By Paul Hoard
It started as a plan to turn their “church inside out so they could turn their community upside down for Christ,” according to Kyle Christiansen, the elder assigned to oversee church planting at the Grace Community Church (GCC), a Grace Brethren Church in Frederick, Md. They wanted to plant another church. What they didn’t expect was that the plan would take an international focus.
Over a three-year period, the congregation focused on how they could minister to others. They sent short-term mission teams to India, Siberia, New York City, Toronto, and to some Baltic countries. They even sponsored two groups who went to New Orleans to assist with the cleanup following Hurricane Katrina. The effect was dramatic. Christiansen says the congregation “moved from a church with missions to a church on a mission.”
The Frederick church grew quickly, and in line with their missions’ mind-set, they began considering parenting a new, daughter church. They looked at different avenues such as partnering with other churches or taking 50 members of GCC to start another congregation. It soon became apparent that the timing wasn’t right for such a move.
Enter the Frederick Grace Chinese Fellowship, a group of about 10 couples, some of whom had started to attend GCC. The Fellowship had begun in 1999 under the leadership of William and Angela Fu, who had a moved to the city from Hong Kong when he took a job at Southern Research Institute, a non-profit microbiology research company. While the group enjoyed the English services at GCC, they still wanted to have a worship focus that was distinctly Chinese.
At the same time, the church was considering how they could minister to various ethnic groups. Located within a 45-minute drive of Washington, D.C., Frederick has a diverse population of nearly 53,000 people and is considered a bedroom community for the nation’s capital. Christiansen says that regional demographics report that nearly 50 percent of people moving into the D.C. area are internationals. The county surrounding Frederick is home to more than 6,000 Hispanics and more than 3,000 people of Asian ethnicity, according to the 2000 census. The vast majority of the El Salvadorian population in the county lives within one mile of the Frederick church, according to Christiansen, an architect who has attended the church for more than 10 years.
So when the Frederick Grace Chinese Fellowship approached the GCC leadership about using the church facility for their meetings, it seemed a win-win situation. The GCC would assist the growing group with their outreach in the community, while the Chinese would have a place to meet and fellowship.
The Chinese Fellowship gathers at the church building on Old National Pike on Friday nights and at 11:15 a.m. Sundays for teaching. William Fu is the acting pastor for the group, while Christiansen and his wife Sandy, who is medical director of the Frederick Crisis Pregnancy Center, CARENET, assist in a coaching role. The Chinese members are free to participate in existing GCC programs and five Chinese couples have participated in GCC cell groups to learn how to lead them. Eventually they will help establish groups within the Chinese Fellowship.
Blending the two groups has gone well, according to Christiansen. Each encourages its members to get acquainted with the other. For example, Jim and Jenny Boyer, a retired couple, developed a burden for the Chinese church and began inviting them into their home. They “quickly fell in love with them [Chinese church],” notes Christiansen. The Boyers now host a Bible study for Chinese people.
Another member of GCC, Elizabeth Chung, also felt called to work with the Chinese community. While she is not directly involved in church planting, she has “been very instrumental in the community,” says Christiansen. Through her work at a social service agency, she has been able to secure grants that help them assimilate into the U.S. culture. She has also offered English as a Second Language (ESL) classes at the church that has encouraged Chinese students and adults to become involved in the GCC community.
The goal of the Chinese group is to become a Grace Brethren church that disciples new believers before they move on to other locations in the U.S. or around the world. Because most of their fellowship is comprised of highly educated individuals with professional positions, many of the members move out of Frederick as new job opportunities become available.
“Many are in the Frederick area for only six months, or for one or two years,” GCC Pastor R. Greene says. “They have a working visa with a sponsoring organization. Many are married men whose wives and children are still in China. Their mind-set often is to live as inexpensively as possible in the U.S., sending home as much of their income as possible.”
Some of the Chinese, Greene says, would like to transition their working visas into American citizenship. This would, he points out, create a more stable core for the Chinese Fellowship. “They help each other through the citizenship process, with ESL classes, and immigration attorneys,” he said.
Christiansen says that the biggest problem in reaching the Chinese population for Christ is contacting the blue collar workers. Often in this country at the behest of a relative to work in a restaurant or other business, they work long hours that prohibit them from attending church at traditional times.
“Many of the people in the Chinese Fellowship are seekers and brand-new Christians. They have never heard teaching about giving tithes and sacrificial offerings to the Lord,” Greene adds.
In spite of these obstacles, the Chinese Fellowship recently made a faith pledge of $28,000, another couple from GCC has also donated $5,000, and Grace Brethren North American Missions has made a $30,000 grant to be used toward the hiring of a Chinese pastor for this young flock. The goal, eventually, is to see this young congregation “leave home, but maintain a strong relationship,” according to Christiansen.
“These Chinese are eager, and they need leadership training,” Greene says. “We need to pour ourselves into helping gifted leaders-we need to intentionalize our relationships with the Chinese people.”
The intentional effort to befriend the Chinese has led the Frederick congregation to open their doors to other nationalities. Currently, there are three other international ministries meeting at the church that reaches out to Koreans, Latin Americans (primarily El Salvadorians), and Burmese.
And it all started with a desire to be intentional about reaching their community for Christ.
Paul Hoard, a Grace College communications major from Ankara, Turkey, contributed to this story. He was the 2006 summer editorial intern at FGBC World and BMH Books.