Question. There are many reports of revival and awakening coming out of Asia. Have you seen this in your Asian travels in the last few months?
Answer. Burma is a good place to start. It has had no missionaries from the outside world for a long time. Yet the Burmese have taken on evangelism so intimately as part and parcel of their churches’ life that there has been great growth there. In the last decade the Baptist church has more than doubled, from 224,000 to 480,000. One Anglican diocese reported over 30,000 baptisms of new Christians during the last four years. The Burmese are finding new forms of evangelism, using indigenous types of communication. They have adapted drama, dance, and song for their witness. When I was there in 1975 I met more than 250 Christian Burmese clergymen in a conference, and the entire lot had completely given up Western dress. This is indicative of how their minds are ticking. In order to propagate the Gospel they believe they must contextualize it and live among the people.
Q. Have you been to Korea recently?
A. Yes, and that is a miracle of God. A minister goes into a police academy and finds 13,000 souls prepared to receive the Gospel. You find this kind of preparation wherever you go. The secret of Korea is that its Christians are biblically oriented and holiness oriented. This spirit of holiness is appealing to them more than any contextualization of the Gospel. Koreans are turning from their old faiths and their old thinking to Christ, and they are living holy, separated lives. The greatest penetration has been around Seoul, Pusan, and other large cities. There is still a tremendous amount of work to be done in rural areas; many villages have not been evangelized.
Q. What word do you have on North Korea?
A. We have no information, but I’m sure there is a church there, particularly in the mountains.
Q. What of the talk of eventual unification of North and South Korea?
A. It’s really very doubtful in my mind. I don’t believe that the North wants to unify the country if that means giving the South Koreans the right to decide how they will be governed. South Korea’s biggest danger, it seems to me, is not from any sudden military or diplomatic move from the North. Instead, sooner or later, the ways of the North will begin to seep in among the young people, the American troops will leave, some of the old regime will be out, and the Communists will begin to buy up the opportunity. The young people in the South are not learning what true Communism is. Christians, with their unique understanding of the world systems, are able to teach this and should do so while they have the freedom to do it.
Q. Haven’t some professing Christians been in trouble for speaking out about the government in the South?
A. Yes, and I have had to agonize about this quite a bit. The National Christian Council in Korea and some Roman Catholic liberals have been entangled with government, and some of the leaders were imprisoned. Yet the president of Korea openly says to young people that the way of life is the Christian way. At many times and in many ways he has encouraged the youth to turn to Christ. The government has given permission for 80,000 baptisms per year. The Church is growing four times faster than the general population of South Korea. So there has been freedom to evangelize, though other freedoms have been curtailed. Now, what does one do in that situation? We need to have independence for the Church and a guarantee of human rights.
Q. Bangladesh is a country about which Christians have been concerned lately. What is happening there?
A. So far this has been a sad state of affairs. Bangladesh has taken on the Indian view that missionaries from outside are to be restricted, although it seems to be somewhat open again. The World Council of Churches and evangelical groups have brought in a lot of money to help there. Personally, I have grave doubts that it has really helped the situation.
Q. Do you mean that money should not be sent to Bangladesh?
A. I mean that just pouring in money is not enough. I’m not against the idea of helping people. Our love must be shown so that people can see that we are concerned and love them. If the life of Christ is in me, then surely that love must be shown as Christ himself showed it. However, when it is shown without any verbalization of the Christian message, or when it is shown almost entirely as a foreigner’s love (and not that of the local Christians), then something is lacking.
Q. What about the preaching that has been done in Bangladesh?
A. In some areas the response has been good. The movement is not large, and some of the leading Christian workers are depressed. There is some reason for encouragement. Many of the Christians in one tribal group that was driven into India during the war are now coming back across the border. When people come back, they are always keener about their whole life.
Q. Is Malaysia open to the Gospel?
A. Yes. Now is the time to send missionaries to Malaysia. A real political tussle is going on. The British made a contract with the government pledging that they would not evangelize the Muslims, but more than half of the population is non-Muslim. I think the missionary movement should come from Indonesia.
Q. If half of the Malaysians are not Muslims, what are they?
A. Many are animists, but many of those with Chinese backgrounds are Buddhists.
Q. How strong is the Church there?
A. In the Chinese community it is quite strong. All missionary entry into the province of Sabah has been stopped, but 24 per cent of the population there is Christian. That is one of the highest percentages anywhere in Asia. (In South Korea the figure is 15 or 16 per cent.) This province—a part of what we used to call Borneo—has a population of about four million, and the Chinese there are the “moneybags,” very influential people.
Q. Is the Church as strong in that part of Malaysia which is on the Asian mainland?
A. Thailand is on that same peninsula, of course, and the danger is seeping down from there. Despite this difficulty, I think the churches in Southeast Asia are generally encouraged. The rate of church growth is perhaps greater in Southeast Asia than anywhere else in the world if you are speaking of evangelical churches. Remember that the fast growth reported from Africa includes all churches, not only those that would be considered evangelical.
