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 (Manna 27)
Here Am I, Send Me
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A hand firmly holding a baton, Another reaching out to receive it. This poster hangs in many a True Jesus Church building all over the world. The International Assembly’s call for more volunteers marks an important development in our world evangelism. For too long, we have depended on a handful of full-time ministers who juggle between their pastoral duties and missionary work.

The Great Commission was given verbally to the apostles’, but when the actual commissioning took place at the upper room on Pentecost, the entire assembly of disciples numbering about a hundred and twenty received power from the Holy Spirit to become “witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth”2. Later, while the apostles remained at Jerusalem, the disciples were scattered and “went about preaching the word”3. Among them was Philip, who preached in Samaria. And when Paul covered the places beyond Samaria, he was accompanied by Joseph Barnabas, John Mark, Silas, Timothy and Titus. It is evident that missionary work was carried out extensively by many who were not part of the Twelve.

The Great Challenge

The Great Commission is truly a great challenge for several reasons. One is the great disparity between the number of workers and the amount of work to be done. It is almost two thousand years since, but there are still unreached peoples and lands. Another is that the gospel has become corrupted with paganistic elements of foreign lands. By the turn of the first century, the adulterated form of Christianity overshadowed the true faith and from thence, Christianity was introduced to the world as a western religious (sometimes political) system.

The size of the nominal Christian population is far from satisfactory, but the ratio of True Jesus Church members to the world population is really dismaying. Theoretically, any saved person should have a passion for lost souls that forces him into action because he has been touched by the love of Christ. In practice, the majority of us are laid back while souls perish by the second. There is an abnormal lack of urgency.

Third-World Countries

Africa, the ‘dark continent’, is still awaiting the true light to shine through the darkness. Out of the numerous countries occupying this vast land, the true word has only reached four countries. For hundreds of years, our fellow men living in that land have been suffering physical oppression and poverty. Who would help free them from spiritual bondage and enrich their souls with things eternal?

The word of truth was first received in Nigeria in 1979 and subsequently spread to Liberia, Ghana, Kenya and Zambia. Many of our audience have been Christians for many years, some even for 50 to 60 years. To be able to find the truth is indeed a home-coming to them. Are we willing to leave the comfort of our homes to make this possible for many more out there? Do we not have an example in Jesus who left His glorious throne to labor like a servant and finally to die a criminal’s death?

The early Christians faced much hardship and peril while pioneering in foreign lands. If the latter day church were to do greater things as prophesied4, surely we must accept more than a share of their suffering. At present, our missionaries have not really suffered; they only have had to put up with some inconveniences. However, for the unaccustomed, even such would be scarcely tolerable. It would be good to know what to expect. Last year, a brother accompanied a full-time preacher to Africa while three deacons and two brothers joined as volunteers in India.

The brother who spent a month in Africa last Septem­ber had the experience of worshipping in places like a mud chapel, a pitched tent, or simply under the shade of mango tress. Prayers were said while kneeling on muddy ground. Often, services in the open were interrupted by heavy rain. The schedule was hectic, and much time was spent waiting for the tent to be erected or on travelling. Once they had to travel for an hour on a hired lorry packed with about 70 people to the baptismal site. On another occasion, a hired van was used to make a few trips to get 98 people baptised. The roads were bad, and it was not easy to ford through flood waters with their very old hired car without having to push-start. Sometimes travelling was done on foot. Meals were simple, and there was a lack of drinking water. Hotel accommodation was poor. One room they stayed in had no bathroom while another had no electricity. Both had no water supply; but hot and cold water would be fetched upon request.

The experience was nevertheless found to be rewarding. The opportunity to address gatherings of 60% to 99% truthseekers is seldom found in one’s home-country. The eagerness to hear the complete gospel, the enthusiasm in asking questions and the zeal in praying for the Holy Spirit were some of the things the Africans displayed that brought joy to those involved in the ministry.

