International Membership of the New Apostolic Church
As at 2007 the international membership of the New Apostolic Church comprised mainly of African and Asian members who made up almost 90% of the total membership of the New Apostolic Church, globally. During this time many South Africans went abroad for employment, study and various other opportunities. Typical South African New Apostolic members tend to hold fast to the values taught to them in their home congregations such as, continuing in the fellowship, attending divine services and, staying involved in church activities like the choir or orchestra, even if they were out of South Africa.
South Africans are generally perceived as active and passionate members of the New Apostolic Church internationally. Their love for music is well known in the New Apostolic world, especially in Europe where many South Africans got married to European members of the church. Their passion for the Lord’s work and music made integration into foreign congregations all over the world much easier. And today wherever I attend divine service in the world, when I say “I’m from Cape Town” the members immediately talk about the beautiful music presented and performed by South Africans.
The situation in Asia
However, the situation in Asia was and is still today totally different. The New Apostolic Church in Asia was under the care of European ministers, who had emigrated to Canada. South African NAC members in Asia generally agreed that whilst they were easily accepted by local members, the Canadian ministers were not so welcoming and they got the feeling that, as South African members, they needed to “Know their place in the church”. Some of these members were reportedly called “Barnes’ sh*t”, a reference to the now retired District Apostle Noel Barnes. Many a time, members that were previously highly involved in musical development, conducting and choir work had to merely “sit in the benches” once they moved to Asia, despite the severe need for musical development and the sincere desire from the local members to learn more about NAC music. Sadly, some of these members also left the New Apostolic Church as a result of the treatment they received from these European ministers in Asia.
The situation in China
During this period the NAC Cape District Church decided to withdraw from supporting the work in China. At that time my dad was still heavily involved in business activities in China and we were also in the process of completing our studies and therefore my parents decided it would be best if our family continues in China. We were having a great time with our Chinese brethren under the leadership of the Chinese Apostle Daniel Wang.
My brother decided to get married and invited Chinese NAC youth members as well as the Chinese Apostle to attend his wedding ceremony in South Africa as well as the Youth Convention 2008. Excitement was high and preparation for our Chinese youth members to visit South Africa, got underway in all earnestness.
My dad got involved in arranging travel visas for our Chinese members to visit South Africa and we had regular meetings and choir practices to prepare our Chinese members for their visit to the Youth Convention 2008 in South Africa.
Dismissal of Chinese Apostle Wang and the instruction to “stay away from Chinese members”
With all the excitement in planning our visit to South Africa with our Chinese brethren, it was with extreme shock that my brother received a phone call from the District Apostle (responsible for NAC Southeast Asia), informing him that Chinese Apostle Daniel Wang was dismissed as an Apostle and we must “stay away from the Chinese members”
Up to this point in time, as indicated in Chapter 2, Chinese and foreign members of the New Apostolic Church in China were allowed by the church to associate with one another. This included; having divine services together, having social fellowship as well as, having various church activities together. However, two majorly impactful decisions were made by the church, namely:
- To dismiss Chinese Apostle Daniel Wang and at the same time discontinue soul-care for the approximately more than 16,000 local Chinese New Apostolic Church members and ministers in the Apostle Daniel Wang’s work area,
- To instruct South African members of the New Apostolic Church to disengage from every single local Chinese member of the church in China and the implementation of a system of separate soul-care for local Chinese members and foreign members, living in China.
These two decisions resulted in the segregation or separation between local Chinese and foreign (Non-Chinese) members of the New Apostolic Church in China. As a South African, I couldn’t help but feel that this system and these decisions resulted in a system that carried characteristics very similar to that of “Apartheid” (a South African political system aimed at segregating whites and people of colour). I want to point out that the Chinese government had no hand in this.
Soul care discontinued for members in Chinese Apostle Wang’s work area
Whilst I could understand the dismissal of an Apostle, as it is not the first time this happened in the church, I could not understand why our church would stop soul care for the thousands of members in the Apostle’s work area. The Divine Service Guide was stopped from being distributed to the Chinese office bearers, who formed part of the Apostle’s work area and these ministers were completely ignored by the church leaders
As indicated in Chapter 2, the work area of Chinese Apostle Wang consisted of 285 congregations, 883 office bearers and about 16,700 members. Many attempts were made to get answers from the church leadership but these attempts were just ignored. We could not answer our Chinese brothers and sisters as it was our first time to experience such evilness, first hand. How could this even happen in a church that professed the Apostle ministry as “the ministry of reconciliation” and preach that we must “love our neighbours”. Were the thousands of Chinese members and their Apostle getting too close with the South African members so that they had to be discarded?
