Deep in the villages of Henan, the “Pentecostal Province” of China, Christians had been waiting. When we arrived, the atmosphere was jubilant. The singing was victorious and their prayers fervent. The meetings were very long, and packed with older folks, women and children.
“Where are the young people?” I asked. Even during their most severe persecutions, there were always youth in their meetings. But now, I couldn’t find any. “They have drifted to the cities to find jobs,” the leaders replied. “Then we lost them to the world.”
When I minister in the urban churches, again, teenagers and youth are scarce. Children are bountiful “… but when they become older, there are simply too many distractions nowadays,” a pastor’s wife explained. She has a teenage son who is making plans to study abroad.
“I want to get out of China,” he told me determinedly. “And also the church.” The boy was actually quite bright. He recited to me Dickens’ famous lines, “‘It was the best of times, it was the worst of times… we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way.’ And that is the new generation of our country,” he summarized.
And his mother desperately asked, “What shall the church do then? What can we offer them?” For China’s rural church,youth-drain is inevitable. Massive, rapid urbanization is the nation’s compulsion.
To the urban churches, other than suggesting them to upgrade their youth programs, I am strongly recommending “Upward Bound Youth Camps.” This is our newest ministry venture in China. A young instructor from the Singapore army heads it up; Wai is his name.
Wai says, “The young man you met is quite typical in today’s church. With so much that fights for their attention, Christian youth, especially the boys, are often starving for true values.” These young men, usually a single child spoiled from birth, grew up in church, yet now express a tremendous lack in ownership of their faith. “They can explain how they are to behave in church, by following their parents’ models, but they don’t understand what, and why they believe.”
Wai has met many young men who complain to him, “We were told we are the future leaders of the church. But we don’t even know if we want to stay in church and be a part of it.” As soon as these young men go to universities and colleges, they drift away.
Wai has been piloting Upward Bound Camps, three days to a week, for young Christian men aged from 14 to 25 in a number of Chinese cities. “My model is built on the Jesus’ principle of Luke 2:52. We run a holistic program for these boys on physical, intellectual, spiritual and relational development. We are together from early morning till late at night, drilling, exercising, training, discovering, playing and yes, praying,” Wai says.
The outcomes have been amazing. “Life transforming!” said Jacob, 20. “I came to the camp a Doubting Thomas. But now I know what I believe, and I also have discovered my destiny as a Christian young man in this time and age.”
Panda, a young college student of 20, confessed, “I have learned so much about Jesus, the Word, and my faith in Him. But mostly, I’ve learned about myself. Discipline and commitment are my weaknesses. You have helped me to overcome!”
Some of the boys are sons of pastors, and leaders of the urban churches. Their parents are grateful. “We sent him to you as a boy; he came home a man with a strong sense of responsibility and conviction,” a pastor from Xiamen said. “He just couldn’t wait for the next camp.”
Another pastor actually joined the camp himself with his son. “I want to learn how to ‘grow’ boys. We don’t have many young men in church, and we lose them too easily.” His comment afterwards was revealing. “We have been preaching and teaching a rather feminine Jesus in China. He’s a real man and His model is what we Chinese males have been lacking for centuries!”
Wai himself feels the greatest contribution of Upward Bound is a sense of mandate for young Christian men of China. “They have a false sense of supremacy, a blind pride of China’s recent achievements. For them to realize, that as a young Christian man, they actually carry a mandate for the future of China’s church and for the nation is a wake up call, which I pray will stay with them for the rest of their lives.”
About Dr. David Wang:
Dr. David Wang is President Emeritus Asian Outreach Internationa and a specialist on church and missions in China, and author of over 20 books including Still Red.
From Asian Report, issue 300, September and October 2010, Copyright 2010. Reprinted with the permission of Asian Outreach. All rights reserved.