BILL SHERMAN World Religion Writer
After decades of isolation, China is opening to the economy and culture of the West, according to the founder of China Call, a Tulsa-based ministry.
Kevin Hardin, who lived in China from 1989 until 1996, said young Chinese people are interested in everything Western — movies, music, technology, and even Christianity.
“There is a great revival going on in the official (state-sanctioned) and the unofficial churches,” he said.
Young people are flocking to churches that once were attended only by the old, he said.
Churches are full, and more church buildings are being built.
An estimated 80 million of China’s 1.3 billion people are Christian, he said.
China allows Christians to practice their faith, but not to overtly evangelize, he said. He declined to discuss widespread reports of persecution of the unofficial church.
Hardin, who returned last month from a three-week trip to China with a martial arts team, said individuals there have much more freedom than in past decades.
Terms like democracy and market economy are being discussed in what once was a strictly controlled communist world.
Not all of the influences from the West have been good, according to Hardin.
Government officials in the traditionally conservative society are concerned about an increase in crime, drugs and sexual promiscuity among the young, he said.
Hardin said when he and his wife, Karen, lived in China in the early 1990s, college-age and younger students were not allowed to date. Now many couples in college live together off campus. Pregnancy and abortion are on the rise.
The sexual revolution that took 40 years to develop in the United States occurred in five to 10 years in China, he said.
Chinese young people think Hollywood represents America, he said.
“They see Americans as prosperous and powerful, and they want to emulate them,” he said, including a sexually liberated lifestyle.
Part of the vision of China Call is to help young people in China develop healthy moral values and character.
He takes entertainment and sports teams into China that perform in public and private schools, and then talk about moral issues and character development, without overt evangelizing.
Hardin said he tells young people that movies do not reflect the lives of most Americans, and that promiscuity is not good for them, or for society, a message they more readily accept from an American than from their own government.
The Chinese government welcomes that message from an American, he said.
On his latest trip to China, in October and November, Hardin took members of the Combat Team, another Tulsa-based ministry.
Brian Bryan, president of the Combat Team, said he went expecting to find the Chinese people reserved and difficult to reach.
“The rapport we had with them was awesome,” he said, “Their hearts were so open.
“I loved the Chinese people.”
Bryan said his martial arts team put on demonstrations in schools and on the streets, and then talked to young people through an interpreter.
“We told them to stay focused on their dreams and to stay away from drugs and alcohol that can steer them away from their goals,” he said.
Chinese young people were fascinated by Americans doing martial arts, an ancient form of self defense that originated in China, he said.
Bryan is a seventh-degree black belt in Tae Kwon Do, fifth-degree black belt in Aikido, and Golden Gloves boxing champion in the Florida-Caribbean region.
He is a martial arts instructor in the Tulsa area, and travels widely, doing demonstrations in U.S. schools, and also in Africa, Central and South America and Asia. After the demonstrations, he talks about his Christian faith. Unlike China, most nations he visits allow him to proclaim the Christian message openly, he said.
Hardin said Combat Team members are perfect for working in China because they are accustomed to presenting a strong moral message without overt Christianity in American public schools.
Hardin said he felt called to China several years after graduating from Oral Roberts University in 1985.
During his seven years in China, he and his wife taught English, studied Chinese and helped organize other U.S. volunteers to China.
The Chinese government welcomes Americans to help their society with language, science and technology, he said.
American Christians are free to share their own spiritual lives, and to explain American culture, he said, although they are not free to evangelize on the streets, or to overtly proselytize.
For example, during the Christmas season, or Easter, it would be acceptable to show the “Jesus” film in a classroom, and to explain how Americans celebrate those holidays, he said.
“If you go with a humble attitude, not like you have all the answers, but asking how can we help? . . how can we be your friends? . . . you can overcome most suspicions,” he said.