Dr. Peter Au was officially instated as the principle of Association of Canada Evangelical Theological Education on Sept. 9. Possessing many years of pastoral experiences, Dr. Au has been the guest lectures at numerous universities and seminaries in China, former professor and former principle at a Bible seminary in Philippine. This interview with Dr. Au has invited him to share with us about this experience in his service of ministering in China.
A: Dr. Peter Au
R: Dr. Au, can you share with us your experiences of ministering in China?
A: In the last 13 years, I did training in China. I am now serving as the principle of a seminary in Canada. While I was in China, I mainly cooperated with the local seminaries, training centers and churches to train Chinese coworkers from different social levels, the training prospects included minority groups.
China now has approximately 50,000 churches that are registered legally and countless number of house churches, but among these churches the ministers who have received more than 3 years worth of theological training are very few, so ministering to the large majority is still far-reaching.
Also, the volunteers in the local churches possess strong cultural background, examples include retired pastors, but some has low cultural levels. Among these people, many have believed in the Lord for more than five years, but have never received proper theological training, so our pastoral objective has been training them with systemized theological education, building on the foundation of God’s word.
R: Regarding the Chinese government’s strict control on the churches, what kind of challenges did you face while ministering? Also, what kind of suggestions do you have for those who are going to China to minister?
A: Before going to minister, the most obvious thing is to first understand the country’s situation and the law of the land, and clearly know the purpose of going. The purpose of ministering is not to go there to control local churches and the staffs, but with the image of a servant going there to serve them, train them.
Often times, those who go to China to minister possess wealth of biblical knowledge. In addition, they often times will bring with them some financial resources. With the abundance of biblical knowledge and the financial resources, many pastors will sub-consciously begin to become the supporting director and begin to control the local churches, and cause the dislikes of the local pastors and ministers.
Therefore, the minister’s challenge of going to minister in China is to learn to maintain the identity as a servant to humbly serve and develop others, despite the wealth of biblical knowledge and financial resources. Similarly, my suggestions to the ministers is that they need to constantly remind themselves to go with the image of a servant to bring the truth of the Bible to all people, and not to become their master.
R: China has many Christians, but under the strict monitoring of the Chinese government, the established training centers face many restrictions. Facing this kind of short-coming, what kind of support can the overseas Christians provide?
A: China has a total of 18 standard seminaries, and each one can host up to 100 people. As the daily number of Christian population is growing in China, it is very difficult to satisfy the needs of them all.
Thus, besides standard seminaries, some cities have setup training centers to provide Christians and co-workers formal training for up to two years or as short as three months. Because of the lack of ministers, training centers and seminaries must provide large number of ministers to churches. That is why the training period cannot be compared to training period of up to 4 to 5 years in overseas theological seminaries.
Facing this kind of scarcity, not only can the overseas Christians pray, but they can also provide financial support to help build the schools there. If opportunities arise, I also encourage them to go there and do short-term training for the local believers. In this way, the gospel can be proclaimed through different channels to the ends of the earth.
R: Are these training centers and seminaries located only in the big cities? Are there similar gospel resources available for those in the farm villages?
A: In china, over 80% of the Christians are in the farm villages. Although the farm villages do not have these standardized seminary schools, they will periodically host short-term training activities and special conferences. These training activities are typically held at the time of rest and during the big three holidays in China when the young people return home from work.
Because the majority of the youths in the villages work in the big cities, they would come home only during holidays. The village churches will hold on to these opportunities to host some training courses to equip these returning youths. At times, the overseas trainers will work in conjunction with the local seasons and holidays to cooperate with local churches in hosting short-term training for these people.
R: The people who work in the cities will often confront the cultural clashes between secularism and Christianity. With regards to this issue, do the local Christian ministries or other organization take any kind of action?
A: Some companies, like the foreign investment companies from overseas, have CEOs who are Christians, so they will periodically host Christian related activities and invite the company staff to participate.
At times, they will invite trainers to come to the company to host seminars and discussions on topics that deal with stress alleviation and EQ management.
Some factories will more actively setup evangelism conferences. An example would be a company in Shanghai actively invites people to do Bible-training. Therefore, through different methods and activities, God’s truth can be brought into these people’s lives.
R: Speaking about EQ management, in recent years, the people with mental health problems such as depressions are increasing more and more. Looking at this kind of trend, Dr. Au, what are you opinions about this?
A: Chinese from the past are bad at expressing their emotions, so they will hide their emotions in themselves most the time. But as this issue of mental health becomes larger as more people are diagnosed with such problems, many Christians in large cities would host discussions and seminars that are open to the public to help these people through psychological counseling.
Because of the wide spread affect, the typically strict government also begin to worry about the mental health of the people, so they are a bit lenient towards events and activities that deals with this field. These services include free telephone consultation, interviews, seminars, music concerts, etc.
Through worldly methods and channels and with the Bible as the foundation, the truth is brought into the lives of many.
Other than this, the Chinese Christian websites in china are also very numerous. Even though the government is strict in its control in this aspect, but under these restrictions, the gospel on the internet is still extremely revived.