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Is Western Giving Hurting The Chinese Church?

Category Articles
Date December 14, 2004

In the affluent West, it is quite common for young Christians to pay thousands of dollars or pounds each year to attend Bible College or seminary. But in China the continuing poverty of many rural believers means that going to Bible College is an impossible dream. According to information from the China Christian Council most rural would-be trainees are unable to afford the very modest 50 RMB (US$6) needed for living expenses each month at the twenty or so provincial Bible training colleges now open in China. These brothers and sisters in Christ only need US$6 a month – but it is too much. Furthermore, 95 percent of existing pastoral workers who desire advanced biblical and theological studies are unable to afford the 100 RMB per month needed (just US$12).

A ‘Three Self’ pastor in Zhejiang pointed out recently that despite this desperate need, some churches in the more affluent cities in China are spending huge sums on grandiose church buildings in gothic or classical style. Many of these buildings are then under-used. Or, a pastor’s manse is built complete with luxurious fittings. Sometimes churches are unable to pay the bill for these projects. Money is also wasted on lavish ceremonies and banquets when churches are opened or refurbished. Money may also be wasted on entertaining foreign guests with lavish banquets. Some pastoral workers even spend huge amounts on group trips to Southeast Asia for ‘church exchanges’- when, in reality, more time is spent in sightseeing.

The Zhejiang pastor calls for a curb on such extravagance for the sake of the rural believers in desperate need of basic training.

This report should make overseas donors pause for thought. The very human, even knee-jerk, reaction is to want to channel large sums of money to those in such desperate need. However, history shows that the giving of large sums in this way is not the best way forward. Accountability is often lacking. The genuine biblical principle of self-support is undermined and the local Chinese churches brought directly or indirectly under foreign control. We even heard recently of one North American group who were happy to pour large sums of money into their pet project inside China. The local house-churches mentioned they already had a thriving program of evangelism and asked whether perhaps some of this money could be used to support the existing indigenous outreach. They were told in no uncertain terms they would not receive a cent for their own work – but thousands of dollars would be poured into the scheme dreamt up by the people overseas. Such economic imperialism cannot be too strongly condemned.

The principle of self-support is biblical. The last few years have seen a serious erosion of the principle in both State-registered (‘Three Self’) churches and seminaries and in unregistered house-churches. Some Christian organizations in North America, South Korea, SE Asia and Europe are guilty in this regard. They may be well-intentioned – but good intentions are not enough.

The growing Chinese church needs grounding in the principles of God’s Word.

Humble dependence on God and seeking his will in prayer remain the foundational principle for true church growth, Bible training and evangelism. Reliance on foreign funding will lead to spectacular short-term gains but to the ultimate withering and death of true spiritual life. It seems the valuable spiritual lessons we may gain from the Chinese church over the last 50 years are in danger of being forgotten. Will we build wood, hay and stubble – only to see it swept away again by our holy God?

THE ILLEGAL CHINESE MIGRATION INTO SIBERIA

Many thousands of Chinese migrants cross the border into Russia in search of better pay and savings to send to their families. One Chinese peasant interviewed in Siberia said he earned a daily wage of 200 rubles (about US$3) for 15 hours work picking cabbages and cucumbers. Russian alarmists regard this as a quiet ‘invasion’ to reclaim lands lost 150 years ago when China ceded huge areas of Siberia to the Russian tsar. Estimates of the numbers of Chinese illegals vary enormously. One Russian documentary put it at one million, but more cautious experts say the number peaks each summer at 40,000. In far away Moscow, the government is trying to reverse the rate of depopulation which depletes the workforce in Siberia by 10,000 each year. Few Russians want to go there, so the demand for migrant workers will continue.

The market in Khabarovsk is a lifeline for its inhabitants. Everything from grapes to gaudy sofas, socks and kettles is from China. So are the traders officially numbering 700. Their Russian customers are torn between necessity and fear. They never try to chat to the Chinese and the migrants avoid contact with the locals. But for the market authorities, China means profits. Equally enthusiastic are other businessmen. The logging industry is always hungry for human resources. “They are incredible,” admits Sergei, the owner of a local timber firm. “So hardworking. If the Russians worked like this China would be behind Russian, not the other way round.”

The regional bosses believe in keeping the migrant numbers down. Next year the number of visas for Chinese workers has been set at only 4,000.

In the vast, bleak, inhospitable waste that is Siberia the Chinese migrants find little welcome. However, here and there small fellowships of Christians have sprung up providing the warmth of fellowship in Christ. Christians from overseas are seeking to pastor them and to do outreach. Will you pray for this difficult mission?

Press Release From OMF International

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