Reaching Out to Chinese on Campus

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By Diana Xiong
Special to The Washington Post
Saturday, October 28, 2006

The August Moon Festival is one of the most celebrated of the traditional Chinese holidays. It marks the end of the harvest season, similar to Thanksgiving. To honor it, dozens of Chinese college students packed the fellowship hall at Fairfax's Truro Church this month. The pungent smell of Chinese cooking hung in the air, accompanied by relaxed laughter amid the distinct sounds of Chinese conversations. Sitting around one end of a long table, a small group of mostly young adults was locked in tense conversation. Suddenly, an older voice rose from the crowd.

"Evolutionism is a hypothesis," said architect Andrew Liu, 47, an organizer of the event. "It's not a truth. Darwin didn't say it's a truth."

Then, more than 60 people joined a young man, Qiao Chen, as he led a prayer, thanking God for the dinner and their time together.

It's a time to proselytize.

This is the George Mason Chinese Christian Fellowship, a student organization affiliated with Harvest Chinese Christian Church of Fairfax. The attendees meet at Truro for Bible study and prayer, because their church doesn't have its own building.

Christian missionary fellowships are working hard at Washington area campuses, reaching out to the next generation of China's best and brightest. The missionaries hope to convert the students, or at least to make them comfortable with the Christian faith, which is under the government's close watch in China.

Most Chinese grow up in an atheistic society. Christian fellowships encourage them to contemplate a question they were previously told to avoid: Is there a God?

That makes the work of the campus missionaries difficult. They convert only a small percentage of those they approach, though many more are exposed to Christianity.

"Religion is a solace to a lot of people, but it doesn't work for me," said Jim Guo, who attended the University of Maryland in the early 1990s and stayed around for the high-tech boom. "Some Chinese come here, where the situation is hard, and they need a friendly place. Church and para-church fellowships provide them with help and let them feel good. I met a lot of difficulties, too, but it is really hard for me to turn to Christianity for help. I believe in evolutionism."

Campus Crusade for Christ says it has ministries on 1,029 U.S. campuses and reaches Chinese students through its affiliate Bridges International. China Outreach Ministries says it works on 35 campuses. Other national organizations, like Intervarsity Christian Fellowship, the Navigators, International Students Institute, Ambassadors for Christ, have campus ministries aiming at the Chinese. In addition, half of the 1,000 Chinese churches in the United States have joined those organizations to evangelize the Chinese students, said Edwin Su, executive director of Overseas Campus, a Chinese Christian magazine based in California. The George Mason fellowship is one of them.

"The fellowship does draw me in," said Peter Zheng, a 28-year-old computer programmer at the meeting. "I feel at home here."

One of the most important ways these campus organizations proselytize students is by providing practical help and support.


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