Communism and Christianity – a learning experience
I headed to Hong Kong with a different perspective than our Cape Town advance. My heart and mind was filled with expectation of being with dear friends. I knew we’d be learning and experiencing fantastic things but it paled in comparison with the camaraderie and intellectual stimulation of friends—if not family—crazy uncle and all.
Following the relational anticipation came my passion for International churches (ICs), for which Hong Kong offers a unique and interesting landscape. As a former British colony, Christianity has been well established over the last century, as seen in its social programs, schools, seminary, medical facilities and plenty of churches. I estimate at least 20 HK ICs operating in English and typically attracting dozens of ethnicities.
To share this with my cohort was an unanticipated blessing, as we visited Island ECC; it was like they got a taste of my research. Some were shocked that such diverse, foreigner-friendly, western-like churches exist in “communist China”. But with globalization, and the number of global nomads growing, these churches are flourishing and their missional impact is significant. They come in all sizes; in HK alone there is Alliance International Church at 350 attenders, ECC with about 900, Island ECC with 3500, and the International Christian Assembly (AOG) at over 10,000.
Here are three insights from this term’s study and travel that are applicable to my IC research:
- Pentecostalism has grown exponentially. According to Steve Addison, expert on church planting movements, “Pentecostalism is perhaps the fastest expanding movement—religious, cultural or political—ever.”[i] In Global Pentecostalism: The new face of Christian social Engagement[ii] we learn a significant part of its growth and missional impact is tied to social engagement. We experienced that first hand as we visited St. Stephen’s society and spent time with Jackie Pullinger. It’s one thing to hear and read about God transforming a city though His people – it’s another to experience it for yourself.
- Having read several authors on leadership (Friedman, Kets DeVries, Li, Collins), the paradoxical importance of humility and will within great leaders seems widely accepted. It is the ability to prevent your ego from getting in the way of the larger cause.[iii] This idea of being humble and fearless is a characteristic that permeates Hong Kong; the youth joining the umbrella revolution with their cause of universal suffrage, which we heard about first hand from local photographer Jess Yu, is a great example. The many Christians in HK who passionately express and share their faith in spite of the watchful gaze of the communist government models this type of leadership.
- Finally, I’m learning the city of Hong Kong itself is strategic. When you grow up in the suburbs, the city is often seen as “a nice place to visit but I wouldn’t want to live there.” They are places of population density, places of great diversity, places where some of the nations’ brightest and wealthiest as well as the most marginalized people live. Cities can be factories of creativity and learning; its people are more open to change than those in a suburban or rural setting.[iv] Cities, like HK, can be great incubators for missional movements. ICs and the Christian diaspora need to understand and maximize the advantages of their urban settings.
After the Advance in HK I didn’t return home immediately but spent a week in Hanoi doing IC field research at Hanoi International Fellowship (HIF). While there I saw all three ideas at work.[v] I’d categorize HIF as more Evangelical than Pentecostal, yet it is a church that has seen exponential growth. In the last few years they’ve grown from one to three congregations with four services spread around the city; they have a vision for the city and are active in social engagement. “Love Hanoi” is a campaign to inspire and mobilize individual, corporate, and public initiatives for the benefit of the city.[vi] HIF is encouraging its mostly expatriate body to show their love for Hanoi by getting involved in very practical, compassionate ways. This vision of the city has become a tangible part of the church ethos; they often put the spotlight on one of their city partners like: Hagar, Blue Dragon, Donkey Bakery, Samaritan’s Purse and many more.[vii]
Jacob Bloemberg has been lead pastor at HIF for 10 years; in that time he’s changed the paradigm of HIF. They went from a church with an “oasis” mindset to a missional IC paradigm. This took a large measure of humility and willfulness, a kind of humble ambition; such leadership is often frowned on in church circles. Jacob was clearly convicted to spread the gospel around Hanoi but believed he’d bring greater kingdom growth by using his organizational skills and apostolic gifts to mobilize HIF into a city-focused missional movement. HIF has seen the gospel extend to new public venues in communist Hanoi, by mobilizing the congregation for social engagement and showing the compassion of Jesus. The result has been a church that multiplies faster than a typical slow-moving institution and has created a positive public persona.
Back in Texas I’m pastoring a small church in a mostly blue color refinery town, on the outskirts of Houston. I often wonder how these principles apply to me. In the area of social engagement promoting exponential growth, a few weeks ago our church engaged in a church-wide garage sale for Syrian refugees. There was a tremendous amount of passion in the effort and dozens of local families identified Alliance Bible as a compassionate church. In the area of developing a vision for the city, we’ve been becoming more outwardly focused; this past month we started planning and preparing for our first ALPHA class, with sufficient volunteers for five small groups to launch in January. In the area of my own leadership, I’ve found that I’m apostolically gifted, as seen in Eph 4:11, and discussed in The Permanent Revolution.[viii] I’m not sure my church family sees me as humble, but they do know that I’m willful, thoughtful, and strategic.
[i] Steve Addison, Movements That Change the World: Five Keys to Spreading the Gospel, Revised ed. (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, 2011), 44.
[ii] Donald E. Miller and Tetsunao Yamamori, Global Pentecostalism: the New Face of Christian Social Engagement (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2007), 1.
[iii] Jim Collins, Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap–and Others Don’t (New York, NY: HarperBusiness, 2001), 22.
[iv] Timothy Keller, Center Church: Doing Balanced, Gospel-Centered Ministry in Your City, 8.9.2012 ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2012), 135-179.
[v] “HIF | Hanoi International Fellowship,”, accessed November 20, 2015, http://www.hif.vn/.
[vi] “Love Hanoi,”, accessed November 20, 2015, http://www.lovehanoi.org/.
[vii] “City Partners: Vietnam Urban Ministries Network,”, accessed November 20, 2015, http://citypartners.vn/.
[viii] Alan Hirsch and Tim Catchim, The Permanent Revolution: Apostolic Imagination and Practice for the 21st Century Church (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2012), 1.
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