It was during a visit to Melbourne last November that God made it clear to Steve Chong that it was time to launch the RICE Movement – which he founded 15 years ago to take the ‘Good News’ of Jesus Christ to young Asian people in Sydney – in Australia’s second largest city.
In Melbourne to speak at the Australian Methodist Youth Convention, Mr Chong has finished his official duties earlier than expected and, given it was his 38th birthday, wanted to celebrate. But not knowing many people in Melbourne, he decided to put a message on Facebook, asking whether anyone would be interested in meeting up and talking about the RICE Movement and its work.
COMING SOON TO MELBOURNE: Steve Chong at a RICE Rally in Sydney.
“My favorite way of leadership is really just to put things out there and let God sort it out…I love the feeling of being dragged into something…rather than [trying to] outstrategise God…[W]e really believe that He’s opened the door for us to start in Melbourne…"
- Steve Chong, RICE Movement founder
“[I was] expecting maybe one or two people might pick up my Facebook post and be my rent-a-crowd birthday party for the night…and then my Facebook exploded…” he recalls. “Everyone starts sharing it and tagging on it – it’s going crazy and, I don’t know, hundreds of comments…and all this community thing starts happening on my Facebook page.
“And I’m in a little apartment, so I’m just looking for one or two people to come over…but it comes to the day and 60 people turn up [from] across so many different types of churches. And most of them didn’t know each other…It was just a great night and we prayed through the night and we sang and we prayed for the city and we talked. And it was really clear that God had decided to take this up.”
Mr Chong went back to the RICE board – rather “sheepishly”, he says, given that while they had previously toyed with the idea of launching the movement in Melbourne, there had been no concrete plans – and, having explained what had happened during his Melbourne visit, the decision to follow where they felt God was leading was made.
The RICE Movement, which started when some six youth groups - about 120 people - came together in Sydney for a joint event in 2002 and now involves thousands of young people in what is Australia's largest Asian youth movement, will launch its first major rally in Melbourne on 12th August. Similar to the rallies held in Sydney each year, it will be run by uni students and aimed at inviting high school students to come to know Jesus. A formal launch for the Melbourne rallies was recently held with people from about 30 different churches attending and next week, Mr Chong will spend a week at the city's Ridley Theological College where he'll be preaching and networking with the students.
Mr Chong, now a father of four young children but who was working as a youth leader when he founded the RICE Movement (he still works as an itinerant evangelist preaching at various churches as well as running RICE), says he loves the organic way in which God had led the movement to launch in Melbourne. “My favorite way of leadership is really just to put things out there and let God sort it out…I love the feeling of being dragged into something…rather than [trying to] outstrategise God…[W]e really believe that He’s opened the door for us to start in Melbourne…"
While they're already seeing churches and pastors coming together in Melbourne in support of the movement, Mr Chong says they are still looking for donors - with money raised to be used to pay for the rally venue (they’re still looking for a site) as well as to perhaps fund a staff member to work in Melbourne.
In the lead-up to the August rally, a number of gatherings are taking place in Melbourne for volunteers but also to pray. He highlights an upcoming prayer gathering taking place this coming Monday (13th March) at Ridley Theological College to which all comers at welcome.
“I’d really love to see a stack of people praying for the city and praying for highschoolers to come to know Jesus,” he says. “I think it’s what we need – to get on our knees and pray.”
Mr Chong says that many of the people he’s already connected with in Melbourne come from Asian churches with English-speaking services.
“It’s like the second-generation…” he says, noting that, as was the case with Sydney 15 years ago, there seems to be a “bubble waiting to burst” of Asian young people who, like him (Steve’s parents are of Chinese ethnicity and were former Buddhists who became Christian at about the time of his birth), straddle two cultures – having grown up with Asian parents and culture, yet who, having been schooled in Australia, are also Western.
TAKING THE GOSPEL TO YOUNG PEOPLE: Steve Chong, with his wife Naomi and their four children.
“On the weekends, we’re going to the beach, watching the rugby and the cricket,” says Mr Chong. “But we’ve got all the Asian side of things too and so that bubble’s waiting to burst because all of them haven’t really got together and had their own thing – it’s always been their parent’s thing. What RICE provides is their own thing…”
That touches on one of the key challenges RICE faces. Noting that there is an “epidemic” amongst Asian youth which sees them, out of a spirit of obedience, simply adopting their parent’s faith rather than finding Jesus for themselves, Mr Chong says the need for young Asian people to find their own way to Christ is critical.
“Is this your faith or is this your parents because you need to make a decision?” he says. “In terms of my testimony, that’s my story too.”
Mr Chong, meanwhile, is convinced it’s the movement’s focus on evangelism which explains its success in bridging the gap between different Christian churches and groups.
“If I’m running a teaching conference and saying ‘Look, hey, let’s get together and talk about spiritual gifts’ – you know what I’ve done already, I’ve divided the room straightaway…But if I say, ‘Here’s the deal – we’re wanting to find people to proclaim that Jesus is Lord, that’s it. We want to tell people that Jesus died for them on the Cross, is raised to life and [you can have a] life with Him. Then people just kind of rally to that because in the end, when it boils down, that’s what we believe.”