Overseas Christian Fellowship and Australia’s Colombo Plan: Ethnic Chinese International Students and the ‘Cold War Religion’ Origins of Australia’s Oldest Overseas Students’ Ministry, 1959-1970

Activity: Talk/lecture/symposium/speechEvent organized by non-HKBU units

Description

Panel: Chinese Christians, Transnationalism, and the Cold War

Abstract:
This paper considers the notion of “Cold War religion” from the under-studied perspectives of Chinese Christian international students and Australia’s Colombo Plan educational aid scheme for Asia during the Cold War. I suggest that the scheme’s time-limited educational training of overseas Asian students was appropriated by the founders of Overseas Christian Fellowship (OCF)—Australia’s oldest international student Christian ministry—as a model for defining the terms and vision of their organisation. By examining OCF’s formation from 1959 to 1970, I propose that the first generation of OCFers—who were predominantly ethnic Chinese from Southeast Asia and Hong Kong—constructed a transnational Australia-Asia evangelical identity to express their special position as overseas educated students who could bring the true Christian gospel back to their home countries. This paralleled the scheme’s plan of educating Asian students with the aim of sending them back home to forestall communism’s advance by contributing to the socio-economic development of their countries. There were three ways in which their identity was constructed, captured in OCF’s
vision “Reach Out, Build Up, Send Back.” The first way, called autonomy, involved the establishment of independent, student- led fellowships to “reach out” to Asian students in the late 1950s. The second, termed as conservatism, refers to the drive to “build up” Asian students with an evangelical faith while shielding them from liberal Protestant and left-wing ideological influences prevalent on Australian university campuses. The third method, called the sojourning-transnational orientation, was the cultivation of a developmentalist faith-based mission stressing the “sending back” of the OCFers to their home countries to apply their Australian-influenced faith-based views to the churches and society. In all, we observe the emergence of a novel, student-shaped, transnational religious imaginary in the Southern hemisphere which reflected the aims of Australia’s Colombo Plan.
Period29 Jun 2022
Event titleYale-Edinburgh Group Conference, 28-30 June 2022: “World Christianity: Legacy and the State of the Field”
Event typeConference
Degree of RecognitionInternational