When Serena Cheung was looking for a church, she sought out one in her heart language. “At that time I spoke Cantonese, so I chose a Chinese church,” she says.
It wasn’t until many years later that she considered joining an English service. “When I was on a mission trip, God changed my perspective, but I was afraid to speak in English at the time.
“God changed my mind and so I jumped out of my comfort zone. I thought, ‘I have to go to the English congregation so I can not only share the gospel with Chinese people, but also with others’.”
“In 2021, Mandarin was the top language used at home in Australia other than English.”
More than one in 10 Sydney Anglican parishes offer some form of Bible teaching in Chinese. This ranges from church services to Bible studies, sermon translations or other ministries.
Ten per cent of Sydney has Chinese heritage
It’s a key way churches are connecting with communities around Sydney, given that more than 10 per cent of the population has Chinese ancestry. In 2021, Mandarin was the top language used at home in Australia other than English, with almost three in every hundred households using the dialect. This figure doesn’t include the many homes where dialects such as Cantonese, Hokkien or Hakka are spoken.
The first Chinese congregation in Sydney dates back to the 1880s in Surry Hills. Political pressure leading up to Federation in 1901 resulted in Chinese-speaking Anglican services falling off the radar until Cabramatta started a congregation in the 1980s.
“We need to be observant of how our suburbs are changing and pray under God that we will make something work.”
A vital ministry
There are more than 30 Chinese-speaking ministries listed on the Sydney Anglicans Chinese Ministry website. The Rev David Yung, rector of St Paul’s, Kogarah, has been involved in updating the website since 2020.
“This ministry is vital,” he says. “We want to take the gospel to all nations. If they’re here in our suburb, we need to share the gospel with them.”
Mr Yung says the focus is not just on reaching one people group, but rather on looking at who our neighbours are. “In Kogarah, we also have a lot of Indians and Nepalese, so how do we reach these people groups as well? We need to be observant of how our suburbs are changing and pray under God that we will make something work.”
Many Chinese people can feel nervous to step into a situation where they’re required to speak a language in which they are not confident. This was true for Ms Cheung, and she observes it to be true for others she ministers to.
“Chinese are happy in their comfort zone,” she says. “They will ask questions privately, but when you really love other people it doesn’t matter if you speak good. You try your best to connect with them.”
“When you really love other people it doesn’t matter if you speak good.”
She wants to help Chinese Christians grow in their faith and conviction, so they will be bold to share the gospel and fellowship with people from all nations. She says making the Bible easy to understand is the first step to growth.
“That’s why we have Bible study in their heart language. It’s good for them to ask questions, and for the people who are new to church it’s easier to understand the gospel.”
Many opportunities, many challenges
One of the biggest challenges facing Chinese language ministry is finding Chinese-speaking ministers.
“Most are from overseas – we don’t have many home-grown Chinese ministers,” Mr Yung says. “Over the past 20 years there are a lot more home grown, but we are still lacking. Pray for more Chinese workers.”
Another challenge facing the ministry is the diversity within Chinese culture. Tom Zhang has found this while ministering to Chinese people at Chester Hill. While they can converse in Mandarin, many speak different dialects at home and values may vary.
“Chinese ministry is also multicultural ministry. There are many subcultures.”
“Chinese ministry is also multicultural ministry,” he says. “There are many subcultures. I am doing cross-cultural ministry, not just because of the dialogue, but I also have an academic background and the people [I minister to] haven’t been to college. It takes patience to get to know people [of different subcultures].”
Ms Cheung expresses joy about the opportunities to bring all these subcultures together in Christ.
“I am helping St Andrew’s Cathedral do cross-cultural ministry [and] it is not just Chinese connecting with Chinese – I have the whole church as my team,” she says. “I can see when the Chinese come, they also want to learn the English Bible. I can see the whole picture for the whole church.
“My church is an international church, not a Chinese church. I also help [my Chinese Bible study] connect with English-speaking members of church. When you share the gospel in Australia, you don’t just meet Chinese; people speak other languages.
“When people become Christians, they understand the Bible in their heart language. One day a lady who got baptised asked to learn more English so she could share the gospel with her coworkers who speak English! That is what we are doing: connecting with people different to us.”
A sample of what’s happening…
St Andrew’s Cathedral
Serena Cheung offers written translations of the weekly sermon, teaches ESL classes and runs Mandarin Bible study groups with people from all over Asia. “I print out more than 20 sermon translations and put them on a tray, and sometimes I can see even visitors are taking copies,” she says. “They can understand the whole sermon... I saw a student highlight the points and [make] notes. I can see God is really good, helping me to help people. They find the translation helps them to understand and some visitors did not expect we have a Chinese translation.”
St Paul’s, Kogarah
David Yung’s team runs a combined English and Chinese service on a Sunday, plus Chinese-speaking Bible studies. “Whenever we have a non-English or non-majority ministry, people will get uncomfortable,” he says. “One thing I keep pushing to my congregation is that we’re not a cruise ship, we’re a lifeboat. Lifeboats by design are not comfortable. We want to save lives. We need to be aware of that and balance it. We can’t be so uncomfortable that people don’t hear the gospel, but we need to be willing to be uncomfortable so that people will be saved.”
There is a strong focus on discipleship at Chester Hill, and equipping Christians of different cultures and languages with discipleship skills. “We want to raise Mandarin people to speak to Mandarin people, Vietnamese people to speak to Vietnamese people, for example,” says Tom Zhang. “We’re thinking about how to raise up disciples and encourage them to open their homes and invite other people to come… We want to get deeper into the different subcultures of Chinese people to reach out to many Chinese people around us.”
Please pray for
- more workers for the harvest – more Chinese-speaking Christians who are able to reach out to Chinese speakers
- more Chinese-speaking ministers to be trained and equipped
- more ministries in heart languages in order to reach other Chinese people effectively
- Chinese-speaking Christians to have a heart for all people and grow in their faith so they can communicate the gospel to others
- many Chinese people to hear the gospel and be saved