Looking back on a decade of God’s faithfulness as City Harvest Church carries the message of the Cultural Mandate across continents through Sun Ho’s pop music career.
By Yong Yung Shin
The weekend of Apr. 28 to 29 held special meaning for City Harvest Church, as it held a 10th year anniversary celebration of the Crossover Project. The Crossover Project was an extension of CHC’s mandate to build a church without walls—to bring the Gospel to the unchurched across society, and this included the world of entertainment.
HOW IT ALL BEGUN
In 1999, Kong Hee was invited to speak in Taiwan for the first time. There, he found out that in the youth ministry in local churches was almost non-existent. It was during this trip that the Holy Spirit dropped a word into his heart and said, “Kong, I want you to bring a revival to Taiwan, and I will use this revival to touch the entire Chinese-speaking world.”
Kong kept what the Holy Spirit had said to him at the back of his mind. The following year, he went back to Taiwan to minister at the Bread Of Life Church in Taipei. This time, he brought along his wife, Sun, who led worship in CHC. Over the next few days, a powerful typhoon swept the city. But to their surprise, many young people, most of them un-churched, came to the church night after night, not to listen to the preaching but to watch Sun leading praise and worship. They loved her colored hair, her pop culture look, and they loved the pop songs she sang in between the worship songs.
It was then that they realized that pop music could be a powerful bridge to communicate the love of God to the youth. What if they could repackage the message of faith, hope and love of Jesus Christ and bring it into the schools, the boardrooms and the bedrooms of the unchurched? At that time, it was unheard of for those in the Christian world to share the Gospel through the secular entertainment platform.
Apprehensive and more than a little doubtful, Kong needed confirmation from God that what was beginning to take form in his mind was a God-idea. God gave him not one confirmation, but four.
On Sep. 11, 2001, the day of the tragic 9/11 suicide attacks on the World Trade Center’s twin towers in New York City, Kong and Sun were in the city to minister to a friend on the verge of suicide. As the tragedy took place, God spoke to Kong: “From today, the world has changed. I brought you here to watch history unfolding. Go back to Asia and bring the Gospel to your generation—the young people and the urban professionals.” That was the first confirmation.
In obedience to that word, the couple went to Hong Kong soon after to participate in a prayer walk. As they were walking along the busy streets of Kowloon, they passed by an electronics shop that had a display of television sets near the entrance. On the screens of the televisions, thousands of young people were dancing to the beat of a secular pop-rock group from mainland China. There and then, the presence of God fell on them. Kong recalled, “God spoke very, very clearly to our hearts. ‘Sun, you will do better than this. I will send you to sing before millions of people and you will lead them to Jesus Christ.’” That was the second confirmation.
One night, Sun was leading worship at church, when a visitor, touched by her singing, approached her after the meeting and offered her a full professional contract. He was the managing director of Decca Music, an international recording label. This was confirmation number three.
It was all good, but Kong needed a Scriptural confirmation. When his respected mentors Ulk Ekman, AR Bernard and Phil Pringle gave the same verse from Mark 4:35, “Let us cross over to the other side,” Kong knew there was no more space for hesitation, and the Crossover Project was born.
In 2002, Sun recorded her first Chinese pop album, Sun With Love. She held her first pop concert in the biggest indoor arena in downtown Taipei, the National Taipei Sports Complex. The team worked with a small Taipei church, New Life Church, which had about 200 members then. “Nobody was sure if anybody was even going to turn up,” said Kong. On the first night, the 4,200-seater stadium was jam-packed, with thousands more watching on big screen projectors outside. It was estimated that 80 percent of the audience had never been to church.
After Sun finished singing, she gave her testimony about the abuse she endured in her childhood and how Jesus saved her from her years of depression and brokenness. “The love and presence of God hit the entire arena; practically everybody was crying.” Kong then gave a simple altar call, and thousands upon thousands responded. “We didn’t expect that at all. When we went back to our rooms, we were wondering what exactly happened. We were in a daze.” Over the next two days, a total of 21,500 people attended the concerts, and 8,000 decision slips for Christ were collected.
Sun performed in various other cities, including Taoyuan, Hualien and Tainan—it was here that one of CHC’s affiliate churches, Rhema Harvest Church was birthed. In Kaohsiung, on the eve of a concert, a typhoon was raging, but 700 people still came, and 560 responded to the altar call. In the small town of Jia Yi, Sun performed at a high school to about 1,100 students. One of the students, a teenage girl named Christina Yu, testified of the miraculous work of deliverance from depression God did in her heart as she listened to Sun sing.
