6 February 2023

Culturally specific detail may help Chinese Christians connect with faith course

The Reverend Peter Shih. Picture: supplied.

Jenan Taylor

20 September 2022

Chinese-Australian parishioners are likely to engage better with an evangelism course that is culturally relevant, according to a leader.

St Hilary’s Mont Albert North associate minister the Reverend Peter Shih said he believed a recently released Mandarin specific Alpha course may help Chinese-Australians feel more at ease with the content.

The church is set to run the new version of the Alpha course for its Mandarin speaking community in late September.

Alpha is an evangelistic tool to introduce people to Christianity concepts and help them engage with their faith.

It usually involves small groups of people meeting together for a number of weeks and watching and then discussing visual and other course materials. It typically culminates in a weekend retreat for participants. 

But Mr Shih said previous Alpha materials had been geared largely towards Western communities, and tended to be either subtitled or dubbed for multicultural use.

“People would say the content was great, but that they didn’t feel connected to it,” he said. “Some of my parishioners said if it was wholly in Mandarin it might be more likely to draw them.”

Read more: Aged care residents find faith program absorbing

Mr Shih said the new culturally relevant version featured a film that was entirely in Mandarin, had people of Chinese background, and had been filmed in Mandarin speaking regions including Hong Kong and Singapore.

He also believed that the film’s English subtitles would potentially help second generation Mandarin speakers feel comfortable with the material or more psychologically connected to it.

St Mark’s Templestowe and St Timothy’s Bulleen senior minister the Reverend Canon Ben Wong said he hadn’t used the previous Alpha versions on his Chinese parishioners because the content had been too Westernised for them.

Mr Wong said that in the traditional material there was too much focus on whether Jesus was God, and far too little on whether God existed.

As many people from mainland China were atheists, it was important in the first instance to get the message about the existence of a creator across to them, he said.

“Once they accept that there is a creator, it’s very easy for people to accept that Jesus or God is the creator,” Mr Wong said.

He said for that very reason, he had tended to use his own evangelism materials, which were contextualised for mainland Chinese people, rather than Alpha materials.

Alpha Asia has also launched two further films that are contextually relevant to Indonesian and Indian audiences as part of its Asian Alpha Film Series.

Mr Shih said St Hilary’s Mont Albert North would run the Alpha course using the typical format.  

For the retreat part, he hoped to use one of the other St Hilary’s sites and run it as a whole-day event.

More information is available at sthils.com.

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