“This is about what God’s doing,” said George Veith. “We want all the glory to go to God.”
He was referring, during a series of four presentations hosted by Rosthern Mennonite Church and Mennonite Church Canada on April 10 and 11, to the vibrancy which he and his wife Tobia have witnessed in the Chinese church from their vantage point as Witness workers in Macau for the past 18 years.
The Veiths shared stories with congregants from various MC Saskatchewan churches of God at work in the church in China, Macau, Hong Kong and Taiwan, and introduced the Chinese church as challenging, complicated and exciting, but also as Christ’s body, .
With a geographical area roughly equivalent to Canada, but with a population of 1.35 billion people, China is a huge place that isn’t easily pigeonholed.
“Anything that you hear about China could be true somewhere in China,” said Tobia. But, countered George, “what is true in one part of China may not necessarily be true in another part.”
What is true, they said, is that the church is alive and growing in China, with an estimated 130 million believers nationwide. There are Catholic and Protestant congregations, but there are no denominations.
While Macau reverted to Chinese administration in 1999, it still enjoys religious freedom, as does Hong Kong. Although many practise a mixture of Buddhism, Confucianism and ancestor worship, many others profess no religion at all. Protestant churches in Macau are very small. Macau Mennonite Church, with which the Veiths were affiliated, has an average Sunday attendance of 35 to 40 people.
While small in number, these believers have great faith stories, according to the Veiths. Paul, for instance, was an insurance salesman who came to Christ while going through difficult times. In his baptismal testimony, he confessed that if it hadn’t been for Jesus he would have taken his life. Today, Paul enthusiastically shares what God is doing in his life with anyone who will listen.
In Macau, Asia’s gambling capital, being a Christian can be lonely. Because they are so few, one of the Veiths’ greatest chal-lenges is encouraging members to stay true to their faith. But Macau Mennonite now has a Chinese pastor and the Veiths feel confident the congregation they nurtured is in capable hands.
The three Mennonite congregations in Hong Kong, like the church in Macau, are small but vibrant. Each has its own pastor and together they are preparing to send a mission worker couple to southwestern China.
In 2014, Taiwanese Mennonites marked the 60th anniversary of Mennonite missionaries first coming to their country. There are no longer Mennonite missionaries in Taiwan, but the church the Veiths helped establish enjoys the strong leadership of local pastors.
Although there are no Mennonite churches in China per se, there is a growing interest in Anabaptism there. Until now, believers in these areas have been isolated from one another. To foster communication and support, the Veiths established the Chinese Anabaptist Network. Through this network, they hope to provide Chinese translations of Anabaptist resource materials, and to facilitate pastoral exchanges and youth cultural exchanges.
“They don’t know each other,” said George, “and it is very interesting for them to get together.”
MC Canada’s pastoral exchange trip to China in 2013 and a reciprocal visit by Chinese pastors to Saskatchewan in 2014 provided a welcome learning opportunity.
“Mennonites in Saskatchewan have created a lot of good will with the church in China,” said George.
To a large degree, this has been because Mennonites have been willing “to spend time building relationships and not just programs,” added Tobia. “For the Chinese people, building relationship is very important and takes a long time,” she said.
In August the Veiths will embark on a new relationship-building experience, teaching theological English at a seminary near Harbin, in northern China. The Veiths will serve under MC Canada Witness, but at the invitation of Chinese church leaders.
“We feel good about moving on to the next place God is calling us to,” said George.
“I’m looking forward to interacting with young adults and being an encouragement to the next generation of leaders,” added Tobia.
George and Tobia Veith, left and centre, visit with Denise Epp following one of the Veiths’ presentations on the church in China held at Rosthern Mennonite Church recently. (Photo by Donna Schulz)