As Hong Kong prepares to sever its British colonial ties ten years from now, ethnic Chinese churches in Canada, a British Commonwealth country, are preparing to receive thousands of newcomers. Many Hong Kong residents have already left the colony, choosing not to live under eventual Chinese political control.
Canada is home to more than 250 Chinese churches, many of which are already experiencing rapid growth in membership and participation. The growth is due both to the influx of Cantonese-speaking immigrants and the churches’ energetic evangelistic efforts. Most of the growth is taking place in Vancouver and Toronto, where Chinese communities form close to 10 percent of the local populations.
Immigrants in the Mainstream
Vancouver is the arrival point for immigrants from Hong Kong, China, Taiwan, Malaysia, and Singapore. However, many of the newcomers move to Toronto, especially if they want to develop ties with New York and Europe, says Enoch Wan, an anthropologist and clergyman working with the Centre for Chinese Studies at Canadian Theological College.
Chinese immigrants have tended to settle in Canada’s major cities, where Chinese communities have existed for 100 years. The immigrants have entered the mainstream of Canadian business and professional life. And for many, it was the church that helped them make the transition into a Western society without losing many of their former cultural values.
Chinese churches form energetic centers of activity in their communities. As Chinese populations predominate in some older middle-class neighborhoods in Toronto and Vancouver, Chinese congregations often purchase the buildings formerly occupied by white churches whose members have moved to suburbia.
The Toronto Chinese Baptist Church, the fastest-growing Chinese congregation in Canada, took over a former Pentecostal church building. It has a membership of 1,100 and has started nine churches in the past 20 years. Vancouver’s Evangelical Chinese Bible Church, a Mandarin-speaking congregation, bought a 600-seat Baptist church eight years ago and is already looking for larger quarters.
Evangelism and the Need to Network
An emphasis on evangelism has contributed significantly to the growth of Canada’s Chinese congregations. With many Hong Kong residents coming to Canada as students, Chinese Christian Fellowship chapters have drawn hundreds of college students to Christ and laid the groundwork for Christian homes and churches.
Leaders in churches like Toronto Chinese Baptist and Vancouver’s Chinese Presbyterian say evangelism and other community outreach programs attract new families to the churches. The Presbyterian group reaches many young families through a Chinese preschool program and Saturday language classes in Cantonese.
At Toronto Chinese Baptist Church, outreach is enhanced by dividing the congregation into small groups based on age and general interest, says senior minister Andrew Wong. With the traditional Chinese respect for the extended family, increased participation in Sunday worship grows out of the initiative generated in the small groups.
Paul King, of the Centre for Chinese Studies, points to the Chinese interest in “networking” as a strength of their churches. “Relationships, more than function,” he says, “have meaning for Chinese people.”
John Sun, of Vancouver’s Evangelical Chinese Bible Church, approaches networking from another perspective. Since most Vancouver Chinese churches speak Cantonese, he has built a Mandarin congregation. Few of his church members come from Hong Kong and, in fact, the church’s make-up provides links to mainland China through family connections. Sun says some people who have become Christians while studying or living in Vancouver have been able to take their Christian witness back into China.
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