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Petaling Jaya EFC (Chinese) – New Blood For An Aging Church

0 Posted by - October 16, 2013 - Jubilee Church Articles

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The PJEFC Chinese church started as a cell group of seven elderly Chinese-speaking folks. For many years, the congregation comprised mainly the aged but along the way, the demographic changed.

Eleven years ago, Won Yee Sin got on a plane and left her hometown of Lahad Datu to live and work in the Klang Valley. On the flight, Yee Sin wondered about the new life waiting for her. Would she be able to make new friends? Was she in for a culture shock? Would she be able to find a church to attend?

This last concern preoccupied her as the plane took off. Silently, she prayed, “Lord, please help me find a suitable church”.

As the plane cruised in the sky, the lady in the next seat struck up a conversation, asking Yee Sin if this was her first time going to Kuala Lumpur and what she would be doing there. And then suddenly, “Are you a Christian?”

Yee Sin, 22, paused in momentary shock at the question. When she mumbled “Yes”, the lady asked another question.

“Do you already have a church to attend or do you have to look for one?”

“I’ll need to find one,” Yee Sin replied, thinking about her silent prayer just moments ago.

“Where will you stay?”

“In Petaling Jaya.”

“Oh, then you should come to my church, PJEFC! That’s Petaling Jaya Evangelical Free Church,” the lady said enthusiastically.

They exchanged contact numbers and Yee Sin said she would look for the church once she had settled down. Two months passed. She forgot about the conversation and the name “PJEFC” slipped from memory. Yee Sin followed another friend to an Anglican church but it was not to her liking.

Three months after moving to Petaling Jaya, she got a call from a woman named Grace who was introduced by a pastor from her hometown in Lahad Datu. “Why don’t you visit my church in PJ?” Grace said. When Yee Sin went, it turned out to be the Chinese congregation of PJEFC. The name rang a bell and with a smile, she knew God had answered her prayer on the plane. She liked the warm welcome by the pastors and church members. Immediately, she decided to stay.

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No weddings, only funerals

It was 2002 when Yee Sin moved to Petaling Jaya and joined the PJEFC Chinese church. She did not know it, but she was part of a stream of younger and middle-aged adults who would change the demographic of the church and alter its course.

Before 2000, the Chinese-speaking congregation of PJEFC had comprised about 60 people, mostly elderly folk. They had joined the church since its humble beginnings in 1983 as a result of personal evangelism by its members. New converts comprised more than half the congregation.

The Chinese church started as a home cell with seven senior citizens led by Sik Ming Chong and Ling Eng Piau. It lasted for two years before it disbanded.

The fellowship resurrected in a different form in 1989. The catalyst was PJEFC’s Easter service. It was decided that for this special meeting, the sermon in English would be simultaneously interpreted into Cantonese. PJEFC had just acquired wireless headsets for this purpose. From then on, Chinese interpretation of the Sunday pulpit message was provided every week for a group of senior citizens. For the next three years, the interpretation ministry continued. Among the regular interpreters were Dr Ng Bee Jee, Koh Kim Teng, Liao Poh Yin and Oh Yin Ling.

Around the same time, God was at work in the life of a Universiti Malaya Biochemistry lecturer, Dr Tan Nget Hong, who would later become Chairman of the Chinese Church.
“I was a man of science and reason, not faith,” recalls Tan of his resistance to Christianity. But as a result of a family tragedy, he became a believer and was mentored by PJEFC’s pastor at that time, Lim Soon Hock.

Not long after Tan joined PJEFC in 1990, Lim asked the ‘younger’ members of the Chinese-speaking component within the English service to consider starting their own ministry. At this point, about 20 people, mostly the elderly, relied on the interpretation services. The ‘younger’ ones who provided the interpretation were below the age of 50. They became the core group of leaders.

Soon, despite being a new Christian, Tan found himself providing pastoral care to the elderly folks. Some of these senior citizens were parents of English-speaking PJEFC members. When the group finally decided to separate from the English congregation, it fell on the core group comprising the ‘young ones’ to lead and organise the weekly meetings. What first began as a monthly Saturday afternoon Chinese tea fellowship gradually became the Sunday morning Chinese Worship Service. By then, it was October 1992 and the Chinese church was blessed with its first pastor, Tay Un Hui, who had just completed advanced theological studies in Taiwan.

For the rest of the 1990s, a number of seminary students and part-time workers helped to build the church. A home fellowship and a Children’s Ministry were started during this period. The church enjoyed numerical growth because of the evangelistic outreach by its members. But the new converts continued to be mainly elderly folk. This was not surprising as it was their peers who shared the gospel with them.

Tan, however, realised that an aging congregation would, in a matter of time, sound the death knell for the church.“We had no idea how to grow the church by reaching younger people. All around us were elderly people. They were new believers and semi-literate. There was no one to train to succeed us as leaders,” he says.

“Even Pastor Tay joked that in all the years he served the PJEFC Chinese church, he never once conducted a wedding or a children’s dedication. It was always funerals.”