On the whole, the Africa ministry still needs to be strengthened in many ways. Our African brethren, especially those in Zambia, are rather poor. Physical poverty has affected the faith of quite a number of them. Subsidies are needed for construction of decent places of worship. Religious education is only slowly taking form, and proper set-up will be looked into this year.

India was visited twice last year; in March and September. Though the word was brought to this country in 1969, we only have churches in two out of 24 states. Two other states have prayer houses. It was only last year that we managed to reach out to one more - Bangalore. Moreover, few people are sufficiently familiar with the situation in Madras and Kerala, where we have churches. It is necessary that ties be strengthened with our own brethren before any attempt to break new ground. The first trip in March was mainly for fact-finding. Most of the volunteers admitted having little or no idea of the India ministry before embarking on the mission. One deacon remarked that despite being briefed before the trip, it was only upon arrival that he began to see what it was really like.

To enable the team to work better during the first trip, two brothers from the Tamil Fellowship of Federal Territory Church (W. Malaysia) joined as volunteers. Besides serving as interpreters, they also acted as cultural advisors. But they too felt a cultural gap. It seems advisable that volunteers of Indian descent be more involved in this work. This would agree with Paul’s extreme passion for the salvation of his own race5. It could be a good alternative to reach out to the large Chinese communities in Bombay and Calcutta, since a substantial number of them still maintain Chinese literacy, as evidenced by the existence of the Chinese press circulating a few daily newspapers. The majority speak the Hakka dialect which happens to the most predominant vernacular amongst our churches in Southeast Asia. However, it is not desirable that the main composition of our churches worldwide be Chinese. God’s redeemed should hail from every tribe and tongue and people and nation6. The aim of global evangelism is to save the native people of each land we visit. So ultimately, it is the Indians that we want in India!

Apart from cultural differences, our volunteers encountered physical difficulties that required adaptability and spontaneity . Once, they arrived at a village late in the evening and discovered that there was no electric supply. The church was lit with only one gas lamp. The sermon had to be preached off the cuff, relying on God’s inspira­tion. Travelling was extensive yet difficult, due to pollution and insufficient transport. One of the voluntary workers was nearly thrown off a very packed bus. Hygiene was poor and basic amenities were inadequate. Using the open latrine in the bushes was commonplace while toilet paper was expensive or unheard of in the rural areas. Transportation and infrastructure was poor, which aggravated the hectic schedule.

The second trip was easier as the voluntary workers had become more accustomed to the conditions. It would seem prudent then, to have a core of committed workers willing to go for future trips. Work would then be more efficiently carried out in the long term. Getting a totally new group of volunteers to adapt is time-consuming.

There is much benefit in joining the India ministry. One member pointed out that it gave him the opportunity to be totally cut off from secular cares and be fully dedicated to the Lord’s work. He admitted honestly that back home, he had been fitting God’s work into his secular schedule rather than making it his primary concentration. Another said that instead of just going there to teach, he was in fact taught by the example of the Indian believers. Their faith was simple, and though physically poor, they had great zeal in reaching out to remote areas to establish churches. He saw his own inadequacies and regretted his lethargy. It was, he said, “like having cold water splashed onto my face to awaken me and to make me sit up and take action”. This vast land of more than 800 million souls presently has only 3,200 believers. There is an urgent need for more of us to take action. Have we felt the cold water on our faces?

Beyond the Iron and Bamboo Curtains

For many years, communist countries like China and Russia have suppressed religious activities and persecuted Christians. Many of our churches in China went under­ground and in some places, members just scattered. The government ban on teaching religion to children below 18 years old has hindered the passing on of the faith to the next generation. Many children of our China brethren were not baptised in infancy and grew up with little knowledge of Christ. Presently, China has about 300 million children*, who are not legally allowed to hear the gospel. Till recently, communication with churches in the free world was virtually non-existent. The International Assembly made a milestone visit to the People’s Republic of China last year and made some headway in Russia.