Q. With all these Christians in Southeast Asia, why have they failed to have enough political influence to keep the Communists from taking over in some countries?
A. There was little evangelical or Protestant strength in Cambodia, Viet Nam, or Laos. The Roman Catholics had gotten so involved with certain elements of political life that they ended up with little influence. Remember that I mentioned in connection with Korea that I thought the young people should be taught about Communism. We are weak and afraid in this area, but we should not be. I have taught this subject in Thailand, and I will be teaching it in the Haggai Institutes in Singapore and India. We must teach the dangers in it, but we must also teach the positive side. I thank God for Communism, but not for Communism per se: I thank God for the true ideas in Communism that have made us rethink our social responsibility.
Q. Is there a large Christian community in Nepal?
A. The devil is very strong, but we are thankful that God’s power is stronger. I was there not long ago, leading a preaching mission for the pastors and evangelists. God has worked a miracle there. There are twenty-three organized congregations. Our mission was attended by twenty-seven ordained men. With the exception of the Japanese, foreign missionaries are not permitted to preach the Gospel at all. The Japanese have been welcome in the king’s palace as well as in village gatherings. There was a ban on baptizing Christians, punishable by imprisonment. The first converts were baptized when a man came over from India, and I was present at that service on the river that flows through Katmandu. Many of the converts there accepted the government’s penalty when they became Christians with the hope that they would be immune from subsequent prosecution (and persecution). There may now be as many as 900 believers.
Q. Do you think that Asian Christians are taking enough political initiatives?
A. I wouldn’t say they are, but a lot of background must be taken into account. Remember that they are the outgrowth of missions, and the missionaries coming from outside did not want to enter into politics. Also, most of these countries were colonies of the West, and our people were urged to shun politics. Only recently have we begun to feel our own identities and to take part in the processes of government. Often we were taught that politics was of the devil. Now we must correct this situation. It can’t be done overnight.
Q. Aren’t the Communists re-colonizing in Asia?
A. Communism is no more indigenous than Western forms of government, but the Communists have managed somehow to indigenize it. They never really colonized in the open style of the Spanish, or the Portuguese, or the British. Even the Americans had some of that type of colonization, the kind that takes control of the government. But the Chinese first infiltrate and take hold of seats of learning and other places of influence.
Q. But isn’t it the nationals in these countries who do that, and not the Russians or Chinese?
A. Yes, that’s the point. It is done by nationals who are committed to Communism and are following leadership from China.
Q. There was tremendous church growth in Cambodia starting in 1971, especially among the young people in the military and other government work. There have been reports that many of them were killed after the Communist takeover. Do you have any information about the Christians there and in Viet Nam?
A. In your country, nothing is a secret; it all comes out in the papers sooner or later. Information is more difficult to obtain in some other places. This question is difficult. I don’t know that the Communists picked out Christians as such, but there is no doubt that they have picked out those who were formerly linked with foreigners. We must ask, What are the lessons we can learn from this? How much do we need to keep “outside”? If Christianity in these countries began to contextualize more, then perhaps it would be so much within their own context that Christians would not be considered agents of foreign missionaries.
Q. Would you say that as a matter of missionary strategy it is important to keep government money out of the picture?
A. I would say as positively as possible that whenever a mission accepts money or favors from any government, it always works against the mission in the long run.
Q. Are you saying not to send “American” or “Christian” money? We’re always being told that we must help the Third World, the developing nations. Can this be done without money?
A. This is a big question, and answering it brought me to change over to my work with the Haggai Institute. Instead of bringing missionaries from abroad, the strategy is to train men to be missionaries among their own people. The money that comes from abroad to help with expenses is given for the sake of helping these men to be self-supporting. It is all right when it assists them in the development of self-propagating and self-governing churches. However, when it is given to carry out a particular program within the context of a certain denomination, then we must bear the label of American Baptists, or American Methodists, or American Episcopalians, and so on.
Q. What is distinctive about the approach of this institute?
A. Our teachers are outstanding Asian Christians, speaking out of their experience in Asia. Fifty students at a time come and live together under one roof in Singapore. Those who are invited are already men of some experience, with at least ten years of work behind them. Leaders teach them the “how” of evangelism, youth work, dealing with other religions, communications, and church growth.
Q. Do the graduates go back to work primarily as personal evangelists or as trainers of others?
A. Many of them have multiplied what they learned many times by training others. However, if a man is sitting at a desk all the time and is not personally involved in evangelizing, he is not going to teach anyone else how to evangelize. I feel that unless every one of us spends at least one day a month being evangelists in the highways and the byways, we are not going to be able to inspire others in their evangelism. When I was a bishop in Pakistan I reserved two or three hours at least three days a week to go into the market place to preach, sell gospel portions, and otherwise show myself keen for my faith.
Q. Are you teaching any distinctive methods?
A. Our main instruction is: use the mode that would be most meaningful among your own people. For instance, those working among Hindus are asked to relate to that point of view. They are asked, What are the concepts in the Hindu mind of the godhead?
