Conversation with Anne Zaki on the worship symposium in Hong Kong
CICW staff members Emily Brink, John Witvliet, and Anne Zaki traveled to Hong Kong for the “Let God’s Word Be Alive in Worship” worship symposium in May 2011. Here Anne Zaki explains why Hong Kong is so important in spreading the gospel through Asia.
The symposium you spoke at was the first of its kind in Hong Kong. How did it go?
This is the 18th international worship symposium we’ve done in six years, and this was, hands down, our best. It was the most international and multilingual, and they publicized and ran it so well. The planners expected 350 people, but 650 registered. People came from Canada, mainland China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Singapore, and the U.S. and from 110 denominations. Everything in worship—every prayer, verse, and song—was in English, Cantonese, and Mandarin. Every time we changed venues, the translation booth moved too.
We could see for ourselves that there’s a huge hunger for people to understand biblical worship and learn practices that keep the Word of God as a central guiding presence in all of worship.
Did you meet anyone who’d been denied a visa to come to the annual Calvin Symposium on Worship in Grand Rapids, Michigan?
I met a woman from mainland China who’d applied to come to the 2011 worship symposium but was denied a visa. When I emailed her about the Hong Kong symposium, she was thrilled. We met with her in Hong Kong and think she is going to be a key leader in the Chinese church. She has an MA in theology and has access to house churches and Three Self Churches.
About 150 people attended from mainland China. The Hong Kong churches are very generous. They offered scholarships to help people coming from mainland China and Indonesia, especially from house churches. The people from Singapore are wealthy enough to pay their own way.
What did you see and hear that showed attendees were getting the message about letting God’s word be alive in all parts of worship?
This theme was so intentional in all the symposium worship services and workshops. At mealtimes and in informal conversations, attendees would say, “Oh, we never thought about worship in this way!” A lot of my conversations were through translators, but I could hear the passion and excitement. People were taking lots of pictures, like of the candle setup for the Taize service.
You’ve traveled and worshiped in so many countries. What struck you most while worshiping in Hong Kong?
We visited three or four worship venues, all healthy and full. The churches are open just about every night for Bible study, and their Scripture knowledge is unbelievable. A pastor starts a verse and the people finish it. John Witvliet spoke for 1.75 hours and people were there with him the whole time.
I asked why so many people know the Bible so well. People told me that before the changeover from British rule to Chinese rule, they were so scared about what might happen to Christians in Hong Kong. They started memorizing the Bible in case it would be taken away. They saw what revival it brought to the church to commit inwardly the Word of God, so, since they’d set a healthy habit, they just kept going.
Why is it good for CICW people to travel to speak at international conferences, rather than have people come to the Calvin Symposium on Worship.
On a purely budget level, I can send three people to Hong Kong and they reach 650 people. On a deeper level of church partnership, it’s humbling for us to go and learn from Christians in other countries. When I am a guest, they are the host, and I play according to their rules.
Without going to Hong Kong, I wouldn’t have seen and known to ask about their depth of Bible knowledge. I also learned that Hong Kong is the most strategic central location in all of Asia for spreading the gospel. Mainland Chinese people can enter Hong Kong for one week without a visa and don’t have to say why. Mainland people speak Mandarin. Hong Kong people speak Cantonese, which has more tones than Mandarin. They can read each other’s characters, but Mandarin is a more simplified way of writing. If Hong Kong people reduce their numbers of tones, then Mandarin speakers can understand them.
Listen to an interview excerpt with Anne Zaki on why pastors don't ask questions (9:57).