Published August 14, 2008
As the eyes of the world remain fixed on athletes through August 24 for the 2008 Summer Olympic Games, the eyes of many of the state’s Chinese Christians remain firmly fixed on reaching their fellow countrymen who live in the Peach State.
Beijing may be the short-term focus of the sports world but Georgia Baptist Chinese congregations will continue to focus on their long-term goals of outreach and evangelism.
Baptist ministry with the state’s Chinese population began in 1885 when Mrs. W.M. Jordan and Mrs. A. Smith Irvine, both of Augusta, drove an old white horse around the city’s streets searching for Chinese laborers to invite to Sunday School. Jordan had just been elected as the first president of Georgia’s Woman’s Foreign Missionary Society and set the missions tone for the group that, three years later, would merge with other states to form the Woman’s Missionary Union as an auxiliary to the Southern Baptist Convention.
First Baptist Church of Augusta, where the Southern Baptist Convention was founded just 40 years earlier, gave birth to that outreach which could be the first work among Chinese in the denomination. Nearly 60 years later the church again made history when Paul Jue, superintendent of the Chinese Sunday School, was elected to the board of deacons – the first Chinese to be elected to that body in the South, according the church history.
In 1885 there were only 20 Chinese in the entire city, men who were “imported to work on the canal, due to the vast amount of labor needed.” This summer, 123 years later, many of those in Georgia Baptist churches range from the hospitality and restaurant industry to the medical and science professions.
While the U.S. Census of 2006 does not break the number of Chinese out of the general Asian designation, they are generally agreed to be the nation’s third largest demographic behind Vietnamese and Koreans. This issue of The Index provides an overview of the eight Georgia Baptist congregations which are ministering across the state.
The Chinese ministry at First Baptist Church is so old there is some question if it is the oldest or the second oldest such ministry in the Southern Baptist Convention. It was begun in 1885 by the church-based ministry that was the forerunner of the national Woman’s Missionary Union.
The Woman’s Foreign Missionary Society may have had “foreign” in its name but it was just as committed to missions in the U.S. – and at its front door – as it was to mission fields thousands of miles away.
Today the group, known simply as the Chinese Sunday School, is without a leader but about 11 individuals continue to meet on Sunday afternoons in the church’s education building.
A Chinese ministry that started out as a Bible study for Georgia Tech students in 1974 has grown to become Georgia Baptists’ largest Chinese church.
The congregation, which eventually moved to Gwinnett County and grew into a mission in Lawrenceville, constituted as a church in 1996. Today the 200-member congregation is located in its own building on Gravitt Road, south of Gwinnett Mall.
Pastor James Wong says the church has two morning worship services – one in English and one in Cantonese – and is anticipating further growth as it enters a $1.7-million building program. Sanctuary seating will increase from its present 150 to 400 and additional rooms in the multi-purpose building will be provided for education and fellowship.
Wong said the church draws members from as far away as Marietta and Alpharetta.
Harrison Ng stepped out of Southern Seminary four years ago and accepted a call from Harp’s Crossing to begin a ministry among the Chinese in Fayetteville. Ng says that work has now grown to 20 members.
“Before we began this work there was no ministry with the Chinese in South Atlanta. Many of the people here were driving up to an hour, across the city, to attend a church in Marietta, Duluth, or Lilburn,” Ng explains. “It was very far to travel to for church and Bible study.”
Today the congregation offers Sunday School and a worship service in Mandarin in addition to home Bible study groups throughout the week. It has also branched out to offer a Friday night Bible study, hosted by First Baptist Church of Peachtree City, for unreached Chinese in that community
Carpus Yip pours his life into the congregation of Lilburn Chinese Baptist Church each week when he stands up to preach in the Mandarin dialect.
The congregation began nearly two decades ago at Briarlake Baptist Church in Decatur, near downtown Atlanta, and relocated to Gwinnett County 18 months ago. Yip will be celebrating his first anniversary at the church next month, having been called from the pastorate of two churches in Long Island and New York City.
The Hong Kong native says the Lilburn church has 60 mem-bers; the church’s Bible study and worship services are in Mandarin with the exception of the bilingual Sunday morning service and youth ministry, which is in English.
In the 1980s Sarah Newsome of First Baptist Church of Marietta was teaching ESL in her church and wanted her Chinese students to attend a church that was culturally their own. In 1989 she and several other women enlisted Stephen Chou, Chinese mission pastor at Briarlake Baptist Church in Decatur, to help them in the task. Johnson Ferry Baptist Church agreed to host the new mission and provided space for Bible study and worship services, which began on Dec. 9.
Next year the 50-member congregation, now led by Pastor Tom Tso, will celebrate 20 years of ministry. Up to 75 individuals frequently attend the worship services of the fully-constituted North Atlanta Chinese Baptist Church.
The congregation is composed primarily of immigrants from mainland China, with other members from Taiwan and Hong Kong. All of the Bible studies and worship services are held in Mandarin, with the exception of the English-speaking children and youth programs.
In Chatham County, nearly 50 Chinese drive into downtown Savannah to attend Bible study and worship services at Ardsley Park Baptist Church. The Chinese Mission is celebrating its 10th year of existence since it was begun as a Bible study. Its first pastor was called in 1989 when it gained mission status; today Hong Kong native Joseph Wong serves as the group’s fourth pastor.
While the church gathers for worship on Sunday, much of the education occurs during the week in home Bible studies. For example three families in Richmond Hill, 20 miles south of Savannah, regularly gather in each other’s home on Friday evenings for a study led by Wong. For 18 months the mission sponsored a Bible study across the state line in Bluffton, S.C., near Hilton Head Island. Other home studies are held on Wilmington and Whitmarsh islands.
Wong says it is difficult to determine the exact number of Chinese in the Savannah area but the 2000 Census estimated 700 called the area home. Today that is believed to be closer to a thousand.
If there is one thing that China and Tifton have in common, it’s peanuts. That commonality is what brings several Chinese to this South Georgia city to explore the wealth of nutrition that is locked away inside the small goober.
Some of those, as well as those from other walks of life, are finding their way to the International Sunday School Class at First Tifton. Chinese make up the largest concentration of the class with 15 members, followed by one Korean and two Vietnamese. They comprise a network of about 45 others who frequent the class but are not members.
Teacher Cal Carpenter said some individuals in that network are U.S. citizens but many are in the U.S. on study programs, primarily at Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College. Many with doctoral degrees are engaged in genetic engineering with peanuts. Betty and Robert Thompson, longtime English as a Second Language instructors, have helped most of the students brush up on their language skills as an outreach ministry of the church.
In addition to the international class, a Chinese Bible study is held on Sunday evenings.
About 40 individuals converge on the mission center of Rehoboth Baptist Association each Sunday to worship in the Mandarin dialect. John Tu has led the congregation at Central Chinese-American Baptist Church for the past three years.
The group was begun nearly 20 years ago at Central Baptist Church in Warner Robins, said Pastor Owen Bozeman. When a rural Baptist church closed its doors and deeded its property to the association, association members decided to recycle the building as a mission launch center for new congregations.
Today the Chinese share the facility along with a Filipino and African-American congregations. Pastor Tu says Central Chinese-American hopes to find an eventual location halfway between Macon and Warner Robins that will be more centrally located to those who attend its services.
In addition to the Sunday worship and Sunday School events the congregation has a Friday night Bible study in Macon and a Wednesday evening prayer service.
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