Today, Yu pastors 400 members at New Life Church, among whom are three pop stars who flew in for a special performance during the service— Chen Weiquan, Wing Luo and Huang Mei Zhen. It was a pleasant surprise for the congregation, as they listened to the trio cover some of Sun’s songs in addition to their own hits.
As for that little church, New Life Church, which helped put together the very first concert, it experienced a great revival too. From 30 people, the congregation grew to 1,250 in three years, and today, counts Universal music producer Chen Ailing, Liu Geng Hong, and Faye Chan and Real Huang from F.I.R among its members. Each is a testament to the seeds of the Cultural Mandate Ho’s concerts had planted. To date, Taiwan’s Christian population has more than doubled, from a mere three percent to 10 percent in 10 years.
From Taiwan, Sun flew to Hong Kong and performed at the Queen Elizabeth Stadium to 10,500 people over three nights, and yet again, thousands gave their hearts to Jesus. One of the most dramatic salvation stories belongs to Teddy, the notorious leader of a gang and owner one of the largest nightclubs in the city. He also had dealings in illegal gambling, drug trafficking and prostitution. Kong recalled that Teddy’s parang-wielding henchmen were all waiting outside, ready to pounce in to protect their boss. But at the end, Teddy came forward and gave his heart to Jesus Christ.
It was not until two months ago that Kong met Teddy again while preaching at a service in Jakarta. It was a joyful, tearful reunion for the two men, as Kong prayed over Teddy, now a businessman travelling all over Asia to share his testimony.
Sun also performed in Malaysia, including Sibu and Kuching. Out of her performances there, Kuching Harvest Church was born. In Kuala Lumpur, her concerts in 2003 sparked a revival in City Harvest Church Kuala Lumpur. Today, CHCKL is one of the fastest-growing and most vibrant churches in Malaysia.
In Indonesia, in the cities of Jakarta, Makasar, Medan, the response was equally tremendous—people actually broke down the doors and pushed their way into the concerts. Even the security guards who were sent to protect the team responded to the altar call themselves.
Back in Singapore, Sun performed 14 times over one weekend at the church’s premises at Jurong West. Over two days, 30,700 people came, and 10,140 salvation decisions were recorded. It was the second highest salvation decision in Singapore church history, the highest being a rally at the National Stadium in 1978 when evangelist Billy Graham gave an altar call.
One person irrevocably changed by Sun’s concert was Cynthia Chua, who came from an unhappy family where arguments and violence were the norm. She gradually slipped into depression and even entertained thoughts of suicide, but it was at Ho’s concert that the love and presence of God touched her heart and she found the strength to get out of her depression. Chua is now a full-time church staff, and a cell group leader.
Another life that was changed was that of Sun’s choreographer, Ryan Tan, a well-known and highly respected Singaporean choreographer who responded to the altar call, after performing with her in about 70 concerts. Together with Kenny Low, then also a dancer in Sun’s entourage, they started O School in 2006.
More than a performing arts center teaching dance, O School is a social enterprise that seeks to provide stable employment opportunities for youth who are gifted in dance, to celebrate their potential and talents, and to generate funds for low income Singapore youths to complete their secondary school education at City College, also founded by Low. “We believe there’s a place for artists—when they’re placed on the right platform, who knows how God can use them?” said Low, who was named Schwab Social Entrepreneur of the Year 2007. With a current membership of 11,000, there are 100 dancers on staff, and every year, S$40,000 goes toward the education fund.
“We find that as young people come together to work with us, the same anointing that flowed in the Crossover Project flows in O School. The young people find acceptance here, and when they dance, they feel a release from their depression,” said Low. But it gets better—these youth are using their talents to reach out to their counterparts. When the 2011 tsunami hit Japan, they organized a Dance For Japan fundraising event and rallied 2,000 youth to the cause.
THE BIG LEAP
Twenty-five months after the Crossover Project was launched, Sun had performed more than 100 concerts to about half a million people, and out of that, almost 140,000 gave their hearts to Christ. The Crossover Project sought to achieve two purposes: reach out to the unchurched—those who would never step into a church, those who grew up on a musical diet of Beyonce, Gwen Stefani, Pink and Lady Gaga. Secondly, it aimed to encourage Christians who are already in the entertainment industry to step out with their faith.