We sought answers from our parents, who were still in South Africa at the time and my brother tried his utmost to keep the members together whilst, we tried to get answers for them. As South African New Apostolic Church members, it was extremely difficult for us to understand what was happening. We had many situations in South Africa, where the ministry of senior office bearers was taken away, but the members in their work area were still taken care of. These members were never ostracized because it just so happens that they resided in the work area of a delinquent minister.
Recently one of the Bishops in South Africa decided to leave the New Apostolic Church to join another Christian denomination, however, the members in his work area are still being cared for by office bearers of the New Apostolic Church Southern Africa.
In South Africa my dad came under pressure to ignore the calls of our Chinese brethren, who were innocent in this situation. My mom cried when my dad told her that the church leaders were adamant that we walk away from our Chinese brothers and sisters, who we became very close with, as well as the Chinese Apostle Wang.
It was, therefore, with great sadness and deep heartache that we had to make the decision, on a church level, to “stay away” from our Chinese friends, brothers and sisters. I wonder if Jesus would be happy for His brothers and sisters to be separated from one another? The first Christians were living examples of what to do when faced with a situation that we were presented with.
Nobody ever prepared me for what was happening in the church in China. Outside of South Africa, a lot of South African New Apostolic members have resettled in Australia and New Zealand and I sometimes wonder how they would have responded if they were asked to stay away from the local Australian or New Zealand members of the church. Another thought, do you know of any separation between local and foreign NAC members in any other part of the world?
Impact on Foreign NAC members living in North China and members living in Shanghai and surrounding areas.
Whilst completing my Master’s Degree, I spent a year in Shanghai (another major city in China) to further my research and I soon discovered that the decision to separate Chinese members from Foreign members was directed at South African members living in China and NOT other foreign nationalities, as the situation in Shanghai, where predominately European (German) NAC members could be found, was totally different.
As mentioned previously, myself and the other South African members involved with the Chinese brethren were specifically instructed that we should stay away from Chinese when worshipping, that we are putting the Chinese members lives in danger and to be honest it was almost like listening to a scary story your grandma would tell you as a kid. Needless to say, I was very fearful of mixing with Chinese when it came to the church.
So, imagine my surprise when I walk into my first divine service in Shanghai and find that several Chinese nationals are in attendance! I immediately thought to myself “weren’t we instructed to not worship with the Chinese? Didn’t the leadership say that we are: ‘endangering their lives’ or does this instruction ONLY apply to South African members in China?” I still believe that this is a valid thought as the membership in Shanghai is predominantly German, so I can’t help but think that there is a double standard. Was the Nazi spirit still active in the church, as it once was among our church leaders in Germany?
In Shanghai, European members and Chinese members continue to have combined services with many European brothers having Chinese girlfriends and Chinese wives. This is the situation up to the present day.
The official reason for the segregation/separation was given as, “for the safety of our Chinese members”. This reasoning raises many questions. One example, “Why can European or German members and Chinese members of the church still have combined fellowship and church activities in Shanghai, China?” These gatherings sometimes take place in the presence of a visiting Apostle, District Apostle or Chief Apostle.
The fact that we were now isolated from our Chinese brethren caused great concern for my mom and dad and after consulting their Apostle, my parents decided to transfer our NAC membership into China (under the care of the District Church, NAC Southeast Asia). They decided to move to China to be with us and to support us during this period of our lives. This was not an easy decision for my parents but I am eternally grateful for their vision and that they practically showed us as children what it means to apply: “We are not of those who draw back” in our lives. I know of very few families that would have taken such a life changing decision.
Coincidentally on South African Freedom Day (27 April 2008) our family handed over our transfer papers to the then District Apostle Helper Hebeisen and District Apostle Latorcai in the presence of now retired Chief Apostle Leber. I will never forget that divine service in Ulsan, South Korea, where Chief Apostle Leber personally shared his well-wishes with our family and promised that he will always remember us in China. Chief Apostle also mentioned that 27 April was also the birthday of his deceased mother
Whenever South Africans celebrate their freedom from Apartheid on 27th April each year, we remember our official transfer into Mainland China and we remind ourselves that the work in China still needs a lot of prayers, intercessions and reconciliation and maybe one day, God willing, we can also be free to worship our Heavenly Father, together with our Chinese brothers and sisters. We hold fast to the word given to us by the Chief Apostle Leber, “We are not of those who draw back”. (To be continued ……….Chapter 4)
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