BEIJING (BP)–Ever since she was 9 years old, Barb Sturges wanted to live in China.
The Portland, Ore., native got her wish in 1986, when she moved to China for the first time. She’s now been a China resident for 13 years total and is a member of Beijing International Christian Fellowship.
“When I first came, this was about the only church for foreigners,” Sturges said. “I just felt comfortable here. I love it at this church because if you have ideas, they’re very supportive of you trying new things.”
BICF was only about 150 people then. Now the church has about 4,000 members, three locations and several sub-congregations, such as French, Russian, Japanese, Indonesian and Filipino. It is international in every sense of the word -– with about 70 nationalities represented in every Sunday worship service. The worship team includes four whites, two Asians and one black man.
Some of the songs are sung in English, others in Chinese. The words on the screen are projected in both languages. Radios with earphones are distributed to those who want to hear the Chinese translation of the sermon.
Those attending the church must show a foreign photo ID to be allowed in. That’s because of government regulations that forbid most Chinese citizens from going.
Still, John Davis, BICF’s senior elder, estimates that about 60 percent of the congregation is ethnic Chinese. Some may be people who were born in other countries and who now live in China. Others are native-born Chinese who left the country to travel abroad, got a green card and have since returned.
Whatever their stories, the members of the independent BICF are a body of believers “unified in Christ, that embraces and transforms people of all nations to impact their cities, their nations and the world for Jesus Christ,” Davis said.
Upon arriving at the church, which meets in the theater of the 21st Century Hotel, everyone passes through security screening that has been beefed up even more because of the Olympics. The games are certainly a factor in the church’s activities. For the opening ceremony, BICF held a special meeting for members and visitors to watch the festivities on TV.
“Have you been Olympified?” worship leader Mark Tedder asked the congregation at the beginning of worship Aug. 10. “That’s the word of the day.”
Next week, the church has invited several Christian Olympians to visit the church and give their testimonies. Former U.S. gold medalist Carl Lewis will be in that group.
Davis is preaching a series of sermons on the theme “More than Gold.” His text for the Aug. 10 sermon was 1 Peter 1:7-9.
“Faith is greater worth than gold, of more value than any medal won at an Olympic event,” he said. “Faith is not about you and I doing things. Faith is putting our trust, our hope, in God.”
Davis, originally from Oregon, has been at the church for the past 12 years. He said the Chinese government -– which tries to regulate the Christian churches in China -– has not interfered in what he preaches at BICF, or who speaks there.
“They do ask for us to give them an overview of what our activities are, and are quite happy for us to remain in this venue,” he said. “I think part of that’s for safety. But as far as what’s preached, doctrine, finances or anything like that, there’s no interference.”
John Russell, missions pastor at First Baptist Church at the Mall in Lakeland, Fla., was in attendance Aug. 10, his second time to visit the church.
“We love the fact that it was celebrative,” Russell said. “To me, it was a glimpse of heaven, having so many tongues and nations present.”
Sturges echoed that sentiment.
“You feel like you’re in heaven,” she said, “around the throne every week.”
Tim Ellsworth, director of news and media relations at Union University, is covering the 2008 Olympics in Beijing for Baptist Press.