Chinese Bible Church thrives in Columbia

Congregation combines Christian services with native dialects, traditions

March 14, 2003|By Michael Duck | Michael Duck,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Many church communities socialize over coffee and doughnuts Sunday mornings. But the Chinese Bible Church of Howard County may be the only local congregation sharing rice and stir-fried vegetables after each week's services.

"Food is very important in Chinese churches," church elder Desmond Chan said. "When [Chinese people] sit down to eat, they share in the food, they talk, they share about their lives."

The weekly meal celebrates the cultural and spiritual community of this Columbia-based independent Bible church, an offshoot of Rockville's Chinese Bible Church of Maryland. Most of the 6-year-old Howard County congregation's members are Chinese immigrants; others are of Chinese descent. But the church's doors are open to anyone wanting to learn more about Chinese culture and the Bible's message.

"What really kept us here was the relationships. And the faith in Christ," said Yun Wang, who has attended the church since 1997.

"It's where all Chinese people can come together as a family," said congregation member Crystal Yu, a sophomore at Severna Park High School. "They can learn [more about their heritage] and learn about God."

Marina Lee came to the United States from Hong Kong in late December. She has attended the church only for a few weeks, but she says she feels at home, and another parishioner is helping her get a driver's license.

"They're all ... smiling when you come here," Lee said. "I feel love."

Church elder Benjamin Tang said the church's "caring department" focuses on this kind of outreach. Ministry includes everything from hospital visits to job searches for members.

"It's a very fellowship-oriented church," agreed the Rev. Mark Meyer, the English-language pastor.

Each week, the church has a service in English and another in Chinese, in Mandarin and Cantonese dialects. Services include singing, a Scripture reading and a sermon centered on a close study of the Bible.

"Our emphasis will be how the Bible is a guide for living and believing," said the Rev. Albert Au, the Chinese-language pastor.

But unlike other Bible churches, the Chinese Bible Church's mission is to minister to a particular community.

In many cases, that means providing a place of worship for immigrants from Taiwan, Hong Kong and China. But the church also counts members from countries ranging from Vietnam to the Philippines, as well as several people of European descent - including Meyer and his wife, Karen.

"Our ministry focus is not just Chinese," Au said. He explained that the church's English-language services help it minister to "American-born Chinese" and Chinese immigrants' children who are growing up immersed in American culture. He said this ministry reaches out to people who are not comfortable either in all-Chinese churches or in typical American churches.

Chan added that the church's English-language ministry also helps members of "mixed marriages" - between Chinese and people of other nationalities.

The Chinese Bible Church of Howard County was established when the Rockville-based Chinese Bible Church of Maryland decided to start a "daughter church" in the area. Several families in the Rockville congregation lived in Howard County, so they began a faith community in Columbia. While the Rockville church continued its focus on the Washington area, the new congregation targeted Howard and Baltimore counties. "Everything we did is pretty much an extension of our Rockville church," Tang said.

When members established the Howard County church's religious and social traditions, including the weekly buffet of Chinese food, they looked to the Rockville church as a model. But over the years, the two churches have grown more independent. "Most of our members here don't know about our Rockville church," Tang said.

Although it did not incorporate until February 2000, the congregation has worshipped since March 1997 in a converted suite in the Oakland Center office park on Route 108. The community is considering buying a more traditional church building in the Woodstock area. Tang emphasized that discussions are far from over, but he said the congregation could move as early as this summer.

Chan said the church also hopes to expand its ministry into Catonsville with an affiliated church targeting Chinese students at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. At the same time, he said, the Columbia church wants to bring the Bible's teachings to a wider community.

The church is "not only for Chinese - it's for everybody," Wang said. "Our relationship is not based on [being] Chinese. It's based on God."

Chinese Bible Church of Howard County

Denomination: Independent

Leadership: the Rev. Albert Au and the Rev. Mark Meyer

Size: 350 registered adult members

Location: Suites C and D, 8940 Route 108 (Old Annapolis Road), Columbia

Date founded: 1997 (incorporated in 2000)

Phone: 410-997-5439

Worship services: 9 a.m. Sunday in English, 10:30 a.m. Sunday in Chinese (Mandarin and Cantonese dialects)

Children's program: Sunday school classes meet during services. A nursery is available for toddlers and infants.

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