing a solid leadership and financial stability was difficult.
Three other Chinese churches were also established, one in Scarborough, ant. (Grace Gospel Church, Chinese) and two in Vancouver (Faith MB Church and Vancouver Life Chinese MB Church), but all three closed within 10 years. Faith MB Church was officially a “multiethnic church” but was composed mostly of young Chinese, particularly students, who wanted to worship in English. Vancouver Life Chinese MB Church worshipped in Swatowese, a Chinese dialect spoken in eastern Guantong and Fujian provinces.
The news wasn’t all discouraging from this period. In 1986, Chu Chun-Chong (Aymon Chu) began a Chinese outreach program called Gideon Chinese MB Church through Killarney Park MB Church in Vancouver. Although the ministry closed down for a time, its members later became the founding members of Vancouver Chinese MB Church. The churches in Regina and Winnipeg have continued to minister despite the challenges they face.
Winnipeg Chinese MB Church
Countries in Indo-China , Southeast Asia, were in turmoil during the early 1980s. As a result, a large number of refugees fled to Canada. Mennonite Central Committee took on the task of caring for these refugees, helping them to adapt to new lives in Canada, learn English, find jobs and get their children enrolled in school. A Chinese church was also established in Winnipeg to reach them with the gospel. James Yeung was hired as the first pastor for this new church, which included people of both Chinese and Vietnamese origin. Both Yeung and his wife Rebecca had grown up in Vietnam, and had a good mastery of both Cantonese and Vietnamese. Sunday worship was conducted in both languages.
Two years later, the Vietnamese members of the church requested permission to leave, and they formed a separate congregation under the Conference of Mennonites in Manitoba in August 1986. The Chinese-speaking members remained as a congregation under the Manitoba MB Conference.
Yeung left Winnipeg for Toronto in July 1987, and Job Ng succeeded him as pastor.
The members of Winnipeg Chinese MB Church are mainly ethnic Chinese from Vietnam. A significant number are immigrants from Hong Kong, including students who are attending post-secondary institutions in Manitoba. More recently, immigrants from Mainland China began coming; because of this, starting in 1991 , Sunday services are conducted in both Cantonese and Mandarin.
In 1993, with help from the Manitoba MB Conference, a site was purchased for a church building, but this soon proved to be too small. In 1996, Joseph Sun succeeded Ng as pastor. Also that year, the former Central MB Church building, with a seating capacity of 600, was lent to the church free of charge by the Manitoba MB Conference. In April 1999, Sun left and was succeeded by pastor Chan Ng-Luk.
Although many new members have joined the congregation, the turnover rate is high, as students graduate and leave to look for jobs or to return to their home countries. The church is now focusing on discipling local youth and has begun offering music lessons for children in order to connect with Chinese families in the community. Financially, the church is still dependent on support from the Manitoba MB Conference.
Regina Chinese Community Church
In fall 1986, the Saskatchewan MB Conference developed a plan to plant a Chinese church in Regina. Stephen Lee of Vancouver and a local committee helped to get the church started, and on Nov. 9 the first Sunday worship took place. In the following year, the church moved to its present location, and in June, Chris Wong was hired as the first full-time pastor.
The years 1987-88 were difficult, but the congregation slowly grew. In November 1989, the congregation formally registered as a member church in the Saskatchewan MB Conference. In 1995, Alfred Lee became the pastor, serving until November 2000. Since then, the church has been without a pastor.
In the past, in order to connect with its community, the church has hosted a Chinese school, English classes, vacation Bible schools, a book fair, tax return seminars, field trips, retreats and evangelical movies. The church has also joined with other Chinese churches in Regina to host bigger evangelical events, including inviting the widow of a famous Christian actor to speak about the dramatic life of her husband; many Chinese attended and heard the gospel for the first time.
Many foreign students have become Christians through the ministry of the church. However, many of these students have now returned to their homelands following graduation. New immigrant families once formed the core of the congregation, but many of these have moved to other provinces for jobs. At present, the congregation is small. Cell groups have been formed to promote fellowship among the members and to encourage further outreach.