New blood

Tan cannot place his finger on a single episode or defining moment that marked a turning point for the Chinese church.

“I really don’t know how it happened. I just know that things started to change from 2000 onwards. Somehow, more young adults started coming to the church and the new converts were of different ages,” he said.

Today, the Chinese church has a congregation of around 120 people of different ages with separate ministries for the youths, young adults and seniors. Everyone seems to know one another by name. People mingle after the 11am service for light refreshments every Sunday and once a month, the whole congregation bonds over lunch after the service.

Tan attributes the growth to personal evangelism undertaken by church members and by its full-time workers. Currently, the two Chinese church ministry workers, James Yong and Annie Lean, head the visitation ministry that includes visiting Chinese-speaking friends or relatives of the members from the English-speaking congregation.

“It is the Lord who truly builds His church. I feel that our full-time workers have been blessed by an evangelistic anointing. We would have remained an aging church if not for a breakthrough,” Tan observes.

Tan also feels the Chinese church’s journey mirrors what has been happening among the Malaysian Chinese-speaking community. Since the 1990s, he notes that evangelical Christianity has grown among the Chinese-speaking group, marked by the mushrooming of new Chinese churches. Before, Chinese churches planted by the mainline denominations kept largely to themselves.

With a larger group of people under the age of 40, the challenge for the PJEFC Chinese church is to develop the next generation of leaders. Tan, who became the Chairman in 2011, says leadership succession is one of his biggest concerns.

He should be encouraged by the younger ones like Yee Sin.

“I’m thankful for the full support and understanding from the church leaders. In every ministry that I’m involved with, they never hesitate to lend a helping hand. At the same time, they express their confidence in me without exerting any pressure,” says Yee Sin, who serves in the young adults’ ministry, the Chinese church library and the worship team.

If young and old alike, and the leaders of the church, can keep up this mutual support for one another as they serve together, surely the Lord who has brought them this far, will see to it that His church will always have shepherds to lead it.

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老化教会的新血

PJEFC八打灵播道会中文堂从一个只有七个年长者的细胞小组开始,多年来,会众主要由年长者组成,但是进入二十一世纪,教会的人口组成开始有很大的改变。

十一年前,黄仪欣乘搭一架班机,离开了她的故乡沙巴州的拿笃,前来巴生谷生活和工作。在飞机上,年仅廿二岁的她还在猜想着:等待着她的是怎样的新生活?她能不能交上新朋友?她会面对怎样的文化冲击呢?她能不能找到一所适当的教会落脚呢?

飞机起飞时,最后一个顾虑占据了她的心思,她就默默地祷告:“主啊,请帮助我找到一所合适的教会。”

当飞机航行在空中,邻座的女士就和她聊了起来,问仪欣是不是头一遭去吉隆坡,而她又想在那里做什么。突然之间那位女士问她:“你是一位基督徒吗?”

仪欣因为她提问的问题,愣了一下。当她喃喃说:“是的。”,那位女士又问她另一道问题:

“你已经心目中有了想去的教会了,还是在寻找一家呢?”

“我需要找一家教会。”仪欣回答对方,想着刚才她才做过的默祷。

“你住在哪里呢?”

“八打灵再也。”那位女士热切地说:“哦!那么你应该来我的教会,PJEFC(八打灵播道会)!

她们交换了彼此的联络电话号码,仪欣说一旦她安定下来了,就会找那所教会。两个月过去了,她忘记了之前的那番对话,“PJEFC”的名字也从她的记忆里溜掉了。仪欣跟随另一位朋友到一所圣公会聚会,但是却不能适应。

搬到八打灵再也的三个月后,她接到一位Grace打来的电话,Grace说是由仪欣在家乡拿笃的牧师所介绍的。Grace说“不如你来拜访我在八打灵再也的教会吧?”仪欣到了教会,才发现那所教会正好是PJEFC八打灵播道会中文堂。那个名字在她耳边响了起来,她会心一笑,知道神在飞机上已经应许了她的祷告。她喜欢那里的牧师们和会友们温情的接待,就立刻决定留了下来。

没有婚礼,只有丧礼

仪欣搬到八打灵再也时,正值2002年,她就参加了八打灵播道会中文堂。她自己浑然不知,她竟然就是将要导致教会的人口偏向较年轻和中年成人群的主流成员之一,这人口结构的改变,正要改变教会的走向。

在2000年之前,八打灵播道会大约有六十个会友,他们中间绝大多数是年长者。他们中间,有的在1983年教会初创时已经来到教会,他们多是通过个人布道信主。在这群人当中,有超过一半是新信徒。中文教会一开始时只有一个为数七人的细胞小组,都是乐龄人士,当时是由Sik Ming Chong 和林荣标弟兄带领,这个细胞小组维持了两年后就解散了。

