Friday, October 29, 2004

THE HISTORY AND CHALLENGES OF YOUTH MINISTRY

By Rev. Daniel Rao

* yellow shaded areas – unsure words or sentences

In the early 19th century, there was a group of missionaries known as the Cambridge Seven who journeyed to China. One of the seven was Cecil Turner. He went to a place called San Xi in order to raise funds. In 1900, one of the group members was diagnosed by a doctor as having very poor health. Consequently, he could not travel to China but had to be sent back to England. In 1938, before he died, he managed to visit China. In his heart, he prayed to the Lord to fill him with the flame of passion so that no matter how people responded to his message, he would still be able to persevere. As a result of people like them who burned with such passion in their hearts, China was able to receive the baptism of the gospel, especially amongst the intellectuals.

1886 was an important moment in the history of student ministry. The American evangelist, D.L. Moody, led about 100 university and theology students in dedicating themselves to preach the gospel throughout the world. In 1888, the Student Volunteer Movement started in New York and within 50 years, more than 10,000 undergraduates offered themselves to be part of the ministry. 20,500 of them were sent overseas to preach the gospel, out of which 2,500 sailed for China. They played a very significant role in the conversion of Chinese intellectuals as well as the modernisation of the country. However, the movement was terminated after some time due to religious conflict. After that, the Inter Varsity Fellowship, which was formed in the United Kingdom, began to spread to Canada, the United States and eventually to every part of the world. Christians in the States might be aware of the Riviera Mission Conference, which provided a great impact to the worldwide mission work in the last few decades.

In 1876, youth ministry started in China. The work took off in the UK, pioneered by John Wolf who introduced it in the States and later to China. This led to the creation of the Chung Hwa Student Evangelistic Group. There was in fact another student voluntary evangelistic set-up, which existed for some time before vanishing from the scene, also due to religious dispute. During World War II, God did a great work in China as the Inter Varsity Christian Association of China was set up. In 1945, during the First Undergraduate Christian Conference, 169 undergraduates from 42 universities, including Rev. Philip Teng and Rev. Chen Zhong Tao, attended the conference and dedicated themselves to God. Later, both of them had a great impact on the churches in China.

Two years later, after the war, the Second Undergraduate Christian Conference was held in Nanking. Out of 500 students who participated in the conference, about 100 dedicated themselves to the Lord. The speaker of the conference, Rev. Jia Yi Nian, said that those 100 students would leave a great imprint on the Chinese churches. The era of the Communist signified a dark period for the Christian faith, which suffered as a result, and even caused the Christian work to come to a halt for several years. Right to this day, the influence of these Chinese students is still evident in most of the home churches in China. In 1949, one particular member of the group went to Taiwan to study theology. After his graduation, he had a great passion to be involved in youth work because while he was still a student, he was inspired by an evangelist called David Adeney. Addeney suffered for the sake of Christ and in 1951, all the missionaries were forced to leave China. They shifted their mission work to Hong Kong and Taiwan. Later, David Chau, one of those who attended the student conference, met Addeney and together they tried to revive their ministry. Thereafter, David Chau returned to Northern Taiwan and started a student ministry there.


Personal Testimony

Today, many churches do not place sufficient emphasis on youth work. Nonetheless, I sincerely believe that it is one of the most important works of the Church. Allow me to share with you briefly my testimony. When I was in form one, my mother converted to Christianity. All my siblings, including myself, had to go to church. However, I rejected Christ at that time. I fell asleep when the pastor was giving his sermon. I hated going to church. Every time, I would give a lot of excuses to my mother in order to skip church. Even when I was in form six, I still rejected Christ. At that time, I had a lot of doubts about life.

After form six, I wanted to study architecture. It was a combination between civil engineering and arts. Unfortunately, I ended up in the agriculture faculty of the University of Middle Taiwan and was offered a course in botany instead. I didn’t even know that such a course existed in the agricultural faculty! I was not left with much choice, except to study the course. The faculty building was a very old building. During registration, a young man approached me. His name was Chen Lei. Now he is the principal of Tao Chong Theology School. When I entered university, he was in his third year of studies.