III. THE RAPID GROWTH OF THE 1990S
The massacre at Tiananmen Square in China spurred a wave of new immigrants from Hong Kong into Canada, opening up new opportunities for the Chinese churches. This resulted in the establishment of nine new Chinese MB churches from 1990 to 1995.
Abbotsford Chinese Christian Church
Abbotsford (B.C) Chinese Christian Church was established in 1989 under the sponsorship of the B.C. MB Conference Board of Church Extension, with Yiu-Tong Chan serving as pastor. The church formally chartered in 1990 and became financially self-supporting in 1993. (Abbotsford is in B.C.’s Lower Mainland, about an hour’s drive up the Fraser Valley from Vancouver.)
The Chinese community in Abbotsford is small, and Chan opened a Chinese school to introduce non-Christian families to the congregation and eventually to the Lord. In the beginning, the church shared a building with King Road MB Church. When King Road built a new sanctuary in 1995, the Chinese congregation was given sole use of the old sanctuary.
Chan left in 1996 to become pastor of Vancouver Chinese MB Church. Walter Lee became pastor. He left in 1999, and since then the church has been without a pastor.
Vancouver Chinese MB Church
Vancouver Chinese MB Church began as Gideon Chinese MB Church 1986- 88. It closed for a time, but was restarted in 1989, when the B.C. MB Conference Board of Church Extension appointed Yiu-Tong Chan as the church planter. In 1990, the B.C. Conference commissioned Chan to plant the Chinese church in Abbotsford, and Joseph Sun became pastor of Vancouver Chinese MB Church. At first, the church met on Sunday afternoons in Killarney Park MB Church. Then, the church was allowed to have Sunday morning worship in Wilson Heights United Church on 41 st Avenue and Argyle Street in Vancouver. Church attendance grew rapidly from 40 to 100. An English ministry was also started. The church was off Board of Church Extension subsidy by 1991.
The church purchased its existing facilities on Nanaimo Street in 1995. Joseph Sun transferred to Winnipeg Chinese MB Church in 1996, and Yiu-Tong Chan has been senior pastor of the church since then. In 1996, the church held its first missions conference and began to send out short-term mission teams. Evangelism was also emphasized, and many people have come to know the Lord. The number of fellowship groups has grown from four to nine, in addition to home Bible study groups. Attendance at Sunday worship is continuing to grow, and the current building has reached its maximum capacity. A Mandarin ministry was started about one-and-a-half years ago; since then, 20 members of this group have been converted, and six have been baptized. The church now has three congregations (Cantonese, Mandarin and English) and, given its space limitations, is seeking God’s will about planting a daughter church in the near future. At present, the church has two pastors, Yiu-Tong Chan and Florence Lai.
Richmond Chinese MB Church
In fall 1989, a group of Chinese Christians began attending Richmond Bethel (MB) Church in Richmond , B.C. The church welcomed them, and they quickly became part of the congregation. However, the group also met every Sunday evening in homes for fellowship, Bible study and prayer.
The meetings were led by pastors from various churches. The elders of Richmond Bethel Church asked the group if they had a vision for beginning evangelism work among the local Chinese. After they prayed about it for half a year, on April 29, 1990, the elders offered the group a meeting hall, office space and financial assistance to begin the outreach. The members of the Chinese group were excited, thankful and overwhelmed.
A planning committee was formed and invited Stephen Chan, then serving in Toronto, to come and lead the work. The Richmond Bethel leaders offered the planning committee two options-to be the Chinese outreach department of Richmond Bethel or to form a separate Chinese MB congregation with Richmond Bethel providing financial support for the first half-year. The committee chose the second option.
Stephen Chan arrived in June 1990, and the first Sunday worship service took place on July 15. Three months later, the congregation chartered as a member congregation of the B.C. MB Conference. Attendance quickly grew to 90, and the congregation became financially self-supporting on schedule.