1989年时,中文团契以不同的形式卷土重来,催生剂就是八打灵播道会英文堂的复活节特会。教会决定为这场特会中提供广东话同步翻译讲台信息。为了提供这项服务,教会采购了无线耳机。从那个特会以后,英文部主日敬拜也开始提供同样的服务,让那些参加聚会但不识英语的乐龄人士也能领受讲台信息。这翻译的事工继续了三年,参与这翻译事工的包括伍美意医生与 Koh Kim Teng, Liao Poh Yin和Oh Yin Ling等姐妹。

大约在同一时间,神在马大生物化学副教授陈业宏博士的生命里动工,他后来成为了中文堂的主席。

“我是个倾向用科学和理性来作分析的人,不是一个容易凭信心相信的人。”陈弟兄回忆他开始时对基督信仰的抗拒,但是因着家庭悲剧的冲击,他成为一名信徒,并得到当时八打灵播道会英文部牧者林顺福牧师的培训。

陈业宏弟兄在1990年加入八打灵播道会不久后,林牧师就邀请英文教会中会讲华语并“较为年轻”的一些会众,考虑是否愿意开始以华语为媒介语的事工。在那时候,大约有二十
来位不识英语的年长者参加英文聚会,但他们依赖翻译的服务来聆听讲台信息。那些提供翻译的,都是比较年轻,年龄在五十岁以下,这群人就组成了新开始华语事工的核心领袖。

尽管陈业宏弟兄当时还是一个新信徒(后来成为教会的长老),但他很快地也为华语事工里的年长者提供牧养关怀,这些乐龄人士中,有些是英文部会友的父母。当华语事工后来决定要脱离英语崇拜后,带领和筹划华语主日崇拜聚会的责任就落在这事工的核心团队身上。开始时只是每月举办一次在星期六下午的中文团契聚会,慢慢就演变成每个主日的中文崇拜聚会。当时正值1992年十月,中文堂聘请了首任牧师,就是刚在台湾修完他的高级神学教育的郑恩惠牧师。

九十年代其余时间,教会也得到一些神学生的协助,一起建立教会。在这段时期,教会开始了家庭团契和儿童事工。通过牧者和会友协力推传福音,教会人数也有所增长。然而,新信徒中主要还是年长者居多。这是正常现象,因为教会本来就是以年长者居多,他们带来的朋友,当然也是乐龄人士。

然而,陈长老察觉到,老化的会众迟早会为教会敲响死亡的丧钟。

他说:“对教会当如何吸引年轻人,我们毫无头绪。我们周围都是一些年长的信徒。他们是新信徒,其中许多还是半个文盲。在信徒中间,我们很难找到可以被训练起来接班的新一代
领袖。”“就算是郑牧师也曾开玩笑说,在他服侍八打灵播道会中文堂这些年间,他不曾主持过一场婚礼,或是一场献婴礼,但却主持过数不清的追思礼拜。”

新血

陈长老回忆说,他无法指出任何标志着中文教会转化的单一事件或决定性时刻 。

他说:“我真的不懂事情究竟怎么发生,我只知道从2000年开始,一切都改变了。更多的年轻人开始涌进教会,而信主的也开始有不同年龄的人。”

今天,中文堂会众人数大约120人,老中少都有,也有为青少年、青年和乐龄人士特设的事工。几乎每个人都懂得彼此的名字,每个星期天早上十一点的主日崇拜聚会结束后,人们还是流连忘返,在教会享用简单的茶点,而每个月一次,在聚会结束后,全体会众都会留下来,一起享用教会提供的午餐。陈长老把教会的成长归功于教会会友和全职同工个人传福音的结果。目前,两位教会事工的同工杨崇文与练玉清带领着探访与关怀事工,他们探访关怀的对象,也包括了英文部会众们那些讲华语/广东话的朋友或亲戚。此外,教会也有一位义务传道林若望传道多方面协助教导的事工。

陈长老观察说:“建立教会的是神。我看到多年来教会的牧者,传道和同工都得到神所赐给的传福音的恩膏。若不是神赐给我们突破,教会必仍停留在老人聚会的阶段。”

陈长老也认为:八打灵播道会中文堂的成长旅程正反映出神在马来西亚华人社会在行奇事。他留意到,从九十年代开始,讲华语的福音派基督徒人数就在快速增长,可见的迹象就是新的中文教会如雨后春笋般冒出来。之前,由主流宗派拓殖的中文教会大多只是保持原状。有了更多四十岁下的会友,八打灵播道会中文堂接下来的挑战就是要致力训练下一代的领袖。在2010年成为教会主席的陈长老,提到教会领导的承传是他最关注的事。

他应该因仪欣这一辈的年轻信徒的加入教会而受到鼓舞。

仪欣说:“我感谢教会领袖的鼎力支持和谅解。凡我所参与的每一个事工,他们都毫不犹豫地伸出援手。他们充分地信任我,但却没有给我施压。”仪欣所参与的事工,包括成青团契,教会图书馆和敬拜团。

只要教会的会众不分老少,与教会的领袖在事奉中继续相互扶持,那位一路来引领他们的神,必会确保祂的教会有带领的牧人。