Later, Chen Lei asked me to stay in his hostel. In the course of my stay, I noticed that he went out early every morning. As I was curious, I asked him why he had to go out so early in the morning. He replied by saying that he and his Christian friends had their quiet time and prayer meeting every morning. In my heart, I wondered: “Why do these people have to meet every morning?” In Kao Siong, prayer meeting was held only once a week. The following week, I was invited to join one of their meetings. I asked Chen Lai how often they hold their gathering because I was afraid that they would conduct it everyday. To my relief, the meeting was held only once every week. The meeting that I attended was a welcoming gathering. I went with high expectations thinking that there would be a large turnout of other students. However, there were only eight of us. Still, it was a most impressive night. We had a lively and exuberant time singing Christian hymns even though there were so few of us. The sharing amongst us was also very touching.

Since that fateful night, I attended the meeting every week. I discovered a group of Christians who were very loving and had a great sense of purpose about the things they did. Then I decided to join the morning prayer meeting. The morning that I attended, we all sat on the field in front of a Baptist church. We prayed and studied the Bible there. Days passed and one day, when I was studying the book of Matthew, the Holy Spirit touched my heart deeply. I left the group and went back to my room, kneeling and crying. I pleaded for forgiveness from God and repented. All this while, I realized that God had already prepared the way for me to repent, since six years back. I did not believe in Christ then, but God still planted the seed of salvation in my heart. Now, after forty-two years, never a single day did I regret the prayer that I made.

During the second semester, an election of the Christian Fellowship committee was held. To my surprise, I was elected as the president. I did not feel confident about taking up the post, as I was still a young Christian. However, my Christian friends told me that I should not be so full of pride. I was elected because many people had had their turn to become president before. Thereafter, I committed myself to the Lord. Those who believe and serve the Lord when they were students leave a great impact on themselves, the church, society and the kingdom of God.

Even after accepting Christ, I was still stubborn and my mind was bent on pursuing architecture. As I found agricultural studies too difficult to manage, I prayed to God that I would not make the cut. After some time, I went back to school and retook the qualifying examinations again in order to apply for architecture. Finally, God allowed me to pursue the course of my choice. I was so happy and grateful. Instead of concentrating on my studies fully, I studied the word of God diligently until I forgot to eat and sleep. One day, I attended a conference where I met a pastor who challenged me to dedicate myself to the work of God in the future. I thought that it was impossible for me to do so as I was doing architecture. However, after struggling for some time, the grace of God came upon me. I decided to give up my ambition to be an architect.

Upon my graduation, there were many job options awaiting me. In spite of that, I committed myself to the Lord’s service. Now, I am still an architect, but one that is building God’s faith in the hearts of people. As Paul says, “I am a master builder but the foundation is Christ himself”. We are merely building upon the foundation that Christ has laid down. For the past thirty over years, by the grace of God, I have been working amongst young people, building up their faith. I use the word of God to strengthen them in order that they will become servants of God as well as his temples.


The uniqueness of youth ministry

Youth ministry is a very unique ministry that can be characterised by the following:

(i) collective

Youth ministry is a collective ministry. Other than the student generation, there is no other moment in time that allows for such togetherness in terms of time, location, age and daily sharing. This collectiveness of student life is very unique and vibrant.

(ii) vigorous

Students are vigorous in pursuing the meaning of life. Once they graduate from student life, they will be perplexed and overwhelmed by the concerns of the world.

(iii) constantly growing

The best time to preach the gospel is during the student era. This is when students are most receptive to the gospel. After that period, preaching the gospel to them will be harder. Hence, we ought to make use of the golden opportunity to evangelise the student generation. Those who become Christians may eventually bring the gospel to every part of the world. For example, a group of Taiwanese and Hong Kong Christian students formed a Bible study group in Northern America when they were studying there. As a result, many Chinese churches were established forty years later.