In 1993, Phebe Chan joined the church as Christian education director. In January 1995, Stephen Chan suffered a serious heart attack. The doctors had given up hopes of his recovery, but every night a team of brothers and sisters took turns praying earnestly for him, and he recovered and returned home. In November, he resigned from all formal pastoral duties, retaining only an advisory role, and in December Peter Mau became senior pastor of the church.
In 1996, an agreement was made to expand the existing building to better serve Richmond Bethel Church, Richmond Chinese MB Church and Richmond Christian School. A new $400,000 sanctuary was built between the school building and the existing Richmond Bethel building, which was completed in March 1997.
Richmond Chinese MB Church now has 130 members. About 130 people attend the Cantonese service (which is also translated into Mandarin), and 45 attend the English service. In addition to various fellowship meetings and Sunday school classes, recently the church has begun Mandarin Bible study classes for new immigrants from Mainland China.
Burnaby Pacific Grace Chinese Church
As already mentioned, the overcrowded Pacific Grace MB Church developed a vision to start a second congregation. Led by Keynes Kan and Enoch Wong, about 50 members were sent out with tears and prayers to establish Burnaby Pacific Grace Chinese Church in nearby north Burnaby on Sept. 1, 1990. At first, the church rented the Ellesmere United Church building for its meetings. The church began with only four fellowship groups, but all the basic ministries were in place-Sunday school, Sunday worship services, a choir and children’s work. The church was active in bringing new immigrants to God, and the church grew. In February 1991, the church became independent of Pacific Grace MB Church.
Soon space limitations again became a concern. The church continued to rent the Ellesmere building at a very reasonable rate. Then the church found two sites at the corner of Ellesmere and Hastings Street to serve as an office and Sunday school classrooms. In 1992, the church renovated two old buildings into 4000 square feet of space that could be used for a library, a church office and a multi-purpose room.
Port Moody Pacific Grace Chinese Church
In 1994, Burnaby Pacific Grace Chinese Church had once again reached capacity in its existing buildings. Instead of moving the entire congregation to a bigger building, a second 10- cation was found in Port Moody. Despite a gloomy economic picture, the church was able to collect $400,000 in two months to be used as a down payment to buy this building. The Lord had prepared a group of members to be willing to travel a significant distance from home to establish a new congregation. Port Moody Pacific Grace Chinese Church was founded on Feb. 19, 1995. Membership of the church has steadily grown. Attendance is now 400 in the Sunday services, with 250 in Sunday school and more than 300 in various age-specific fellowship meetings.
The church has established a mission statement with five emphases: evangelism (personal evangelism, door-to-door witnessing and support for missionaries); worship and training; fellowship; youth and children’s ministry (including an English worship service for the youth); and community outreach (including a Saturday Chinese language and culture school, and seminars to help immigrants adapt to life in Canada).
Tri-City Chinese Christian Church
Now in its tenth year, Tri-City Chinese Christian Church was planted, under the leadership of King Cheung and the sponsorship of the B.C. Conference Board of Church Extension, to reach out to Port Moody, Coquitlam and Port Coquitlam in the Greater Vancouver area. The chu rch has experienced a number of ups and downs. Structurally, it is still very young and learning.
After King Cheung left, the church was without a pastor for some time. In August 2000, the church called Lam Man-Fung from Hong Kong to be the pastor The church was beginning to grow again, when Man-Fung was discovered to have cancerous tumours on his liver in March 2001 . The church set up a web site to encourage prayer from the church, from other MB churches in Canada and from concerned friends and relatives in Hong Kong. Despite some delays, a successful operation was completed April 18, and the incident has served to unify the congregation in prayer.
Mountainview Grace Church
Mountainview Grace Church in Calgary is the first Chinese MB church in Alberta. The church started as a vision of members of the Chinese MB churches in Vancouver and, with the support of the Alberta and B.C. MB Conferences, came into reality in 1995. The first worship took place on July 2 of that year, led by Andy Ng. Membership has grown slowly. Recently a two-storey apartment in the Chinatown area was purchased to serve as the permanent site for the church. The church is now led by Jack To.
