Bridging the East and West
Steve Chong, founder of the RICE movement, speaks about the unique Asian Christian voice and worldwide revival
What do you think is unique about the Asian Christian voice?
It is Asia’s time right now. The rise of Asia is recognized by all domains of society, secular or Christian. I believe that God is raising up Asia to catalyze global transformation.
What’s unique about Asians is that wherever in the world we are, we tend to congregate in big cities. This is due to the choices we tend to make when it comes to pursuing education and growing businesses. Asians tend to rise quickly at work and be given great authority in their spheres of influence.
The East is known for some really wonderful virtues like the spirit of surrender, humility, respect for elders, a desire for excellence and an ability to work well with others. Our culture tends to think communally rather than individualistically.
When you combine these qualities in Asians who have grown up in a more open and creative Western culture, that’s when we start seeing massive impact.
What are your views on the concept of “convergence” when it comes to Asia and the rest of the world?
Convergence between Asia and the rest of the world is the coming together of two completely different and sometimes opposite worldviews in a time where the epicenter of the world is shifting. If the 19th Century was the British Imperial Century, then the 20th Century was the American Century – most social analysts speak of the 21st Century as being the Asian Century. Many say this has begun in 2020.
“Asians who are based outside of Asia have a special role in this exciting time to impact the next chapter in the global story.”
In fact, when you realize that more than half the world’s population and 21 of the 30 largest cities on the planet reside in Asia, there is no mistaking that the demographic center of our globe has shifted. Economically, the stats also show that shift, and my hunch is that the global church is making that shift as well.
What is interesting is that whoever lives at those ‘convergence points’ in world history, when the superpowers of the world start shifting and changing, have significant opportunity to impact and influence the rewriting of history. For example, the British settlers that set up the values and entrepreneurial ethos of the United States in her founding years bridged two cultures and set the trajectory for the next epoch of world history.
Similarly, Asians who are based outside of Asia (the Asian diaspora) have a special role in this exciting time to impact the next chapter in the global story. That’s why I am so excited to see many Asians who are currently outside of Asia partner with their homelands to see Gospel fruit.
It is particularly young people that we need to look at. China and India have always had the most people, followed by the USA. But what’s interesting is that in recent times, if you look at the population of Generation Z, Indonesia has edged into 3rd place ahead of America!
In Australia, where I live, a recent article in the Sydney Morning Herald wrote that “right now in Sydney and Melbourne – our most populous cities and home to 8.2 million Australians – close to one in three Millennials (31 per cent) were born in Asia.”
All this to say that the future youth and culture makers of the world are majority Asian! Therefore, whoever is able to go into these nations and their surrounding regions and share the gospel will be ahead when it comes to becoming the Church of the future. So that’s what’s happening in terms of convergence.
Do you have any specific insights on how we can capture those countries besides evangelism?
I believe that people like me, who are Asian but have grown up in Western cultures, have a unique role to play. It is time for the Asian diaspora to rise up and realize that we carry the DNA of 2 cultures and can be a bridge between East and West. We are in the position of opening up doors in Asia that would otherwise be closed to ‘foreigners’, with a deep understanding of the culture of a place in which we were not raised. That is not something to be taken lightly.
I want to call out Asians all around the world to come together and realize that it’s no accident that they were brought into that Western country. The Lord put them there to grab both DNAs and to go back and reach Asia. God put you on the planet so that we can open up Asia in a way that no one else can.
As well as bridging the East and West, RICE is known for bringing together the Word and Spirit. Can you tell us how you do that, and how you arrived at what you currently do in this area?
The first thing is that we never put Word versus Spirit. And we also don’t try and work out how much percentage we are of one and how much we are of another. We say that it’s 100% Word and 100% Spirit.
Both are always maximum, and this is a product of my own journey. I grew up a conservative, reformed evangelical, and I still am someone who loves the Word deeply. And that’s been my bread and butter.
“From outside of Asia I see bridges built – a bridge going into Indonesia, a bridge going into Japan, a bridge going into China, a bridge going into Singapore, Malaysia and everywhere else.”
