Building a people takes a hundred years

Like most Chinese MB members, we were an immigrant family from Hong Kong. Before we came some 10 years ago, we were members of an evangelical denomination. Joining an MB church was not intentional. Our original denomination does not have any Chinese ministries in the Greater Vancouver area. It so happened that several of our Christian friends were in the same church and we found we were very comfortable with the worship and ministries there.

Later, it came to our attention that this church belongs to a denomination of Anabaptist origin. I had no idea what Anabaptist meant, though the term caused a little concern as it implies literally that we need to be baptized again! Research showed, however, that Anabaptism, in its broadest sense, is the same belief we have in most Chinese evangelical churches. Christianity is never a state religion for Chinese, and infant baptism is not a common practice among Chinese evangelical churches. Other than the term Anabaptist, Mennonite Brethren probably share the same faith we have. There are some subtle differences, but we consider them minor.

As the years went by, more involvement in the church revealed the linkage between Chinese churches and the MB conference is weaker than I thought. Geographically, we are at a distance from the Canadian conference main office in Winnipeg. This may explain somewhat the disconnectedness.

But even with the B.C. conference and other Caucasian churches located in the same city, our connection is not strong. Sometimes we are not aware we are in the same denomination if the church name does not carry the “MB” signature. Our conference tie becomes significant only when we have a financial need, pastoral appointment, or ordination. I don’t know whether this disconnectedness is particular between Chinese and non-Chinese local churches, or if it applies to others across Canada. But this is something that needs to be addressed.

In the denomination back in Hong Kong, local churches are closely tied together. Pastors from sister churches frequently spoke in Sunday services and, from time to time, we heard sermons and testimonies from conference representatives and visitors of the same denomination. Even though many of them came from far corners of the world and spoke different languages, we built up many enduring relationships.

A plan is needed

In the 10+ years in our church in Canada, I don’t recall a single visit from a conference staff person during Sunday worship or other meetings. The only time we see a conference representative is during ordination ceremonies. This may be particular to the church we are attending and not the same in other Chinese churches. And certainly, we have so many congregations all over Canada; it may not be possible for conference staff to visit every one. But I do expect a stronger tie among conference churches, despite differences in language, culture, and region. A plan to build up the relationship is needed. Church visits could be one of the ties.

I don’t think the conference has to be blamed for the weak bond. A relationship is built from both sides. Chinese communities have a part to play. Both parties should be aware of the problem and work together to strengthen it. Definitely, there are cultural and language barriers between us, but still, we have lots of common ground for partnership.

Chinese MB churches are especially keen in church planting and overseas missions. We have some ex-MB pastors working in mainland China and Southeast Asia. I wonder if there are ways we can work together in these mission fields. It is well-known that most Chinese immigrants stay in the Vancouver or Toronto areas. We have a very strong church base in Vancouver but nothing at all in Toronto. Is it worth some effort to find out why?

Many Chinese churches have struggles building up their English ministries. They need resources for English children’s and youth programs. We need more English and children’s pastors. Should we look to the conference for help?

While we are celebrating the 150th anniversary of the Mennonite Brethren, Chinese communities have been in the family for more than one fifth of those years. Are we satisfied with the relationship we have right now?

According to an old Chinese saying, “It takes 10 years to build a tree and 100 years to build a people.” Yes, building a relationship takes time. But we cannot afford to wait 100 years before starting.

Joseph Kwan is editor of the Chinese MB Herald. He and his family live in Burnaby, B.C.

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