(iv) rapidly changing

We have to utilise every opportunity to reach out to the student generation within every two to three years as students come and go.

(v) imperative

It is imperative for us to reach students with the gospel. There is a Chinese proverb that says, “Nothing is of greater importance than studies”. Students are very competitive amongst themselves. During a particular student conference, a secondary school English teacher told the story of a brilliant student that he/she taught who committed suicide because he/she was scolded by his father for not topping the class but merely obtaining eighth position amongst her peers. In Taiwan, suicide cases amongst students increase considerably in June and July during the examination season. Students are burdened with an endless number of tests and examinations.

In Taiwan, Hong Kong, China, Malaysia and Singapore, the Chinese are living in a very competitive environment. Once, I met a couple in Taiwan who sent their daughter for tuition even before she entered kindergarten! Those who are able to study focus intensely on their books while those who cannot study are regarded as having no worth in life. Although a child may be talented, clever or virtuous but if he is not able to excel in his studies, he would be frowned upon by his family, school and society. Children like that are neglected and placed in inferior classes. Moreover, they are insulted in their youth. As a result, when they grow up, they are inclined to take revenge against society. Today, Chinese society is facing a lot of struggles. Within the family structure, there is a tendency to look down on those who receive little education.

In view of this, parents, pastors and Christian workers should take care of our next generation.


Age of Information technology

Recently, I brought a fax machine. Shortly after I turned it on, eighteen pages of advertisement transmitted from the fax machine! I was amazed by the rapidity of the flow of information technology.

Advancement of technology creates an unrealistic vision. In the midst of our enjoyment of the fruits of the latest technology, we forget the cost that we have to pay for it. A recent phenomenon is that everyone can now own a mobile phone due to the absurd freefalling of its price. Nonetheless, we have to bear in mind that sophisticated technology do not really bring about human progress or improve human life.

On another occasion, I bought a voice data entering system. I was overjoyed that I could procure it because it would help me in my work. To my dismay, my secretary told me that I have to enter 3,000 words before I could use it; otherwise the computer system would not be able to recognize my voice. Programming my voice was a frustrating experience due to constant interruptions. I had no choice but to programme the words at night when it was quieter. It took me until midnight to complete the task. Instead of assisting me, the electronic gadget further complicated my work instead.

I do not mean to say that technology is not good for us. But at times, technology really does not improve our life. In Taiwan, there are more that 6,000 pornography websites available on the Internet. More than seventy percent of young people access these websites everyday. Today, people cannot distinguish the good and bad aspects of information technology.

Where will information technology lead us? Jesus came to the world and brought God’s good news to us. As stated in Hebrews 1:1-2, it is news about Jesus and eternity. We should be inspired to follow the footsteps of Jesus to preach the gospel to the world, especially to the young generation (Romans 10:15).


Age of Materialism

Materialism is a direct opposite of godliness. The 21st century is not only the age of information technology but also the age of materialism. Nowadays, people are fearful and subdued. They are proud of their external achievements rather than their internal quality. When people are too concerned about their personal outlook, they become materialistic and lose control. When money becomes the priority, being rich is far worse compared to involvement in prostitution. All that occupy their minds are their achievements, money, power and high status in society. Living with quality is not their priority. Today, the world is full of materialism, whether in politics, education, or in the corporate world; and it is in this materialistic mould that our young people are being raised.

Chinese scholars, who are in their forties and fifties and lived abroad, are more matured and patriotic in their thinking. In contrast, those below the thirties have a capitalist, modernized and post-modernized mindset. They are materialistic and are concerned only with enjoying life. Young people from Asean countries, Taiwan and the US are also not spared from this corruption.

