Chinese residents maintain fellowship

By Sheri Frey

NIU’s Cantonese/Mandarin Bible Study offers local Chinese residents a chance at fellowship.

But these students face a problem in studying the Bible. They speak two different dialects.

The group divides into three smaller groups so that Cantonese- and Mandarin-speaking students each can study in their native languages. A third group—the “gospel” group—is for non-believers, said Hsing-Chian Hsieh, the Bible study group’s director.

“In Christ, everything is possible,” she said in reference to the language problem. Hsieh is from Venezuela, and speaks Mandarin and Taiwanese.

Chinese is written with one set of characters, but can be read in different dialects, said David Cheung, a member of the Bible study group.

“Usually when most people know Cantonese, it may be easier for them to learn Mandarin,” he said. “Singing together, it doesn’t matter. A group of northern people (from the United States) could sing with a group of southern people. Even French and German can sing the same hymn together.”

While most members of the fellowship speak English, they prefer to use their native language, said Cheung, who is originally from Hong Kong and speaks Cantonese.

Cheung, who is studying to earn his doctoral degree in curriculum and instruction, has been at NIU 10 years. He remembers how the Bible study group began.

“A Cantonese Bible study started around ‘75 or ’76. There were only three Christians. It happens they were all from Hong Kong and they were all immigrants. A few years later, a Mandarin study group formed,” he said.

He said some group members lived in the same residence hall in the late ‘70s or early ’80s. The two groups began studying together, at first meeting once or twice a semester.

In 1980 or 1981, the two groups merged permanently and worshipped at the Immanuel Lutheran Church. When Judson Baptist ministries moved from Immanuel Lutheran to its own building, the Cantonese/Mandarin Bible study began to use Judson’s facilities to hold meetings.

“When two groups combine, there are some cultural and language differences. Some of the members didn’t feel too comfortable, but the study became more stable,” Cheung said.

He said the group has maintained its current size—about 20 members—for the last four or five years. Members come from Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, Mainland China and other countries.

Ella Pang from Hong Kong speaks Cantonese. She has been with the Bible study since she came to NIU five years ago.

“I came every Saturday. It became part of my life,” she said. “Every semester we have people accept Christ, and we have people baptized within the group.”

Hsieh said the fellowship is not only for NIU students. Members come from Rockford and Chicago, she said.

Speakers occasionally address the group, she said. They also present movies in Cantonese and Mandarin, if the same film is available. On Saturday night, the group showed a movie in English with Chinese subtitles. The group meets at Saturdays at 7 p.m. at Judson Baptist Fellowship, 449 Normal Road.

At the beginning of each semester, group members visit Chinese people in the community and phone them to tell them about the fellowship, said Hsieh.

“Our work is not the quantity of people, it’s the quality. We believe in God’s work. He will bring more people to join us.”