At the same time, we’re really open to accepting, loving, and inviting the power and work of the Holy Spirit.
As a movement, we make sure to show that these two things don’t go against each other. I’m talking about deep, theological, vigorous thought, with full fledge, Holy Spirit-led, emotionally-engaging, experiential Christianity. They must live together.
If you want real power, there’s nothing more powerful on earth than when the Word and Spirit collide. Because that’s Jesus, who is Word and Spirit.
When God created the world, the Spirit was there, hovering over the face of the earth. And then He spoke with His words. When those two came together, there was this creative explosion.
People who tend to overemphasize the Spirit and ignore the Word need to get deeper in the Word in order to see real depth and recognize it as the God-breathed normative way that He matures and equips the Church. Meanwhile, those who overemphasize the Word and neglect the Spirit also need to understand that, in order to see real power, they need the Spirit to take those words and cause them to explode in the heart to change lives. They need to recognize that God continues to speak to us today.
I love that – 100% Word and 100% Spirit. Tell us about the RICE movement which you founded. What does the movement set out to do?
When the RICE movement began eighteen years ago, it had at its heart evangelism, and that is still our core activity. RICE stands for Renewal & Inter-Church Evangelism. RICE is not only the staple food for Asia, but the Chinese character for the word ‘rice’ also forms our logo.
This character has a Jesus cross with 2 small strokes moving inwards towards the cross (representing unity and revival around Jesus) and 2 short strokes moving outwards (representing Gospel proclamation and empowerment from Jesus).
There are four phrases that capture what the RICE movement sets out to do:
1) Preach the gospel
2) Empower the next generation;
3) Champion the Asian voice;
4) Pursue revival.
We’re going after those four things with everything we have – that’s what we’re committed to.
We also want to see a worship movement come out of what God is doing in us.
We released our first song, called “Soaring in Surrender.” It’s a mesh of the East – being known for surrendering – and the West – being known for soaring. We think it’s perfectly balanced in the whole phrase. We surrender and soar, which is exactly what Jesus did – He surrendered His life before he soared to the right hand of the Father. We believe it’s a very significant and anointed song that will bridge the East and the West.
Heidi Baker nicknamed our movement the “Asian Eagles.” We believe that Jesus will have a Western symbol connected with Asia, extending that whole bridge. So, it’s no surprise that our first song is about an eagle really soaring and surrendering.
We believe this songwriting thing is going to grow over the years.
What would you like to see happen in the next five years in the context of RICE and in the context of your ministry?
We would love to see expansion, even more rapid than we’ve already seen in the last three years. Three years ago, we were only in Sydney. Then with the help of divine connections, we currently have bases in Sydney, Melbourne, Perth, Auckland, and Sao Paulo, Brazil. We’re exploring works in Vancouver and Los Angeles, and are very keen to begin partnering with countries in Asia.
Three years ago, we went away with all our interns and staff, which was a total of seven people. We sat around the table with an acoustic guitar. 3 years later, we had a retreat for all of our intensive staff and we had over 100 people!
We’re talking about people who are actually interning and staffing, not even including the hundreds of volunteers. This is all because of the partners who have invested in us.
So where do we want to go in the next five years? Let’s exponentially increase what we’ve experienced in the last three – let’s cover all the different continents on earth!
Within the next five years, I also want to see the army that has turned their face towards Asia start heading in and building bridges. I see different cities around the earth building bridges towards all these different Asian nations.
From outside of Asia I see bridges built – a bridge going into Indonesia, a bridge going into Japan, a bridge going into China, a bridge going into Singapore, Malaysia and everywhere else. So, I see a diaspora coming together now, the scattered coming together as one, and saying, “Let’s go!”
Steve Chong is the founding leader and director of the RICE Movement and he loves seeing how God is raising up the next generation of young people to come to know Jesus and be renewed in their faith.
Having worked as a youth pastor, he completed bible college and then spent 7 years leading a church, but now is part-time working for RICE and part-time in an itinerant preaching role, living by faith and speaking at different churches and events in Sydney, Australia and abroad. He is married to Naomi and they have two boys and two girls all under the age of 12.