A few years ago, the composite index in Taiwan shot up. A Christian sister who was with the student ministry advised our students not to get involved in shares. I was shocked to discover that we had students who were involved in trading shares. She told me that many of them used mobile phones to trade. I kept asking why the teachers did not stop them. The sister replied that the teachers were also involved in buying shares too. At that time, ¼ of Taiwanese entered the share market to trade in shares. Approximately 5 million people were involved in the investment of shares to the extent that the labour industry suffered from lack of workforce. Traders in shares could earn more than 10,000 (Taiwan currency) a day. People were so engrossed in share trading that when a passer-by asked a question, he would be invariably told about the index.

Two years ago, pornography movies were screened in the female hostels in the best university in Taiwan. When reporters inquired about the matter, they were told that such movies were very common in the male hostels. Later, a Form 5 female student was caught red-handed performing striptease in a lounge. When interviewed, she told the reporters that she was merely using her capability to earn money.

Materialism is so serious that it is beyond our imagination. Even churches today are corrupted by materialism. Hebrews 2:17 states concerning Jesus:

“For this reason he had to be made like his brothers in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people.”

Since Jesus sacrificed himself for us, we should follow His example and embrace this priestly ministry and testify for the Lord. We should become the bridges for others to come to the knowledge of God. Let us lead the young people towards a bright future.


Severed human relations

The phenomenon of materialism and progress of technology may erode human relations. Human relations can be categorized in four ways:

(i) The relation between man and object;
(ii) The relation between man and himself;
(iii) The relation between man and other men; and
(iv) The relation between man and God.

The categories are similar with the four elements in Chinese feng shui – water, earth, fire and wood.

When the relationship between God and man is severed, man loses the sense and knowledge of his origin. He cannot discover the value of his life. Man loses his originality. If a person does not know himself, how would he know the value of others? He will not have the right attitude towards his fellow beings. Human relationships would lie in a hapless state of brokenness. The damaged relationships between man and himself, man and others, and man and God may create a barrier between humans. Care and concern towards one another, be it friends, parents, siblings or teachers, will be in short supply. Once, when we were having a meeting, out of fifteen youngsters who attended, six were from single parent families.

In Taiwan, 20,000 youth come from broken families. It is thus a very timely moment to reach them with the gospel, especially while they are still young. As they follow in the footsteps of Christ, the Spirit of God would be able to touch their hearts. The love of Christ would be able to embrace them, heal their broken hearts and ease their suffering from human hard-heartedness. As Jesus said in John 20:21: “Peace be with you.” We should strengthen their confidence in human relationships. Many examples today reveal to us that children do not feel loved by their parents and as a result, there is breakdown in communication. When the parents want to talk to the children, the latter refuse. They reply, saying that if they were to start talking, they would end up quarrelling with each other instead. Rather than engage in face-to-face conversation, some children would prefer their parents to read their e-mail messages.

In reality, the advancement of information technology does not strengthen the ties of human relations. Instead, it will further widen the gap in the relationships between humans. This will become more obvious when it is personally experienced. When a person’s heart is wounded or broken, he would feel as if there is no meaning living in this world. The secular values and views of society may influence the goal of his life. Young people like that may begin to lose sense of what they are doing or the direction in which they are heading.

There was once I asked a secondary school student why he chose to study. He answered by saying that he studied in order to pass his examinations so that he would graduate eventually. After graduation, he would be able to secure a good job and have a family. However, when I pressed him further, he questioned my purpose for being curious and asking him a lot of questions. Is this a way of life that is so narrow and undesirable? Another young man told me that if he had a choice, he would not be living such a life. He would not even want to choose to come to this world! The fact of the matter is that whether he likes it or not, things would still happen to him. Man has to face the suffering caused by diseases and loneliness ness when they reach old age. Man also has to face the distortion of meaning in life, although it is too painful and bitter. This is inescapable.

As Christians, we are thankful that the word of God became flesh, taking the form of man and leaving the glories of heaven in order to save the world. Jesus has indeed set a good example for us to follow. As children of God, we should preach the gospel to the younger generation wholeheartedly. In our youth ministry, all the youth workers are extremely committed to their ministry. There are couples in the ministry who help each other in serving the Lord with one heart and one mind. Their families are the places where the love of God is demonstrated, shining forth and bringing hope to the students. At the right time, the gospel will penetrate into the hearts of these students.

