by Rick Burke, David Ren and Luke Lu
Surely you’ve noticed that in 2015 First Free has been deeply blessed with the addition of many new Chinese brothers and sisters. As pastor of Outreach Ministries I’ve had the privilege of getting to know a few of the leaders and I think it would be helpful if I explained their vision for ministry and how our Chinese friends have chosen to worship and serve at First Free.
There are two groups with distinct ministries to Chinese believers at First Free. The Chinese Christian Fellowship (CCF) is led by David Ren. David is married to Angie. They have two children. Luke Lu coordinates the Mustard Seed Group (MSG). Luke is married to Cherry. Cherry and their son live in Utah until he graduates from high school in May. Both groups are led by teams who are passionate about ministry to the Chinese community in St. Louis.
Let’s start with the story of CCF.
Most of the brothers and sisters in Chinese Christian Fellowship (CCF) were attending St. Louis Chinese Christian Church (CCC). Over a period of time they felt that the strong Chinese culture in the CCC did not fit the culture that they and their children were adjusting to here in the USA. After much discussion with the church leadership and no apparent agreement, some of the Chinese families felt it best if they seek another place to worship. Because a number of them live in West County and have attended our English Language Learners program, they decided now would be a good time to attend First Free to see if it might be a good fit for their families and community. They have felt warmly received and many have sensed the Lord leading them to worship with us and join our membership.
Concerned that this might cause division in the church body (in St. Louis), Pastor Bill Jones and some of our elders took the initiative to contact the CCC pastoral leadership. Their goal was to heal and reconcile members. Their meeting was transparent and it was agreed that the departure of these families was for the best interest for all. Bill and our elders then organized meetings with David and a few other co-workers to better understand their desires and how First Free might serve them. CCF was formed during this transition period. After several meetings and hearing their heart, it was decided that CCF would come alongside Outreach Ministries and its Sunday Morning Adult Community would work alongside the Adult Community Ministries with Julio Serra-Jones and Ken Tobler.
Here are a few points to remember when praying for our Chinese brothers and sisters: First, they do not want to be a separate church or a church within a church at First Free, but we also have to recognize their unique needs. They desire to integrate into our First Free family as much as possible, but do face some cultural and language barriers. Second, many of these friends have come to follow Jesus during their education in the U.S. and therefore have a deep heart to reach other ethnic Chinese in St. Louis. Most of these folks are highly educated with families both here and in China. Finally, they miss their friends from their former church some of which are not attending worship anywhere.
With all this in mind, we (the Chinese leaders, the elders, Bill Jones and myself) discussed ministry venues that made sense in our structure with a sensitivity to their needs. Here is a rough outline of what has been developed.
The CCF leadership team includes William Luo, David Ren, Julie Sun, Richard Yang, Xiaofeng Yang, Weimin Wang, Yong Wang, Stephen Wu, and others. They lead a broad outreach effort to the Chinese community in St. Louis (approximately 30,000 people). One way they reach out is to have a monthly fellowship dinner (usually a Saturday night) with worship and teaching. They meet in the First Free Activity Center. Any First Free attendee is welcome to join them!
There is also a Sunday morning Adult Connection Class led by Stephen Wu and others that meets in the chapel during second hour. This group offers worship music, Bible teaching, and prayer. To meet the needs of the community, this class is in Chinese. It has been a blessing to see some of our Chinese brothers and sisters integrate into the other Sunday Connection Classes.
There is a Chinese small group led by Weimin Wang that meets on Wednesday nights in the Berean House. They speak Chinese in this small group. Brother Wang also coordinates the development of other family-based small groups that gather at different times and places.
Now we come to the story of MSG.
The Mustard Seed Group (MSG) was formed in the similar time frame as CCF. Many brothers and sisters who left CCC church have joined together with other believers who were not associated with CCC (including brother Luke himself) share a strong desire for campus ministry by reaching out to students and visiting scholars in nearby universities. The dramatic increase of Chinese students in almost all US campuses of recent years has called for more workers in this convenient mission field. Currently, MSG meets at Grace United Methodist Church basement near Washington University most Friday nights.
They primarily draw Wash U students and visiting scholars for fellowship but students from other campuses are welcome. This ministry has been blessed by the Lord in its first 4 months of existence. Co-workers young and old, as well as serious seekers in Christianity have continuously joined this group and their activities. They now have a stable core group of counselors and young believers and they have already seen three people receive Christ as Savior this semester! Some students/believers have begun attending the First Free worship and classes on Sundays.
MSG, like CCF, has also come alongside Outreach Ministries of First Free Church. They have worked harmoniously with CCF and enjoyed a strong support from the First Free community.
A few more words.
Did you know the First Free preaching team offers the sermon texts to international attenders (all nations/languages) to those who request it? For our Chinese friends, the sermon transcript is sent to a team who is able to translate it into Chinese. It is printed and available to those that are still developing their English skills. This is especially helpful to parents and grandparents who have short stays in America while visiting family. This gives our international friends the opportunity to read the sermon before Sunday morning so that they can better follow along when listening to the preacher.
I hope you understand better why our Chinese brothers and sisters are attending First Free and their heart to become a part of our church family. I pray that we would welcome them, learn about their culture and be challenged by their deep heart to reach their own people on campus in the community. Their love for our Lord is infectious as they seek to bring many to our common Lord and Savior!
For more information, check out their website at stlccf.org. Be sure to click on ‘Translate this Page’!
Our Chinese brothers and sisters are putting on a Chinese New Year celebration on February 13th. This would be a great opportunity to get to know some of these members of our church family! For more information, visit our website.