Willingdon Church (Chinese Department)
Willingdon Church in Burnaby, B.C. was founded in 1961. It later developed into a very diversified church of over 3000 whose members’ native languages include English, Spanish, Indonesian, Russian, Korean, Japanese, Cantonese, Mandarin, Romanian and French. Separate Sunday worship services have been conducted in Spanish, Indonesian and Russian, while members who speak other languages receive translation during the main English worship services.
In 1992, Cantonese translation was added to the main Sunday services. Two years later, James Wong joined the ministry, followed by Christina Chung, to lead the Cantonese ministry. In 1997, Michael Chan and others began a Mandarin ministry.
At present, there are about 60 Mandarin-speaking members and 100 Cantonese-speaking members; 50 are fluent in both Cantonese and English, and 50 are English-speaking Chinese.
South Vancouver Pacific Grace MB Church
In 1995, South Vancouver Pacific Grace MB Church was established on East 50th Ave. in Vancouver as a branch congregation of Pacific Grace MB Church. At first, the church was under the leadership of Pacific Grace senior pastor David Chan and Owen Leung. In 1998, Patrick Fung joined the staff, and the church became independent of the mother church. In July 1998, Owen Leung left to serve in another Chinese church in Surrey, but Valerie Yiu came as pastor for the children’s ministry. In 1999, Patrick Fung was named senior pastor, and in June 2000 Marcus Tso joined the staff as English pastor, to serve the younger generation.
Pacific Grace Mandarin Church
As the number of immigrants from Hong Kong declines, the Chinese churches are slowly switching their outreach focus to Mandarin-speaking immigrants, who are coming in increasing numbers. The first church that had this vision was Port Moody Pacific Grace Chinese Church. Not long after that church first opened , it discovered that it was in the middle of a large Mandarin-speaking population. A fellowship group targeted towards Mandarin-speaking residents was established in the summer of 1997. The following February, the first Mandarin Sunday worship service was held under the leadership of Leo Chiao The attendance was less than 20. Only two families had Mandarin origin. The others were Cantonese-speaking families who came in support of this ministry.
The church has grown to a congregation of 80 people. Many of the first members are still there, although some have left for other cities or countries. In the past three years, 70 people have accepted Christ as personal Saviour, and 33 have been baptized. The ministry is founded on the Great Commandment (Matthew 22:37-39) and the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20).
In July 2000, because of space limitations, the church changed its Sunday worship service to 8:45 in the morning, and in the same month the congregation became a separately registered church.
IV. TRIPLETS IN 1997
The rapid growth of the Chinese MB churches started with the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989. The growth rate seemed to slow down following the turnover of Hong Kong to China in 1997. 1997 was also a memorable year for Chinese Mennonite Brethren, as three new churches were opened in this year.
North Shore Bethel Christian MB Church
North Shore Bethel Christian MB Church held its first meeting in Sutherland Bible Chapel, North Vancouver, in September 1997 as an expansion from Bethel Chinese Christian MB Chu rch in Vancouver. The church began with 20 members from the Vancouver church, with Alan Choi serving as pastor. The church became independent in January 1999. It now has about 70 people attending Chinese worship, 20 attending English worship and another 20 attending children’s worship.
In February 2001 , the church moved its meeting place to Capilano United Church. The Chinese worship takes place at 2:00 in the afternoon, with the English worship starting at 3:45.
Vancouver Christian Logos Church
Vancouver Christian Logos Church is the only one of the 1997 “triplets” that is not an expansion of an existing church. The church was established with the goal of reaching the Chinese speaking residents in Vancouver’s west side and is led by John Kwok. The church began by renting a community centre as its meeting place. Four months later, a local Baptist church offered to rent space to the new church. The relationship is not so much that of a landlord and tenant but a partnership working together to evangelize the community.
Because of its closeness to the University of British Columbia, the church has many opportunities to evangelize university students. It is also using various seminars about family life and parenting to reach local Chinese families.