But it was no walk in the park. With this calling also came many challenges. In every country Sun and her team traveled to, they faced demonic attacks, near-death encounters and media backlash against Sun’s contradictory image as the pop star wife of a pastor.
Over the next few years, Sun released four more Chinese albums. Ironically, it was the most criticized song on the Sun*day album, “Miss Catastrophe”, that caught the attention of the former general manager of MTV in the US. This paved the way for Sun to enter the American market. In 2003, she became the first Asian pop icon to be invited to sing at the Hollywood Film Festival. Subsequently, she was also the first Chinese singer to be invited to the 46th Annual Grammy Awards in 2004 as well as the MTV Europe Awards in 2007.
Her debut American single, “Where Did Love Go”, produced by David Foster and Peter Rafelson, was the number one breakout hit on the Christmas week in 2003—“God’s Christmas gift for us,” said Kong. After her first Billboard dance chart number one hit “One With You”, Sun went on to score another four number ones on the Billboard dance chart, the last of which was 2009’s “Fancy Free”.
“With success in both the USA and the Far East, we crossed over to China, which was our greatest desire,” explained Kong. Sun and her team went to Beijing, Shanghai, Chongqing, Wuhan, Guangzhou, Shenyang, Shenzhen, Szechuan and other cities. Her humanitarian team was part of the 2005 Tsunami Disaster Relief Operations, and with her royalties from album sales and the contribution of friends, she built schools and medical clinics in Indonesia and China as well as orphanages in Sri Lanka.
In 2002, Sun was presented The Outstanding Young Person Award by the Junior Chamber of Singapore for her humanitarian works. She was also awarded the “Outstanding Young Person of the World Award” in 2003. That same year, she became the first celebrity outside of China to be honored with a First-Day Cover Stamp series in light of her humanitarian contributions to China. “Her success is our success because this is our project,” declared Kong.
In May 2004, on the last night of her concert in Australia, Sun discovered she was pregnant. After a difficult nine months, a son, Dayan, was born. Sun, along with her family and the church, had reached a crossroad—should they continue with the Crossover Project now that she is a mother?
After all, it had brought tremendous growth to the church. In four years, CHC had grown from a congregational size of 10,300 to more than 18,000; it now had 24 affiliate churches. For six months, the couple prayed and discussed with the pastors and senior staff and consulted with spiritual mentors from around the world.
Finally, it was a word given by Phil Pringle to Sun privately in May 2005 that gave them clarity to their path. “He said, ‘Five more years, because God is going to open a big door for CHC in China to be a blessing to the people.’ That word gave us the courage, faith and confirmation to resume the Crossover Project,” said Kong. (True enough, it was in May 2010—five years later—that Sun broke her US contract and flew home when the investigations into CHC began.)
The year 2007 was when CHC’s vision for China really took off. Sun was named the Charity Ambassador of Love for Asia’s first Special Olympic World Summer Games. The following year, she was selected to be the Music Ambassador for the 2008 Beijing Olympics Songfest. “These assignments were to open a huge door for us to do humanitarian works on a global level,” said Kong.
Presently, CHC has 96 humanitarian projects under its belt, from water sanitation projects to medical centers, children’s hospitals, schools, orphanages and women’s shelters—many of which are in China.
In closing, Kong read from Mark 4:34-36 and posed three questions to those who want to “cross over”. First of all, what will we forsake? Are we willing to leave our comfort zone? “Spiritual greatness will cost you something. Often, it will cost you everything,” said Kong.
Next, what will we take? Will we take Jesus as He is with us? “Sometimes, Jesus sleeps so that we have to awaken our faith to keep walking and trusting,” Kong explained. Finally, what impact will we make? Would we rather play safe and cruise through life, or give our all to walk in the fullness of God’s plans for our lives and those He wants to touch through us?
The three-hour-long service presented the full story of the Crossover Project to many in the congregation, many of whom had not previously understood its scale, scope and perhaps even its legitimacy as God’s assignment, but had chosen to trust in the leadership of the church.
Looking back at the hundreds of thousands of people who have been ushered into the saving grace of Jesus Christ through this project, it is clear that it has all been worthwhile. Kong was joined on stage by Sun and various others who had played a key role in the success of the Crossover Project such as executive pastor Tan Ye Peng. The journey turned out to be much more difficult than they had imagined, but there were no regrets over the no-holds-barred obedience Kong and Sun had chosen and the fruit their efforts had borne.