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    Posted August 23, 2015 by
    Hong Kong

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    by Murray Bell

    The Church that defies global religious trends held a huge evangelical mission at Asia World Expo yesterday, with a runaway attendance figure requiring the opening of a second exhibition hall to cope with demand.
    The Iglesia Ni Cristo (Church of Christ) may have its origins and home base in the Philippines but Hong Kong was front and centre for the Church yesterday as executive minister Brother Eduardo Manalo conducted a pastoral visit to the international membership.
    Hall 8 at the Expo, a 7,000 seat auditorium, was standing room only, as the 400-strong choir began the pre-service hymns at 1.50pm. The entire service was also telecast “next door” to the overflow section in Hall 2, where another 5,000 places had been reserved.
    Several thousand of the attendees were visitors, invited by members to “come to listen to the words of God”. And Manalo stressed to them, in his preamble, that guests would not be hearing his opinion of anything.
    “We want to hear from the holy scriptures where it is that man can receive his salvation,” Manalo said. “This is not my opinion…. but the words of God from the bible.
    “So why not find out who the Lord God recognized as those who will truly serve him?”
    Piece by piece, one scriptural selection at a time, Manalo built the compelling case that it was within the Church of Christ that man would find the true servants of God, as well as the “source to salvation on the day of judgment when Christ returns.”
    “The bible says that the Church of Christ is the one redeemed by precious blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ and is therefore the church that will be saved come judgment day,” Manalo concluded.
    It certainly convinced visitor Dolice (surname withheld), who works locally under a domestic helper contract. She gave her religion as Catholic.
    “This is the second time I have been a visitor (at an INC evangelical mission) but today, I really heard the message,” Dolice said. “I’m going to start attending the (INC) worship services from next Sunday, and see how it goes from there.”
    Manalo conducted the mission in the Filipino language of Tagalog, but translators were on hand to give real-time audio translations in English and Cantonese.
    Management and staff at Asia World Expo were taken aback by the size of the turnout. “From our viewpoint, this is the biggest event ever run at Asia World Expo by any religious organization,” said food and beverage manager, Fleming Kwok.
    Church official Brother Rommel Sanvictores said he had researched what might be the existing record for attendance at a religious function for any church.
    “The largest we could find on record, before today, was a multi-religious event with Buddhist, Confucian and Taoists religions [April 5, 2015], and was reported to be more than 8,000,” Sanvictores said. “Today, we’re also claiming 8,000 attendees and while it might not quite be a Hong Kong record, it’s certainly the largest Christian gathering ever held here and a record for an evangelical mission.”
    Iglesia Ni Cristo was registered with the Philippine government on July 27, 1914 and last year celebrated its centennial.
    It boasts a powerful presence in every part of the Philippines and began its spread to the west in 1968. Today, that spread has also broken triple figures, with Iglesia ni Cristo worship services held in 102 other countries.
    The Hong Kong congregation was established 41 years ago and now has seven Locales spread around HK island, Kowloon, New Territories and Lantau. Hong Kong was also chosen as the base for the recently-formed ecclesiastical district of China.
    Manalo has been executive minister since September, 2009, and during that time has overseen the construction of more than 860 houses of worship worldwide, according to its own figures.
    The Church is renowned for its uncommon brand of unity and for a high participation rate among members. While participation rates in mainstream churches typically languish below 10 per cent, the Church of Christ’s administration strives to maintain worship services attendances at a minimum of 90 per cent.
    The Church of Christ also received an avalanche of positive publicity from domestic media for building the Philippine Arena, opened in 2014, for the primary purpose of celebrating the Church’s centennial.
    Not only is the Philippine Arena the world’s largest indoor arena, it is also the world’s largest mixed-use indoor theatre with an operating capacity of 55,000.
    Media reports credit the Church with a membership of 2.5 million, but the Church itself has never publicly confirmed the exact number.

    • Murray Bell is a Hong Kong-based journalist and freelance writer. He was formerly a writer and editor at the South China Morning Post, Asia’s leading England language daily. In his homeland, Australia, he worked for the Daily Telegraph in Sydney. Murray has experience in all facets of media, including radio, television, magazines, video scripting and web sites. He is a member of the Church of Christ.
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