RIVERSIDE – Train, go, serve, celebrate. That pretty well sums up July for the New America Singers (California Southern Baptists’ state student choir).
Hong Kong high schools are still in session in early July. Factories in China are filled with young workers (many still in their teens) who are a long way from home, living in cramped dorms, with little money, little hope for the future, and a horrendously high suicide rate. So the Singers go.
How do you prepare for a challenge like China? We train, go, serve and celebrate.
Before leaving California, the Singers (who are carefully chosen and auditioned), spend months in rigorous study. Then we have four days of intensive training at California Baptist University in Riverside, continue to train for more than a week as we travel around California singing each night in churches, and continue daily training sessions throughout the entire trip – Bible study, interpersonal relations, leadership and witnessing training, personal growth and professional performance skills. Our focus is on loving God, loving each other and having enough love left over to really love the people.
This is the easiest part, although the young Singers do have to give up their summer and raise their own expenses in order to work to exhaustion each day in a hot, humid climate, with strange food and accommodations – and no cell phones!
Serving includes more than just a willingness to sacrifice and work with a servant attitude. It includes understanding enough about people’s specific needs, culture and religion to be able to effectively minister to them.
In Hong Kong we presented two or three school assemblies each day. We sang Christian music, even in public schools, and gave altar calls. School chaplains, Christian teachers and trained local church teams provided follow-up.
The main problem in Hong Kong is materialism. Few go to church, and most have a background in Buddhism, Daoism, Islam or Hinduism. All are infused with the drive to “make it” materially. So we write songs and produce skits aimed at giving them a larger vision for life, and stress how a relationship with Jesus can help them have “real life.”
We have a full schedule of programs in public auditoriums, churches, restaurants, in streets and public performing areas, where the team hands out thousands of gospel tracts. People do read the tracts in Hong Kong, and some stay around to ask questions or even pray to receive Jesus. Over two-thirds of the 22 Singers had the joy of leading one or more people to the Lord.
China is a little more difficult. While the Communists own Hong Kong, they allow almost complete freedom in the city. Any activities inside China that include religious content are closely monitored and largely forbidden. Because many of the factory owners are Christians, they see the value of positive entertainment for their workers, and provide complete stage setups with lights and sound and thousands of eager young spectators.
We sing in Chinese (even the puppets!), use interpreters in counseling and in the invitations, and use PowerPoint for our English songs. The Singers provide upbeat secular programs featuring music and choreography from current movies, along with interactive skits and games (with prizes).
The main message, however, aims at the loneliness and hopelessness that leads to such a high suicide rate (680 per day among young people). We stress that a relationship with Jesus can bring the audience into a supportive “family of believers,” and introduce them to a “Heavenly Father” who can help them dream of a brighter future and give them the power to achieve those dreams. This is the message the factory owners insist the Singers share with their workers. After the program we scatter into the crowd to talk to individuals about their need for the Lord (with help from interpreters).
Yes, the police know the Singers are sharing a Christian message. Many of them attended the programs, and the government even sponsored a program in a public library auditorium. They did insist that there be no “altar call,” but allowed and enjoyed all the Christian programming. An interesting note: during mic checks, music blared out, “I’m proud to be an American … God bless the USA!” When our sound-man was told to turn it off before our hosts were offended, he replied, “The police asked me to play it. They are so proud to have Americans singing in their facility!” Many surprises in China.
The Chinese are quickly building a new and exciting capitalistic society, but they are searching for stability and a new moral base that is quite distant from either the old Communist ideology or the ancient religions. As a result, the young people are quite open to the gospel of Christ.
Are there always dozens of “decisions,” even in mission projects where we are seriously committed and train vigorously? No. But this year the Lord was good, and we were blessed to see more than 800 students or factory workers pray to receive Jesus. We pray that many more came to know Him, but of the 24,000-plus we sang to, we were either not allowed to give an altar call or were shuttled off to another assembly program before the invitation was given.
We have learned that when we train, go, and serve, the results are up to the Lord – but He always gives us reasons to celebrate!