The current situation in the ChineseChristianChurches, according to our IA visitors still reflects centralised control. The two main organisations, namely the Chinese Christian Council (CCC) and the Three-Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM) Council, generally referred to as “the two councils”, seek to unify the churches into a single “post-denominational” church, anonymous and concordant in faith and polity. Theological training is centralised at state-sanctioned seminaries, and only those trained at these seminaries can be licensed to serve as ministers in their individual churches. The unique identity of our church would naturally be challenged in the spate of such ecumenism. Also, the official position of the authori­ties, which is in line with the concept of a “post-denominational” era, disallows the posting of signboards. There is also some difficulty in conducting baptism by immersion in the open, since evangelistic activities in the streets, hospitals, or prisons are outlawed. Hence, some Christian leaders deem the True Jesus Church as non-conformist.

Despite the hindrances, the church is flourishing in Fuzhou, Fuqing and Xiamen. Quite a number of churches have been erected bearing our church’s name. As one journeys farther into the interior, pressures upon the true church are reportedly more tenacious. Nevertheless, the IA visitors found in Nanjing, Wuhan and Beijing many groups of workers and lay ministers who demonstrated strong faith and members who hold unswervingly to the doctrinal tradition of our church. In the seminaries at Nanjing and Wuhan, our theological students have introduced the true gospel to their fellow-students. Instead of succumbing to ecumenism and liberal theology, they are effective witnesses who are instrumental in bringing many students to the truth. This has inevitably caused displeasure among some in the faculty as well as the student body.

On the whole, the holy work in China is dynamic, abounding in signs and wonders and conversions to the Lord. The churches in China are in urgent need of Mandarin sermon cassettes, theological training materials and a continuing supply of periodicals. Above all, they require our intercession and actual participation. If Hudson Taylor could be so willing to spend and be spent for the sake of China, why should we feel less for the land where God first raised the true church of the last days?

The work in Russia is very new, and limited to Moscow and St. Petersburg. Although pioneering started in Moscow in May 1994, due to the lack of a permanent centre, only one person, a Chinese, received the Holy Spirit and subsequently reverted to his own church. The present flock in Russia traces its beginnings to the same year when a brother from the United States sent tracts and cassette tapes to Chinese friends residing in Moscow. Two became very interested in the truth and contacted our church. Thus in January 1995, a second trip was made which met with some success. After preaching for ten days at the Beijing Hotel, where about 30 attended, a number were strongly convicted of the truth and even received the Holy Spirit. A follow-up trip was made in the same month, lasting a fortnight, and by then there were more than 10 stable truth-seekers, most of them having received the Holy Spirit. In March, during a 10-day visit, it was noted that regular attendance at services and Bible study had doubled to 20.

For four wintry months, the truth-seekers burned with zeal, having regular services and unceasing prayer. Despite having been brought up in an atheist educational system, they personally experienced God and increased their faith. Not only were they observing the Sabbath and paying tithes, they zealously brought friends to hear the gospel. Finally in May, a total of 34 were baptised, including five entire families. A further nine were baptised in the months of June and July, bringing the total Russian membership to 43; 34 in Moscow and nine in St. Petersburg.

The economic and political situation in Russia is rather unstable. Businessmen and missionaries have suffered violence. The underworld is gradually gaining strength. The newly established church in Moscow has been entrusted with a great responsibility. The IA will have to help her train personnel, so as to bring the gospel to the ethnic Russians and even the Jews residing there. There is an urgent need for evangelistic materials in the Russian language.

The dissolution of the Soviet Union, the opening up of communist nations like China and Vietnam are great opportunities to preach the gospel. We must also realise that the time available is not indefinite. Though many have remarked that communism is dead, we know from God’s Word that before the world ends, it will rise to great power. if this present period corresponds to that of the “mortal wound” in Revelations, then when the wound is healed, we will have no time to preach. Before the sleeping giant awakes, before the curtains close on us again, let us bring the gospel to the end of the earth.

Mt 28:16, 19  2. Acts 1:8 cf 1:15; 2:1-4  3. Acts 8:4 cf 8:14  4. Hag 2:9  5. Rom 9:3; 10:1 

6. Rev 5:9

* From New Evidence, January/February 1996 issue

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Author: Shee Tse Loong