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Passing the Torch

August 1, 2005

In Chinese culture, one of the strongest traditions is the importance of education. There is great respect for learning and scholarship. Parents are willing to make almost any sacrifice so their child can have the chance to study. Hong Kong students are fortunate that they get 9 years of free education. If they do well in examinations, they can continue on to high school and university.

In mainland China, the situation varies from place to place. In the poorer areas, some students cannot even afford to go to elementary school. That’s why Hong Kong Christian Council set up the Back to School Project in 1994 to help these needy children.  The project, which is run together with the Amity Foundation, now sponsors over 50,000 students for Grades 1-6.

In such a situation, you can imagine then what it must take to get through high school and university. Those who qualify for a place in the university system are indeed China’s best and the brightest. Unfortunately, some outstanding students can’t afford the university fees (around US$1200 per year) and have been forced to give up their dream of higher education.  When some of the Back to School Project sponsors heard about this, they had a heart to help and asked HKCC what we could do. Working again with the Amity Foundation, HKCC started “Project Torch” in 2000 to sponsor needy young people for their university studies in the Nanjing area. The first batch of graduates finished in 2004, and now there are over 150 students being sponsored in 16 schools.

In June, I had the opportunity to go to Nanjing to meet some of these young people and share the joy of those graduating after 4 hard years of study. I was the guest of a retired Hong Kong couple who sponsor 5 freshmen students. Mr. and Mrs. Wong came to know me through our Christian radio broadcasts. They told me they especially enjoyed my programs and thought I might be a good person to talk with the students about the Christian faith.  Like many young people in China, these students didn’t have any exposure to religion. Mrs. Wong suggested I bring along some tapes of our radio programs as a way of sharing Christ and myself. She recommended I pick programs that didn’t talk about sin and hell at the onset. I heartily agreed.

I was delighted to meet these bright young women and men. They were so eager to get to know their sponsors and Hong Kong friends who had traveled all the way to Nanjing to greet them. I was very impressed by their openness and sincerity. To see young people so grateful for what they have and so diligent in their studies was truly inspiring. I think Hong Kong youth could learn something from them.

When the students found out I was from the U.S., they had many more questions: Why did I come to Hong Kong? What do I do there? How do I know about this Project Torch?  Sharing my faith story was not difficult in such a context. It was a new experience to talk about myself with people who didn’t know what a minister was or what a church is or what Christians believe. With the tapes I gave them, I carefully chose programs that spoke in simple language about God’s love and grace in Jesus Christ.  It made me realize that sharing the Gospel means first sharing the good news that there is a God and that God cares for each of us. Such a basic notion – and yet, so many have never heard it.

As we were getting ready to leave, the students asked when I would come back again. Would I return next year? I promised I would try my best.  We exchanged email addresses with promises to write each other.  By the time I got back to my office, I had already received an email from one of the young women whose English was particularly good.  We have been writing back and forth ever since.

Project Torch hopes that as students finish their studies, they will keep the fire burning bright. They have a great future ahead of them and much to contribute to the world. I pray that God will give each of them strength and courage to be a light shining in the darkness, a light that cannot be extinguished.

In Christ,

Judy Chan

Judy Chan is a missionary serving with the Hong Kong Christian Council.  She is responsible for communications for the Council.  She is also in charge of ecumenical radio broadcasting ministry, English publications and ecumenical partnerships in Hong Kong and overseas.

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