Lau Reports on Nation in Transition

With the reunion of Hong Kong and Mainland China just nine months away, The Salvation Army is poised to strengthen its mission and ministry to countless thousands of Chinese living in a nation in transition.

The Army is now providing medical, educational and social welfare assistance in Mainland China through 25 projects in nine provinces, mainly in rural, poverty stricken areas. All are joint ventures with local governments and communities, initiated at the request of the government. All bear the witness of the familiar Army shield on the premises.

“The Chinese government welcomes The Salvation Army due to its charitable work,” says Lt. Colonel James Lau, Hong Kong officer commanding, who provided New Frontier with an exclusive interview. “They know us well, and know we are a Christian organization.” He notes they openly wear Salvation Army uniforms while visiting. Although the Army isn’t able to do public evangelism along with its social work, personal evangelism is a natural byproduct.

Lau, accompanied by Alfred H.M. Tsang of the Army’s China Development Department, visited the U.S. recently to meet with the Salvation Army World Service Office (SAWSO) representatives at National Headquarters in Alexandria, VA, to discuss funding and training for personnel for Army projects in China.

They also met with Chinese officers appointed from Hong Kong to New York City’s Chinatown. While in the West, they participated in anniversary celebrations at the San Francisco Chinatown Corps, where Colonel Dennis Phillips dedicated Lt. Colonel Check Yee for service in China.

Hand picked by General Paul A. Rader, Yee leaves for China November 4 to establish the first official Salvation Army office in China in more than four decades. His responsibilities will include building a closer relationship with the government, and generating funding for Army projects. A native of China, his command of Cantonese, Mandarin and English will be a boon, Lau notes, enabling him to train workers as well.

“I left China nearly 50 years ago,” says Yee. “My heart has never stopped thinking of her well being for a moment, especially when I was enjoying freedom and material abundance in America. Now that I’m retired, it’s time to return to my homeland to be involved. I’m amazed to witness God’s timing at this new turning point for the Salvation Army’s service in China.”

The Army is in the process of registering with the Chinese government as a development organization. Tsang, who is the director for China Projects, has headed the department since it opened four years ago. A “faith” work at its inception, with no designated funding, it has miraculously generated more than $3.7 million dollars in projects ranging from women’s literacy programs to rebuilding schools and hospitals. In just the past few months, 120 tons of rice, 2,200 quilts, and 4,000 cotton overcoats have been distributed to flood disaster victims. Since 1994, 27 primary and two secondary schools have been rebuilt. More than 600 biogas systems have been built in villages to provide energy. Tsang expresses a vital need for additional officers and project managers to oversee the growing work.

He also states many government officials have a keen awareness of the Army’s history, and can even speak of Ballington Booth. They also have a high regard for the Army’s desire to help local communities. One Oxford-educated official, says Tsang, “told me in impeccable English that if China can register businesses that take money out of the country, why not register The Salvation Army, that brings money in?”

And what about July 1, 1997, when the transition takes place? Lau doesn’t anticipate changes in Hong Kong regarding The Salvation Army. “The Army sees more positive than negative aspects. We see it as an opportunity. That’s why we’ve been working so hard the past few years.”

He adds, “I pray God will open China’s eyes to accept a more peaceful and modern way of life. We are praying for their leadership.”

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