Chinese Reformed Church
A Bit to Read
Chinese Reformed Church
At least once every month we have a collection in church for Urban Mission, the work of Rev Dong amongst the Chinese of the Vancouver area. As I mentioned in last week’s liturgy sheet, Rev Dong had asked me to preach for the Chinese Reformed Church in Cloverdale last Sunday afternoon. To give the purpose of the collections some profile in our minds, I thought I’d share with you today some of my experiences last Sunday.
A group of some twenty persons was congregated in a meeting room of the Cloverdale church. The service was conducted primarily in Chinese, under the leadership of “Joey”, a young man who had come to faith through the work of Rev Dong some years ago. Joey invited the congregation (there were four children present, plus a teenager; the remainder were adults of various ages) to sing a number of selections from a Chinese hymnbook. I was given a copy of the hymnbook to use – and to my relief discovered that the songs were printed also in English. A couple of the tunes were even familiar – so there I was, singing along in English with a chorus of Chinese around me. And the brothers and sisters didn’t mind to ‘let ’er rip’. Very interesting.
After singing three selections (and a few verses of each), Joey read a “Call to Worship” – at least, that what the Order of Worship I received said; I couldn’t understand a word of it. Thereafter the congregation sang another selection, and then received a couple of minutes of quiet time for Silent Prayer. Then we sang again, all Chinese (except me), after which I was requested to come forward for the Votum and Salutation – in English. Again we sang, and then Joey read the Ten Commandments in Chinese, following by the summary of the law as Jesus gave it in Mt 22:37-40. Once more we sang, and then Joey invited me to come forward and lead the congregation in prayer. I did so, making confession of sin and asking God for forgiveness, then prayed for His blessing over the worship service as well as over the work of Urban Mission and the spread of the gospel in China, etc – and all the while I was wondering how many of the congregation could understand what I was saying and pray along with me.
I soon found out. When I asked the congregation after prayer to open their Bibles and read with me Mark 10 and Genesis 17 (same as in Yarrow in the morning), all responded immediately by reaching for their Chinese Bibles. Yes, I could see they had Chinese Bibles, for they were sitting that close to me; the room was not big. As I delivered the sermon, it was obvious that the congregation understood very well what I was saying, for they answered rhetorical questions with a shake of the head or a nod – and in one instance a member blurted out the answer. When I suggested the congregation look up a particular passage, the effect was instant and universal. Throughout the sermon their level of attention remained very good, and that gave me confidence to set forth the message of the text as clearly and as comfortingly as I could. All the while the Cloverdale Canadian Reformed congregation came and went, but no one in the Chinese congregation batted an eye on account of the extra noise and movement obvious through the windows.
After my ‘amen’ Joey again came forward to invite the congregation to sing a responsive song, after which he led in prayer in Chinese. If anyone thinks my prayers are long…! Then a collection was held, after which the congregation sang a Doxology, and then I laid the blessing on the flock.
Break and Discussion
A coffee/tea trolley was rolled into the meeting room, and we enjoyed a 15-20 minute break. I spoke to a number of members, including Maple Zeng – the sister who had studied two years at the Theological College in Hamilton and now works full time in assisting Rev Dong, particularly in translation work. I had sent her a copy of my sermon earlier in the week, and she now told me that she had prepared a summary translation for the benefit of a few members whose English was insufficient. She also told me that the entire congregation was present, with the exception of family Dong (on an overdue holiday in the Caribbean), a second family currently visiting China, and a third address whose car broke down on their way to church. I learned that the younger school-aged children in the congregation attend William of Orange School, and the teenager attends Credo High School.
