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It's often said that religion is one of the most under-reported topics in our nation's media. Over the next few months, we’ll be looking at some of the lesser-known faith communities in the Ozarks, ranging from a wide spectrum of beliefs. Today, KSMU’s Jennifer Moore takes you inside a Sunday morning service at the Chinese Christian Church of Springfield.
Early Sunday morning, as the rain trickles down outside, seven musicians are warming up in a two-story brick building near the intersection of Kansas and Chestnut Expressways. This is the Chinese Christian Church of Springfield. It probably sounds similar to any other evangelical praise band…except the hymns are all in Chinese.
Two Americans volunteer their time with the band: one woman plays the piano, and a young man hoping to be a missionary plays the drums.
The church is affiliated with the Assemblies of God. It was founded in the 80s by a seminary student in Springfield. The first members began meeting at home Bible studies, before borrowing a basement room at Calvary Temple in central Springfield for regular church services.
The church then bought and moved into its own building.
That’s the pastor of the church. Although Cheuk grew up an Atheist in China, when he became a Christian, he changed his name to Philip, after the evangelist in the New Testament.
The Sunday morning service officially begins with hymns. Latecomers trickle in quietly and leave their umbrellas at the door. Before long, the small sanctuary is full, with about 70 people in attendance.
Music: “Ab-ba Fu, Wo Di Xin Xiang Ni Hu Qiu...”
One song is called “Abba, Fu,” or “Abba, Father.” They’re singing songs in Chinese, laced with Hebrew words, in a predominately English-speaking land.
Next, an announcer welcomes those visitors in the audience, including some relatives visiting from China.
Everything in the service is bilingual; it's first spoken in Chinese, then phrase by phrase, a translator repeats the message in English.
Next, they move onto prayer requests, beginning with those hurting from the bad economy.
The speaker also requests that members pray for the situation of the church parking lot: the asphalt is torn up from wear and tear, and the church is looking for a company to fix it.The church survives financially on offerings and from support from a few well-to-do members.
After two women gather the offering, the kids go off to Sunday School, and the pastor reads a passage of Scripture, before beginning his sermon. The topic today is: Life in times of turmoil.
Perhaps the most significant difference between this congregation and others just down the road from it is the background of its members. Again, Pastor Philip Cheuk:
"Pretty much all are converts. I think, in our congregation, 95 percent are converts. And many of them have been converted in this church," he says.
Cheuk says this means the church members have an appreciation for their faith that someone who was born into it might take for granted.
Also, the church members know that their freedom to worship is much greater in the United States than in China. Cheuk says the ruling communist party in China allows Christians to meet, as long as they don’t criticize the government or become too powerful.
He said in the past 20 years, though, restrictions on Christian groups have eased somewhat in his native country.
Meanwhile, the Chinese Christian Church in Springfield continues to grow. Its members place a strong emphasis on sharing their faith with others. Cheuk says he believes the freedom he and his brothers and sisters in faith have found here in America has helped Christianity gain a stronger foothold in mainland China.
Join us again tomorrow at the same time, when we step inside a children’s Sunday School class to look at the younger generation within the Chinese Christian Church in Springfield.
For KSMU News, I’m Jennifer Moore.