Most Sunday evening we include an item in our worship service which we call “Window on the World”. It’s an opportunity for us to consider what is going on in our world beyond the narrow confines of congregational life. This weekend, George Ruddock, one of our members who has been a teacher in India for many years, opened the Window on the World for us. His insightful comments and anecdotes are an excellent summary of the changing face of global Christianity. This is what George said:
There are three main things to I would like to report.
The first is that the church in India has no intention of dying out. In Britain, church attendance is falling and Christian witness seems to be reaching far too small a circle. The Indian church has its problems. The church needs good leadership. It needs to maintain Biblical principles and teaching. Some Christian groups are very poor and need resources. There are far too many denominations and too much rivalry between them. Nothing strange about that. More Asian is the fact that Christians are under constant danger of persecution – from the authorities, from the community, or at the level of family. But in general, the church is thriving. Churches in South India are overflowing. And in many other places right across Asia, the church is growing.
The second thing is that missionaries are moving into the most unlikely places. Each weekend up to Christmas, I visited the 13-year old boys’ dormitory to inspect their rooms and to give them marks for tidiness. And of course, I talked to them. I did not teach them. There are three boys in the dormitory, from Scotland, England and the USA, whose parents all work in Outer Mongolia. I said “Do you all live in Ullan Batoor?” – and they laughed. “That’s how foreigners all say it! When you get there, remember to say Illan Batter.” But who would have thought, 20 years ago, that Christians might run a Bible College in Outer Mongolia?
There are twin sons of Spanish Christians who work with drug addicts in Delhi. One day, I overheard one of these youngsters shouting at a girl in Chinese. I asked him about his ability to speak a foreign language. Yes, it was Chinese. “So who’s your girl friend?” He was only 12, and he explained very solemnly that he had only met the girl since she came to school from Hong Kong “Are you from Hong Kong?” “Oh no” he replied, “I’m Australian”. “So how did you learn Chinese?” “My parents work in China, for an organisation founded by Hudson Taylor.” “Which part of China?” “Yenan Province.” Yenan Province was Mao Tse Tung’s heartland, the base from which the Chinese Communist Party spread communism right across China.
Some of us remember the Great Cultural Revolution in 1966. It was a revolution that was against anything old, anything foreign, and against any and all religion. One of my snapshot memories is of Dr Craig, the former minister of this church, on Easter Sunday saying that nobody knew of a single Easter Sunday service in Peking in 1966. And now Christianity is back in Yenan.
Thirdly, new Christians expect persecution and trouble It is a normal, regular part of Christian experience. Some believers buckle under pressure, especially from their family, and especially over issues of education and marriage, which depend on the family. The early church had to decide what to do about believers who denied Christ and ran away. The Asian church faces the same questions today. But many Christians find great strength and great grace and persist in hope.
A woman who is a member of the catering staff in the school where I taught has worked there for years and is from a Hindu family. I don’t know when she became a Christian, but she was living at home and I am told her brothers set out to give her a rough time, to shake her out of her new Christian beliefs, until they decided it was hopeless. She still lives at home when she is off duty and in the holidays.
She comes to Bible Study. One evening, the passage being discussed included something Jesus told his disciples about persecution. So we said to her, “You know more about persecution than any of us.” And we waited for her comment. She smiled quietly. She is a very gentle soul. And she said only this: “When I think what Jesus suffered for me – it is nothing.”
The centre of gravity of global Christianity is changing, as George’s remarks illustrate. It is becoming a faith of the poor and persecuted. Western Christians need to note this trend and think again about mission and ministry in their own areas.