After our break, the chairs in the room were rearranged to form a circle, and we sat down for discussion. A babysitter from the group took the children outside to play, a young couple left, and so 12 of us remained for the discussion. I was keen to join the group for this part of the day, if only for the experience of seeing how things go. Maple (for she led) requested each member of the group to say a few words of introduction about themselves, and all did. Most could express themselves in very passable English, while a couple struggled to make plain to me who they were. All were born in China, and not one was a Christian ten years ago. In fact, none of them had any religious past. As they put it, they were anything, everything, nothing…. But through various ways and means the Lord led them to Rev Dong, and they are extremely thankful for the hope of faith and the communion of saints they share. One young sister –she’d be in her 20’s made a point of telling me (in awkward English) that she was raised without religion, sought meaning and hope in Buddhism but found nothing there, and kept up her search till she learned of the atoning work of the Lord Jesus Christ. One can only marvel, and thank the Lord, when one hears these ex-heathens delight in what most of us have known since childhood. One older brother introduced his wife and son (the family had been baptized in the Chinese Reformed Church some months ago), and added that for years he had difficulty making his son respect him and listen to him. It was different now, and (he added) the sermon explained why: they were a covenant family, with father and mother and son each having a God-given function in the family, and all three now understood their God-given place – and it went much, much better. Isn’t that wonderful….
For my part, I also introduced myself. They knew I’d had some association with Rev Dong in Australia, and was surprised I had no pronounced Australian accent. What a disappointment, then, to learn that I was simply a Canadian…. But my reputation was rebuilt somewhat when I told them that (after some time at the College in Hamilton and living in Chilliwack) I moved to Australia for some years where, yes, I met family Dong and got to know them well and was involved in Kelmscott’s program to build the Chinese website that Rev Dong uses for the propagation of the gospel in China, and was but recently back in Canada…. In fact (and I told the group that too), it was my involvement with Rev Dong and the Chinese work in Kelmscott that made me so keen to take up Rev Dong’s invitation to preach to the Chinese Reformed Church to begin with.
After all these introductions, Maple moved the discussion on to the sermon. Abruptly the conversation changed to the wong way o tokin’, for I couldn’t follow a word of it. But it didn’t take long for the body language, the tone of voice and the animated looks to tell me that the group was into some serious discussion. After a bit Maple summarized for my benefit what the discussion was about, and sought my thoughts on the question at hand. It had to do with one’s contribution to salvation, and the sticking point was the formulation of a phrase in the Scripture passage of the sermon, Mark 10:13-16. One of the brothers translated literally back to English what the Chinese Bible says – and it turns out to be somewhat Arminian. It brought to mind something Rev Dong had told me some time ago, namely, that the best Chinese Bible is not all that reliable – a fact that makes mission work in China somewhat more difficult.
As the discussion continued, Maple translated bits and pieces for my benefit. It was evident that after some intense Bible discussion, the tenor of the talk changed to sharing experiences of the week past, encouraging each other in the Lord’s service, and answering practical questions. Maple told me afterwards that that’s the normal way of things in the discussion hour.
At 4 o’clock (we’d been going since 1!), Maple wound things up. She led the group in prayer (and I thought Joey prayed long!), and the room was cleaned up. Yet no one hurried to leave; there was more coffee/tea in the kitchen, more conversation, playing with the children, etc. At 4:20 I took my leave to get home in time for supper, catch a snooze, and be in Aldergrove on Yarrow’s behalf for Rev Schouten’s welcome evening by 7:00.
Over the years I’d heard bits and pieces about the Urban Mission work, as well as the work Rev Dong is beginning to do in China. Now to see with my own eyes something of the work, and even to participate in it, was a singular privilege. The message of the gospel is the same for people of European descent or of Chinese descent, the liturgy in the Chinese Reformed Church is the same as we’re used to because it’s so Biblically sound, the confessions we love are loved by the Chinese also because they echo Scripture so faithfully; it all speaks of the Lord’s universal church gathering work. I thank the Lord for the opportunity to experience His church gathering, defending and preserving work, and praise Him for it. The Christ of Scripture is King over all the world, and so all the world needs to know of His sovereignty and the reason why He received that throne from the Father. It’s a message that’s to go further than these Chinese brothers and sisters now living in the Greater Vancouver area, and be brought to their homeland also.
May the Lord God continue to bless the Chinese Reformed Church, and the work of Rev Dong and the Urban Mission Board. More, may love for spreading the gospel grow ever more in our hearts, so that we seek ways to be ever more fruitful in spreading the good news of Christ’s atoning work in this world.
12 January 2007