Q. What about Islam?
A. We ask why Islam is always attacked as anti-Christian. Indeed, I thank God for Islam because it brings people to one God; it is an iconoclastic religion; it destroys all idolatry; its adherents have an idea of prayer and fasting. Why do we condemn them? Why do we never believe they can ever bring a man to salvation? Cannot Christ fulfill whatever preparation has been done to bring them to one God? It was the colonial way to condemn Islam.
Q. If Islam can function as pre-evangelism, why is it considered so resistant to the Gospel?
A. It is because we Christians put a thousand years of theology into our teaching instead of the method of the Holy Spirit.
Q. What do you mean?
A. The Holy Spirit had Matthew put first in the New Testament, and this gospel gives the genealogy of Jesus Christ as the son of Abraham and the son of David, not the son of God. Then immediately it goes on to the Virgin Birth, which Islam accepts, and therefore says Jesus was a holy man and God’s wonderful gift to the world. Then it brings in politics, with the account of Herod and the children’s deaths. Next comes the reinterpretation of the law in the Sermon on the Mount (and this is not difficult for the Muslim since Muhammad himself came as a reformer). Then the miracles of Jesus Christ show his power in the physical world and how much more he can do in the spiritual world. After that come the parables to make the message specific. Then only after all that do we see the transfiguration, and Jesus asks, “Who do men say that I am?” The disciples could not have been expected to answer “the son of the living God” any earlier, but we expect every Muslim to believe in the son of God from the word go.
Q. Then you are saying to approach the Muslim through the Gospel of Matthew and not John?
A. Yes; we cannot be wiser than the Holy Spirit. John was written much later. Now I believe every word of John, and I hold to the whole Scripture as the inspired Word of God. But I must ask, Why wasn’t John put first?
Q. Is there evidence of any significant move to Christ from Islam?
A. The best example is Indonesia. Many streets that were formerly populated completely by Muslims are now populated by Christians.
Q. Is Transcendental Meditation a “popular” variety of Hinduism for American consumption?
A. I think TM is a wonderful thing—if you focus your mind on Jesus and absorb him within yourself. TM is meditation on a particular character. If young people are going to focus on Krishna, I don’t always condemn this immediately. I say, “Hold it a moment. What is the picture or character of Krishna in your mind? Compare that to the picture and character of Jesus. Now whom would you rather concentrate on?” Sooner or later they find Jesus as superior. If you read the Epistle to the Hebrews, you find that is what it is all about, comparing all the Old Testament prophets and saying Jesus is greater. That is transcendental meditation to me.
Q. While some young people are turning to Eastern religions in North America, many are turning to Christ. What about Asian youth?
A. Come to the Anglican church in Singapore at 8 o’clock Sunday morning, and you will find that 70 per cent of the 800 to 1,000 persons there are under twenty-five. Go to a Brethren church with me in the afternoon, and there will be over 800 there, most of them under twenty-five. At the Billy Graham crusades in Hong Kong and Taipei last year, an overwhelming majority of those responding were young people—perhaps 90 per cent under twenty-five. Visit any congregation in Indonesia and you will find it full of youth.
Q. Are they being prepared for leadership?
A. They are asserting leadership, but the Asian churches need to learn from the West how you lost your young people so that we don’t lose them the same way!
Q. What are you doing now to try to forestall such a loss?
A. I am teaching that we should break up the church. By this I mean that we should encourage very small congregations, house churches, and so on, where people will spend time together opening the Word of God. Young people can enter into dialogue, show forth their love, and apply the Gospel in their daily lives with the encouragement of such small groups. They don’t get much of the Bible when they go to a big church, worship according to a ritual, and then hear a twenty-minute sermon on three or four texts. They need to do more exegetical thinking on the Word.
Q. This has implications for theological education, doesn’t it?
A. Yes. I’m not a great believer in the types of theological schools the Western world has built for us. Why should we always take this Oxford and Cambridge idea of learning when 80 per cent of Asia is still rural? Much of what is taught in the seminaries is applicable only in urban areas, in the big churches. I believe there should be a new pattern where we do six months of reading and thinking and then two or three months of practical work. Then the students would come back for a little more teaching. One mission decided to do this in Indonesia, but its board back in North America overruled the decision. Those people out there should be given more liberty to choose their own ways.
Q. Do you see any possibility that this will happen?
A. There have been several promising developments, including the founding of the Asian Missions Association and the Asian Theological Association. These associations are working to analyze the situation.
Q. With all the emphasis you put on indigenous training, are you suggesting that there is no room or no need for missionaries from outside the culture?
A. Far from it! So far Asia is only 2 per cent Christian. How dare we say we’ve done the job? We always need the fellowship and understanding. But CHRISTIANITY TODAY has reported repeatedly how the North American denominations have been declining in their support of missions. Surely something must be done to replace those workers who have been lost from the field. A missionary cannot separate himself from his culture, no matter how much he tries. This does not condemn him, but it must be recognized that an Indian can do a better job in India than a non-Indian. Still, Asia needs the help of Christians from overseas who will not come to plant their culture and who will try to understand ours. We especially need those who can train the nationals to work in their own countries.
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