Group ministers to China through students in U.S.

Outreach: A Havre de Grace church's fund-raiser aims to bolster an organization's efforts to introduce college-going visitors to Christianity while here.

October 17, 2004|By Karen Nitkin | Karen Nitkin,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

By almost any measure, China is a world away from Havre de Grace. The two places are separated by geography, of course, but also by culture and language.

But on Thursday night, about 75 people at Havre de Grace United Methodist Church learned about a bond they share with some in China - Christianity.

China Outreach Ministries is trying to introduce the Chinese to Christianity, often one person at a time. The organization, based in Mechanicsburg, Pa., works with students from China who are attending colleges and universities in the United States.

Volunteers pick up students at airports, show them around on weekends, and provide companionship and support. They also take the students to Bible study classes and help acquaint them with Christianity.

"Our focus is to develop the relationship and make known to them what Christian values are and call them to a personal Christian faith," said Earnest Hummer, past president of China Outreach Ministries and organizer of Thursday's dinner.

According to its Web site, China Outreach Ministries is an incorporated, nonprofit organization that began in London in the 1950s as Chinese Overseas Christian Mission, founded by the Rev. Stephen Wang, a pastor from China.

It is not affiliated with any particular Christian denomination.

In the late 1980s, the organization's focus shifted to the tens of thousands of Chinese studying in the United States. The name was changed to China Outreach Ministries in 1993.

The organization has a presence on about 100 campuses in the United States, Hummer said. Including family and friends of the Chinese students and other people they talk to about Christianity, he estimated that the ministry reaches as many as 100,000 people.

"These are highly influential people, they are the top-thinking people of China and they know nothing of Christian truth or values," he said. "They are curious, many of them, when they arrive in America, about what Christians believe and so we build bridges to them by meeting some of their needs as they come and developing a relationship."

The hope is that they will return to China actively practicing Christianity and spreading its message, he said. Hummer said the organization has worked with top executives of high-tech engineering companies, lawyers from major cities, diplomats and professors.

Thursday's dinner included testimony from a University of Maryland graduate student from China who converted to Christianity in April, said the Rev. Ed Heydt, pastor of the church.

Ministry officials asked that the student's name not be used. "In some places in China, it can [cause] problems career-wise or otherwise if they are known as Christians," said Evelyn Bensen, an associate staff member.

Hummer said there are two kinds of Christian churches in China, both nondenominational. The Three Self churches are controlled by the government, he said. The House Church movement, which is viewed as illegal by the government, is considered a stronger force for spreading the faith in China, he said.

While there was no charge for the meal, those who attended the two-hour fund-raising dinner Thursday were encouraged to offer donations and prayers for the ministry. The amount raised was not known Friday.

Heydt said the church also has supported the organization for several years, and has donated $1,500 to the ministry this year.

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