Another jewel of the Orient is poised to become simply a part of China. Today (December 20) Macau, the first European colony in East Asia, will follow Hong Kong in becoming a sovereign territory of the largest nation in the world.

What will the change mean to Christians in Macau? To missionaries and their work? If Hong Kong is any example, not much.

"We've been watching Hong Kong for nearly two years," says missionary Larry Ballew of the Southern Baptist Commission's International Mission Board (IMB). "[Although there have been some changes,] they've maintained quite a bit of autonomy and freedom. We're not anticipating many changes in our work."

That's good news for Macau. But just two years ago, missionaries in Hong Kong weren't feeling so positive.

As 1997 loomed, it looked as if expansive visions of church-planting movements might be no more than a far-off dream. China's reputation on freedom of religion had preceded it. Many wondered if China would try the same restrictive policies in Hong Kong that it had in the rest of the country.

But according to missionaries in Hong Kong, most of those fears have gone unrealized. And what would have been the most significant of those changes was made irrelevant by a change in how IMB missionaries operate in Hong Kong.

"In the past, the traditional way of starting churches was to try to get a social service center like a kindergarten and then use the facility for church on Sunday," says one missionary. "What has changed about that is that it is not only the Christian groups but also the Buddhist or other Asian religious groups that get them now.

"But that doesn't affect us any more because as we've moved toward church-planting movements, we've looked for things that are more home-based ...

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