The invention of new technology and the improvement in the quality of life does not mean that humans would be happier and more satisfied. There is still a deep void in their hearts. Only the word and love of God can fill that emptiness. When men live without God, there is a nagging emptiness in their hearts and they are forced to find ways on their own in order to escape that suffering.


Age of Wickedness and Demonisation

When we look back to the war-weary times, they are filled with such terror. In the 1950s, the United States (US) and the Soviet Union were engaged in the Cold War. In the 60s and 70s, the world was marked by revolution, although the Cold War still lingered on. However, when we approach the 80s and 90s, philosophy came to the forefront and in the 90s, great changes took place. The result of all these is that the human heart became even more lost and lonely. Now, in the post-modern age, human stubbornness and rebellion in pursuit of technology have raised up a great power that is controlling the human mind. Behind that power is the deception of Satan.

Men always hope for something supernatural to cling to in a rapidly changing world. Before the gospel is preached throughout the world, the evil one has already won over the hearts of men who are thirsty for some sort of satisfaction in life. Within the last decade, all sorts of new religions have mushroomed. The traces of Satan worship can be clearly seen in many places. It is heartbreaking to see the contemporary world being beset by the instant culture phenomenon to the extent that men have neglected the pursuit of truth. Even churches are walking the secular path. Amidst this chaos, Christianity is in danger of turning into a ritualistic religion.

As Dr. Tong has said, the Charismatic movement is ruining the church. The movement is merely the result of the instant culture. It does not have a strong foundation of biblical truth. Instead, its adherents are sucked into a realm where control of the self is lost in the process. Behind the scenes, the power of Satan is so terrifying that it can cause men to lose their self-control. Some followers of the Charismatic movement believe that there is no need to pursue the truth or carry the cross and their problems can easily be solved. 50 years ago, 2/10 of the citizens of the US engaged in the unbiblical and psychological teaching of religion.

In Taiwan, many New Age books can be found in circulation and activities of that sort are being organised. Even notice boards in the foyer of universities are filled with advertisements promoting various activities related to the practice of evil spirits such as meditation. There are no barriers to stop such free publicity. In fact, a research showed that among the lectures held in the universities, lectures on physics are the most superstitious. One practice involved burning joss sticks and offering sacrifices to a million dollar machine, imported from the US! Why such absurdity? The persons involved were a group of young lecturers. The reason given by them is that they could not control the machine, and they believed that there was a spirit who was able to operate the machine better, hence the practice.

The Bible has already stated in no uncertain terms that the crops are ready. It is time for harvest. However, before the gospel is preached, there is great indulgence in demonic practices. Brothers and sisters, if the traditional churches will not arise and stop the devil, there will be no hope for the next generation. The bible declares that Jesus is the only God. He is the true image of God and we are the children of God. Only when we believe in the trinity of God and are willing to sacrifice ourselves to follow our Lord and become his disciples, can we as his servants, win the victory over evil. Finally, in closing, let us dedicate our lives for youth ministry.


Response

By Dr. Stephen Tong


There will be no hope for the world if our saviour Jesus Christ never came to save us. When we think that we have no hope and no future, that is when we should ponder on our hope and future. How do we respond to society in this fallen century? How far can we understand the will of God? How often do we respond to the calling of God?

It is very tragic that many churches are plagued with corruption. As I have mentioned, most churches use the secular view when making judgements. They only think of ways to attract young people to come to church but neglect the true teachings of the Bible.

When we remind ourselves of the title of this Consultation, “Reconstruction of the Christian Faith”, we realized that many of us have really lost our faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.

Today, many Christians are not worshiping the Lord, but merely entertaining the sheep. Once again, I cannot help but feel a deep sense of sadness when I hear about this. Which should we choose – worship the Lord or entertain the sheep? We know that when we choose to truly worship our Lord Jesus Christ, not many people will come and join us.



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