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Chinese church’s vision reaches beyond ancestry

TUCSON, Ariz. (BP) — Chinese workers came to Tucson to build a railroad and, in the process, formed a local culture. Members of Tucson Chinese Baptist Church, however, are intent on making a global impact.

Tucson Chinese Baptist Church has been a solid contributor to Southern Baptist missions and ministry since the church was started in 1977 as a mission of First Southern Baptist Church in Tucson. Since 1991, the Chinese church has given 10 percent of its undesignated offerings to undergird Southern Baptist outreach across Arizona, North America and the world through the Cooperative Program.

“I know our church was started partly through the efforts of the Cooperative Program because of the missionaries sent by the Home Mission Board,” pastor Joe Chan said of the precursor to today’s North American Mission Board.

“We think we ought to be a participant after that,” said Chan, a member of Tucson Chinese Baptist Church for about 30 years and pastor since 2001.

“I went to school at Golden Gate [Baptist Theological Seminary] and that’s funded partially by CP, and my son goes there,” said Chan, a former businessman called in mid-career to the pastorate. “I strongly believe that pastors who benefit from the Cooperative Program through seminary training should be big supporters of CP because they benefit from it.”

Reared in a “culturally Buddhist” home in Hong Kong, Chan became a Christian through an evangelical Lutheran church when he was 16. He moved to Phoenix to go to college and then took a job in Tucson.

“When I was the first time at the Baptist church in Phoenix, I heard about the Cooperative Program,” Chan recounted. “I liked it from the very beginning. It is still the most efficient way for mission cooperation.”

First Chinese Baptist Church’s global efforts are complemented by ministries to internationals at the University of Arizona and Native Americans in Arizona.

The church, with about 140 in Sunday worship, also built a multipurpose center on its property for the 5,000 or more Chinese in Tucson as a way of ministering to those who share their ancestry. A Vietnamese church they helped start in Tucson is now on its feet. And several men from the Chinese church are helping about a dozen mostly former addicts rebuild their lives after jail sentences through intensive Bible study and a Set Free church focused on both physical and spiritual restoration.

“Our primary focus is to be Chinese,” Chan said. “But not to the exclusion of other groups.”

The outreach to international students at the University of Arizona in Tucson started in 2006. Johnathan Chan, the pastor’s son, leads the ministry in addition to serving as the church’s college and young adult pastor.

“Southern Baptists spend a lot of money sending missionaries to [East Asia], so when students come from there to our city, it is logical for us to reach out to them,” the senior Chan said. “Currently there are more than 2,000 international students from [East Asia] at the University of Arizona. It is a vast mission field.”

The Tucson church, which encompasses members who speak Cantonese, Mandarin and English, also sends its adults, teens and those even younger on a variety of missions endeavors throughout the year “so they will experience firsthand what it means to share the Gospel,” Chan said.

“I always emphasize [sharing the Gospel on mission trips] should be the beginning, not the end,” the pastor said, “[so that] when they come home they should have developed a burden for people who don’t know Christ.”

Tucson Chinese Baptist Church is in its 24th year of week-long mission projects conducted at the request of eight Native American churches on Apache and Navajo reservations in Arizona. These range from VBS and sports camps to construction projects and youth activities.

“What we didn’t realize when we started was that Native Americans receive the Chinese much more openly than they would other groups,” Chan said. “We don’t have the past to deal with. It became easy for them and for us that we would go there every year.

“At the time [we started] there wasn’t any consistent group with them,” Chan added. “Many go there one to two years. We want to maintain a long-term ministry relationship. In order to have any impact, we figure it has to be more long-term.”

Chan now is coordinator of what started in 1992 with three Chinese churches participating in what is called YSMP: Youth Summer Mission Project. Today, the teams from 14 Chinese Baptist churches across the nation consist of about 240 participants, half of whom are teens.

“Many of the people who have become missionaries and pastors had their first experience with this Youth Summer Mission Project,” Chan said. “It’s a good way for them to develop the seeds of the passion for people who do not know Christ. So in a way, this is how we invest in the Cooperative Program for the future.”

Tucson Chinese Baptist Church has baptized about 80 people in the last 10 years. New members are immediately discipled and given opportunities to put their new faith into practice.

“In addition to those who make Tucson their permanent home, we also minister to those who stay in Tucson on a temporary basis so that when they do leave Tucson, they will be Christians on mission for God elsewhere,” Chan said.

“We focus on the growth of the church as well as the growth of the Kingdom of God.”