The English poet Rudyard Kipling once wrote about a young Englishman who left his homeland, determined to put the East to rights. He went, he saw, but conspicuously he did not conquer. Kipling poignantly recounts the sequel:

The end of the fight is a tombstone white

With the name of the late deceased

And the epitaph drear, ‘A fool lies here

Who tried to hustle the East.’

Times have changed, I discovered while attending the Chinese Congress on World Evangelization, held in August in Hong Kong. (See the News account in the September 24 issue.) A blistering pace was established; no longer does the East offer that eyrie where peace comes dropping slow. The conscientious participant, sticking rigidly to the schedule, would have breakfast at seven and be bused back to his hotel at 10:30 P.M. Most of the eight days he would attend no fewer than ten meetings, with breaks only for meals and a one-hour afternoon rest period. Some of the elders found willing spirit and weak flesh in conflict, particularly when extreme heat was succeeded by tropical rainstorms.

This must be written before I have adequate time to mull over my notes, but some general comments can be made about a congress that, according to the chairman, Dr. Philip Teng, would have been unthinkable even ten years ago. At that time there was not the desire for cooperation and unity that there is now. The Chinese churches have matured. Past international gatherings were sponsored by Westerners; right from the start the Hong Kong congress was entirely a Chinese project.

Teng saw the congress also as symbolizing “the sense of responsibility on evangelism of the Chinese church [so that it] will no longer only ‘receive’ but ‘give.’ ”

Perhaps the most moving moment came at the beginning of an hour called, a little misleadingly, “East West encounter.” This saw Chinese and missionaries coming onto the platform two by two, hand in hand. (Kipling had again proved a bad prophet, with his denial that East and West would ever meet.)

There followed a series of six-minute addresses in which missionaries had been invited to participate (exceptionally, for the missionary presence generally was low-keyed and unobtrusive). One of them put the position succinctly: the colonial attitude had been, “We do it; you help.” The modern nationalist attitude tended to say virtually, “We do it; you help.” The pendulum has now come back to the middle, with an admirable internationalism: “Here’s the job; let’s do it together.”

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From the Chinese side there was abundant evidence that congress members do not think the day of the missionary has passed—nor will it, until the Lord returns. No one was rash enough to deny tensions, but they came over only obliquely. One speaker reminded participants that love is to be shown to those in Christ as well as to those outside. But everything here was said and taken in love, and all hailed as a miracle the fact that Chinese from every continent could come together at all. Now that they have had such an experience they are determined to ensure that it will be kept alive, and a proposal was made to hold another evangelism congress in another Asian country in 1980.

The heart of every Chinese evangelist still tingles to the call “Back to the Mainland!,” and this is a matter of fervent prayer. It might also lead to a circumscribed vision, but one of the encouraging areas in this congress was the recognition of uncompleted tasks in other areas—not merely among Chinese, but in terms of the Great Commission that knows no boundaries of nationality. There was something almost unbearably moving about hearing Chinese Christians sing “Jesus Shall Reign” (a hymn traditionally associated with Western valedictory services), and realizing that they are thinking now also about the non-Chinese unevangelized.

Not all of this is yet fully articulated; one of the missionaries delicately reminded the congress of the need for seminary graduates trained to formulate a theology to which their own Chinese expositors could make a significant contribution. All kinds of practical questions need to be faced. One young pastor privately deprecated the term “Chinese church.” He recognized the semantic usefulness, but felt that the term might convey the impression of limited horizons for evangelization. (It seemed a minor thought until I began to think about it!)

Sensed just beneath the surface were the psychological barriers of centuries. Erosion is under way, but it will take time. Young missionaries, despite their training, sometimes even yet come with an attitude of superiority, seen in a conviction that they are there to teach. In the forefront of Western missionary thinking (and this was a Western missionary talking to me) should be the question: “What is the role of the missionary?”

Among the Chinese, on the other hand, “Missionary, go home!” is found less frequently than another expression of Chinese reaction to Westerners: “Are they going to give me something worthwhile to do?” This may come out of a lingering feeling of inferiority, at least among some, intermingled with a true Christian humility from which we Westerners have much to learn.

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For many Chinese the Hong Kong congress was a moment of self-discovery, a date with destiny (one participant’s words) wherein they not only met one another for the first time but saw beyond Chinese horizons to a dying world and a task to which they, with Christians everywhere, were called.

Because of political pressures it was not possible for the congress to discuss plans for the future evangelization of mainland China. This was, however, the subject of continual prayer. The vision and the burden are still there. Such evangelization was debarred as a debating theme, but the Chinese church is no less committed to that cause.

Another significant note struck at the congress was that evangelical churches should not withdraw from the World Council of Churches and its subsidiaries but rather should help work toward a more biblically oriented approach from within. It is pertinent to add that many denominations, including Lutherans and Anglicans, were represented at Hong Kong.

Finally, an indication of responsible Christian stewardship was reflected in the fact that all 1,500 participants in the congress received no subsidy for travel or hotel expenses from congress sources. The venue (Kowloon City Baptist Church) was manned by some 200 voluntary workers. Total cost: only $160,000—in itself an impressive achievement.

Every morning on my way to the meetings I passed a building marked “China Power and Light Company Limited.” Strike the last word as incongruous and you have a fair description of the Chinese Congress on World Evangelization.

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