Born in Hong Kong, Andrew Chan looks and feels at home as he strolls down the busy streets of Chinatown Los Angeles. And much like his namesake, Andrew — one of Jesus' original twelve disciples — Chan glances around for someone to invite to church and win to Christ.
Chan and his wife, Edith, are Asian church planters and language strategists for the Southern Baptist Convention's North American Mission Board (NAMB). Missionaries since 1982, they live in Arcadia, about twenty miles northeast of downtown Los Angeles. Chan travels up and down California, where NAMB and the California Southern Baptist Convention support sixty-two Chinese churches and missions.
Converted and called to preach as a teenager in a Hong Kong high school, Chan always felt a burden for the lost people of Hong Kong, where he attended a local Bible seminary. But to become better equipped for the life of a missionary, he decided to come to the United States to attend a Baptist seminary. In California, he would meet his future wife, and later became the pastor of Chinese Grace Baptist Church, a Southern Baptist Church in the Los Angeles area. After a successful four-and-a-half years as pastor, he felt called to be a missionary.
Chan's mission field — over one million Chinese live in California — is ripe for the harvest, but laborers like Chan are few. He's one of over fifty-two hundred missionaries in the United States, Canada, and their territories supported by the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering for North American Missions.
"The Annie Armstrong Easter Offering means so much to us," Chan says. "When we need to support a new project or plant a new church, it takes a lot of financial help. We try to start two to three new Chinese mission churches in California each year. The Annie Armstrong Offering makes that possible.
"Our people can pray a lot and work hard, but they just don't have the financial ability without the Annie Armstrong Offering. So we need to give them help. And once in awhile, we see a new Chinese church become self-supporting within a year. We give God the honor and glory for those," Chan said.
When he's not planting new churches, Chan is busy translating, preaching, training, and mentoring throughout California. His primary focus is on Chinese churches, but he also offers expertise and support to other ethnic groups planting churches, especially Hispanics.
According to Chan, the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering helps cover the costs of translating and printing various types of training and Bible study materials in the two Chinese dialects, Mandarin and Cantonese. Mandarin is spoken by those from northern China and Taiwan, while Cantonese is the main language of south China, including Hong Kong. As a Southern Baptist missionary, Chan must speak both.
"The Chinese people of California come from all parts of China. If, as a pastor, I want to minister to them, I must be able to communicate with them in both languages. That's the key way to reach and nurture my people," said Chan.
A major part of Chan's role as "language strategist" requires the complicated translation of these educational materials into Chinese.
"People always want to study the Bible in their own native language," he said. "So with the material written in Chinese, my people will absorb more and will better understand what we're trying to accomplish in the Chinese Baptist church.
"I don't know how to type Chinese, but I have lay leaders who can type Chinese as fast as Americans can type English." Chan not only does the tedious translating — factoring in the various nuances of both Chinese and English — he also is the chief proofreader.
When they initially arrive in California, Chinese immigrants have a tendency to migrate toward Los Angeles' Chinatown. In fact, the largest Chinese Baptist church in California is on Yale Street in the southwest section of Chinatown Los Angeles. According to Chan, the majority of Chinese in California live in Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Jose, Orange County, and San Diego.
"When they come over here, they feel comfortable with the language, with the lifestyle, and they can settle down in Chinatown without worrying about the language or culture," he explained.
According to Chan, Chinese pastors need to be bilingual because they are not only responsible for reaching the older Chinese generation, but they need to reach the younger generations for Christ as well. Chinese Baptist churches include youth, college age, and young adults and, for them, English is the primary language. Many of these Chinese young people don't understand Chinese!
"In our Chinese Baptist churches in California, we have English Sunday School, English fellowship, and English discipleship," said Chan, who, on a recent Sunday — stylishly attired in a navy blue suit — preached in English with a Chinese interpreter. Immediately after the sermon, Chan donned a white robe and baptized new believers.
However, the emphasis, Chan said, is to establish and maintain one Chinese Baptist church under the same roof, not emphasizing one language or culture over another.
"That's why in a Chinese Baptist church you will see two or three different language groups — the English-speaking, the Mandarin-speaking, and the Cantonese-speaking. But they're all one church. The common language is English. The emphasis is on being a Christian," said Chan.
Chan said a current struggle for the sixty-two Chinese Baptist churches in California is to reach the thousands of unchurched restaurant workers in the state. Another priority is ministering to a vast population of educated Chinese in California, many of whom are college and university professors.
"In southern California, we also have thirty different Chinese-language newspapers, all free of charge. So you can imagine all of the educated people working for or just reading these newspapers. The majority of them are not Christians. We need to reach them," he said.
"My greatest challenge is looking for the appropriate pastor or minister or seminarian who will have the burden to start a new Chinese mission or church." Chan said the number of new Chinese churches is not keeping pace with the ever-increasing influx of Chinese immigrants into California.
"Pray for us as we need pastors who have a vision for starting Chinese churches," Chan said. "Pray that the Lord will send us those people. It's hard to find workers among Chinese churches because of the language issues. They have to be fluent in Chinese Mandarin and Cantonese, and at the same time, speak and read conversational English. Then, you also need to understand Chinese culture and relationships."
Why does Andrew Chan think God called him and wife Edith to their ministry in California?
"First, because I think God loves me, and He put me in this wonderful state. And He has opened my heart to minister to so many unchurched, lost Chinese people in California."
Chan says the "greatest joy is to have the opportunity to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ and to reach people. And once you have Jesus Christ, you will live a meaningful life, a godly life. Your life will be different, and it will make a difference to other lives. And when we start a new church, that church will grow and will start other churches that multiply the joy of talking about Jesus."
NAMB Fast Facts
• The 5,200 missionaries, 2,400 chaplains, and hundreds of thousands of mission volunteers are seeking to reach the estimated 244 million unbelievers in the United States, Canada, and their territories.
• Church and community ministries such as Pregnancy Care Center, literacy missions, Baptist center ministries, weekday ministries, and immigration and hunger ministries, result in more than 30,000 professions of faith each year.
• Over 40,000 people are trained in Southern Baptist Disaster Relief. In partnership with Baptist state conventions, 12.5 million meals — a new record — were served to victims of Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, and Wilma in Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas.