In the run-up to the first ever Global Chinese Alpha Conference to be held on April 10-11 in Hong Kong, the Gospel Herald interviewed the Alpha Course Chaplain Rev. Nicky Gumbel, exploring more deeply about his visions to the Conference and his hope on how the Alpha course can help the growth of Chinese churches.
Here is the transcript of the phone interview.
GH: Gospel Herald
Nicky: Rev. Nicky Gumbel
GH: You mentioned that you always introduce the Alpha Conference just once to every place you visit. Is it the first time you’ve introduced Alpha Conference to Hong Kong and how are your feelings now?
Nicky: I think we’ve been to Hong Kong a couple of times before, but of course, China is a very big place and we probably need to do more than one conference for China.
GH: Are there comparisons between this year’s and other gatherings such as the one in Shanghai? Do your feelings vary between trips to China? If so, what are they?
Nicky: I think we’ve been to Hong Kong in ’98 and in 2004 we did a conference in Shanghai. We’re really looking forward to coming back to China and meeting again some old friends and making new friends. We love the Chinese people. We’re very excited about what’s happening in China.
GH: What are your hopes towards this conference? Where specifically will you go for this trip to Hong Kong? And apart from speaking in the conference, what else are you going to do in this trip?
Nicky: Well, on this trip we are going to….the conference I think is at the Hong Kong International Trade and Exhibition Center in Kowloon. There’s also going to be a lot of work involved in that. There’s a youth conference. We have a prison strategy day. We have Catholic dinner. We have a youth alpha training day and we’re going on a prison visit on Thursday.
GH: What impact do you wish to see?
Nicky: We’re here to help any churches that are interested in running an alpha course by helping them, and equipping them to do that. And I think that people coming from all around the world from Hong Kong, Australia, Burma, Canada, China, France, Japan, Luxembourg, Macao, Malaysia, New Zealand, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, UK, United States and Vietnam. That’s the list so far of people coming. We’ll be doing special things for those who want to go further with theology, Gram Thomlin who heads up are school of theology here, Paul Cowley who heads up Prison Alpha, Jenny Hayes who heads up Student Alpha, Tim Hughes who heads up Worship on Alpha. So we’ve got a large team coming. So we’re hoping the churches that want help in these various areas will come.
GH: You met Hannah Miller years before. You shared visions with her. And this is how HK alpha course started. Can you now share a bit about your reflections looking back at the growth of Hong Kong Alpha course?
Nicky: Well, Hannah has done an amazing job. There are now, I think, 138 courses running in Hong Kong and she’s had a big impact on alpha amongst Chinese communities all over the world. So it’s very exciting and I think Hong Kong is a very strategic place in the world. Steve and Hannah Miller have been outstanding leaders of that. We’re excited to be seeing them again.
GH: Alpha course has been launched in 150 countries – is that true? Can you share any grace and stories of victories there?
Nicky: Well, I think 168 or something like that. I’m not sure of the exact number.
It’s exciting what’s happening all over the world. We’ve just done the first Russian Orthodox Conference with 150 Orthodox priests and lay members. There are exciting things happening in Uganda, the first Pan-African conference in Kampala in October last year. What’s happening in South America, there are 335 delegates and 10 countries. All the major denominations attended the first ever Latin American alpha conference in Lima. In Myanmar, there are now over 1000 Christian denomination church leaders trained in the past 18 months. In Korea, there two and a half thousand churches running alpha under the thankful leadership of Mr. Lee there. More than 300 of those churches have doubles in size after running alpha. So there are exciting things happening all over the world.
GH: As I know, some local pastors including Reverend Ma (whose church is one of the pioneering ones in Hong Kong to run alpha course) admit that is not easy to get all the people in the churches to agree and commit to launch alpha ministry in their churches. Have you ever heard about this, and is it the case in other non-Chinese communities.
Nicky: Well, I think sometimes it is a bit of time. What we encourage is people to bring teams to a conference like the one we’re going to be doing in April and then I think people get the vision for it. And when you get a group of people who’ve got the vision for it, then it’s much easier for that church to really get behind it and to see people outside of the church coming along.
GH: And last, do you have any updates for Alpha’s project with Rick Warren and BJA in India, and Hope of India? We heard the ministries there were very fruitful last year. Can you share with us the recent growth?
Nicky: My Hope India, the project, was being run by the Billy Graham Association. We were involved in the follow-up together with purpose driven light and teams from across the UK, Europe and the Far East traveled to India to run 43 alpha conferences, to train up to a thousands of pastors to run alpha in their own region. We lived up to My Hope India. The last figure I heard was that early February when they received 750,000 commitment cards, which is about the same level as last year. So indications are My Hope India would be very successful again. They are now purpose-driven to have conferences in 24 cities all over India. They’re running from early February until the end of March.
Each conference, there have been Alpha seminars and introduction presentations – and response has been excellent. Many pastors have shared a desire to learn more about the Alpha course with a view to staffing to their churches. In Bihar, our coordinator’s been overwhelmed with the response and can’t keep up with this request for more help. So, it sounds like things are going very well there. And we’re going on to India after we’ve finished in Hong Kong.
GH: How do you feel towards this partnership and do you have any plans to march onto other regions such as those that are less open to the gospel?
Nicky: We always want to work in partnership with other organizations. We’ve been working very closely with Rick Warren and we hope to work with as many different Christian organizations. Because we find working together, god blesses unity; we can compliment each other and help one other.
GH: So, do you have any plan to march onto other places, especially those that are less open to the gospel?
Nicky: Everywhere we’re asked [to come], we try and send teams to help and [send] teams all over the Asia pacific region working in all the countries around the area. We don’t send aid for any particular case. We just go wherever there’s a need – where there are opportunities, where people invite us. We go because we want to help as many churches as possible. Particularly, we’re able to help and equip people to run Alpha if they want to do that.
GH: Thank you Rev. Gumbel. I know you be busy for the conference. We will pray for you. May God bless the conference.
Nicky: Thank you. Thank you so much! God bless you!