North Shore Pacific Grace MB Church
Before 1997, the only Chinese church presence on the “North Shore” (North Vancouver and West Vancouver, across Burrard Inlet from Vancouver) was some small Bible study groups. In October 1996, the two Pacific Grace MB churches in Vancouver received an invitation from some of their members on the North Shore to begin an outreach ministry there. Following an evangelistic Christmas lunch in 1996, several programs were initiated. In the next half-year, through evangelistic meetings, Bible study classes and home visits, 13 people accepted Christ. In June 1997, a team visited 200 homes in one week, inviting local residents to attend a musical evangelistic meeting on the weekend. About 100 people attended, and four accepted Christ.
In January 1998, a core group of families from the Vancouver Pacific Grace churches began weekly Sunday worship services and various fellowship meetings for adults, youth, young working adults, post-secondary students and children. At Thanksgiving 1998, the group formally registered as a church, with 32 charter members.
The church has had its share of difficulties. The worship service meeting time has changed five times, and the meeting place has been changed four times, and many activities have had to be conducted in homes because the church has no permanent meeting place. But God has used these home meetings as stepping stones to bring in new families living nearby. To Wang-Hui has been serving as pastor of the church since its inception.
V. GOING FARTHER
In 1989, Pacific Grace Chinese Church sent Miller and Isabella Zhuang as missionaries to start Chinese churches in Venezuela. The first church, in Porte la Cruz, was begun in March 1991 and now has attendance of about 50. The second church , located in the capital city, Caracas , opened at roughly the same time; it is now about the same size as the first church and was able to find a permanent meeting place in 1994. For health reasons, the Zhuangs returned to Canada in 1996, and since then the two churches have been without pastoral leadership except for some short-term missionaries. In 1999, Isaac Chang was sent by the B.C. Chinese MB churches to serve the two churches, followed by several others. Last year, Semson Nip became the first member of the Venezuela churches to undertake theological studies, enrolling in a school in Panama, with assistance from MBMS International (see sidebar).
In 1998, the B.C. Chinese MB churches accepted an invitation to send a pastoral worker or team to Prince George in the interior of B.C. every month to carry out various evangelistic efforts. The frequency of these visits increased beginning in the year 2000. The fellowship groups in Prince George are maturing. It is anticipated that a church will soon be formally established.
The MB Conferences are also investigating the possibility of planting churches in the Toronto area, where many Chinese live.
VI. LOOKING FORWARD
From the establishment of the first Chinese MB church less than 30 years ago, there are now 20 Chinese MB churches in seven cities in three different countries (including one in the US). Fourteen of these churches are in Vancouver’s Lower Mainland. What lies ahead?
The increasing presence of Mandarin-speaking people coming from Mainland China is a reality the churches cannot neglect. Most Chinese MB churches have some members whose first language is Mandarin. While Pacific Grace Mandarin Church is the only MB church established solely for Mandarin speaking people, most churches have some Mandarin ministries: Bible studies, fellowships groups or interpretation of worship services. There is a dire need for pastoral staff whose first language is Mandarin to nurture this group of people. Language is a barrier but not the major one. Some members of the Chinese MB churches are fluent in both Mandarin and Cantonese, but there is still a huge difference in their culture.
Specific ministry to Chinese born in Canada is no longer restricted to children, but also includes young adults who primarily speak English. Should these young Christians be members of English-speaking departments in existing churches, or should they form separate churches? This issue is one that Chinese MB churches have to face, just as all other ethnic churches in Canada do.
In dealing with these issues, partnership with the Mennonite Brethren Conferences will be an important element. The Chinese MB Herald is a magazine established several years ago by the Canadian MB Conference Board of Communications to serve the Chinese MB churches. Chinese MB pastors have worked with the MB Conferences to establish new churches in the past, and discussions are under way regarding further church plants.
–Joseph Kwan, Chinese MB Herald
These articles are adapted from the February 2001 issue of the Chinese MB Herald, edited by Joseph Kwan and written by various members of the Chinese MB churches. Translation into English was done by Ed Leung of Richmond Chinese.