By Anne Lim
For the past 20 years, the RICE movement has essentially revolved around one man, Steve Chong, and his unstinting energy and enthusiasm.
Thousands of high school students, mainly of Asian background, have committed to Christ at rallies organised by RICE – Revival and Inter-Church Evangelism – which championed the Asian-Australian Christian voice.
Now, as RICE celebrates its 20th anniversary, Steve is exhausted from two decades of leading the movement. So Steve and his wife Naomi have joined forces to recast a new vision and direction that will help the RICE movement be more effective in kingdom building here and through Asia.
RICE’s new vision statement, which will be officially launched on 3 December at Wesley Mission in Sydney, is: “We’re a catalytic movement that mobilises the next generation for kingdom mission.” And Naomi, as Global Director, will be front and centre in steering the strategy into the long term.
This next season, the emphasis will be on finding and empowering young evangelists and church planters so that results are multiplied and a bumper harvest reaped. They hope to gather groups of young people into missional communities, or “rice paddies”, so that they can learn from each other, draw from each other’s passion and reach people together.
“We feel like God is changing the measurement now from addition to multiplication, so rather than having 5000 people in a gathering, what if we had 50 young people who are willing to do anything for Jesus, who are willing to pack up and move, or plant a church, or give up their lives? Naomi and I have the heart to invest in those young people,” says Steve.
“We’re ready to find the most effective way to see a harvest of so much more, tenfold, a hundredfold.” – Steve Chong
He is open about the reality that a major reason for the new emphasis is his exhaustion from 20 years at the helm of the movement.
“Twenty years is a long time, man. We were both 22 years old when we founded this. The bulk of our lives has been running this thing. And God’s blessing has been on it. Just last week, I heard two people say that they became Christians at RICE and it’s just beautiful to see that God’s done that.
“But we’ve hit this age, and if we were to go for another 20, boy, I’m exhausted even thinking about that. But we’re ready to find the most effective way to see a harvest of so much more, tenfold, a hundredfold. So it’s a different feel.”
Naomi explains that the COVID years have been challenging for a movement that relied on events involving large numbers of people. This caused them to question God about his will for the next stage.
“We couldn’t do in-person rallies, or we organised them and then they’d get shut down a day before, and so there was this sense of what does it look like to empower young people for evangelism, for the kingdom, in this new environment?
“We had to look back and go, where has the fruit been? And the modus operandi that we’ve worked on for 20 years has seen fruit. We’ve seen people come up through the RICE movement who’ve gone into becoming missionaries, who’ve gone into ministry, and had a heart for the lost,” she says.
“But is there a way that maybe God is wanting us to be more effective in adapting to the new environment? Over the past couple of years, we were seeking the Lord and asking, ‘How do you want us to operate from now on?’ And the Lord really spoke to us to bring us here.”
For Naomi, the 20-year milestone for RICE is significant because of a deal she made with Steve when they first married and she gave up her dream of becoming a missionary.
“At 17, I stood up at church when we had a guy come in to talk about who wants to be obedient to this call to the nations. When Steve and I started dating, I said, ‘I can’t marry you. I’m going overseas, you’re not going overseas, this is not going to work.’”
“It is a fulfilment of my calling to be stepping into this role to go to the nations now.” – Naomi Chong
Steve interjects: “That’s when I knew I really wanted to get married to this girl, and we sat down and realised we don’t have to sort this all out right now.”
Naomi explains: “When we got married, we made a deal, which was, ‘Okay, for 20 years, we’ll stay in Sydney, focus on that, but after 20 years, we’re going to go overseas.’ We even shook hands on it, but over the years, I started to think that dream or that calling maybe is not going to happen.”
For the past 20 years, Naomi has been deeply absorbed in raising a family, but now she feels it is her time to pursue a dream of sending people to the nations, to Asia, for the Lord.
“I could have gone there as a single woman and tried to do my thing, but I really believe that the Lord wants us to take a whole group of people, not me as a single woman, but asking for the Lord to send a generation of people to the nations. And so for me, it is a fulfilment of my calling to be stepping into this role to go to the nations now. This is all mission.”
For the past six months, Steve and Naomi have been preparing Eleanor Kaw to go to Malaysia in February to help support the start of the movement into Asia.
“As part of our history with Chinese and Asian churches in Sydney and as we’ve expanded into other cities, through prayer and various words people have given us, we’ve been seeing it’s time to go into Asia,” Eleanor tells Eternity.
“Malaysia will probably be where we set up our base for reaching Southeast Asia, and I’ll be mostly preparing the way. One significant thing that has shifted is a focus on training young people, inspiring people to be missional not just in their own context but also to consider the nations, particularly Asia, in keeping with our calling.”
Eleanor says she plans to connect with churches and other organisations seeking opportunities for RICE teams in cities such as Melbourne, Sydney and even New Zealand to go on short-term missions, particularly around training and equipping young people.
“My trip in February will be mostly like a scouting trip, learning the lie of the land, getting immersed in the culture and praying around the best way to engage, but the heart is to be training and equipping young people.”
Despite his tiredness, Steve has not lost his sense of urgency to see the next generation become a light for Jesus.
“We love the local church, but there’s an urgency that’s lacking and there’s a sleepiness in the church and even more so, there’s a retreat in some ways because of the media,” he says.
“I feel that the RICE movement’s next vision is to call on the church to be on the front foot again, with a bold expectant, evangelistic heart. And I feel like it’s important for people like Naomi and me to be able to show the young generation that you can set your life up to live where that [call] orientates all your decisions.
He is especially pleased that Naomi is stepping up in leadership and being a role model for other Asian women.
“I want to ask people to pray like they’ve never prayed before … that the next generation is such a light for Jesus that we see revival break out.” – Steve Chong
“Culturally, there’s this kind of passiveness often I think with Asians in general, and then definitely women. So there’s something very strong about Naomi taking a leadership role as a woman. We want to be an alarm clock. People keep trying to hit the snooze button and we say, no, it’s time to give this a nudge.”
Steve invited Eternity readers to become part of a prayer army that will support RICE jump into its next 20 years.
“We are dreaming of what could happen in the next 20 years and dreams bigger than venues filled, but dreams for and praising into such catalytic influence in this next season that we see the next generation of church on fire for Jesus,” he says.
“I want to ask people to pray like they’ve never prayed before. In the sense that they believe even against the reality of what they see. That they pray such big prayers that the next generation becomes the generation that is such a light for Jesus that we see revival break out. We see society reform. We see family structures reform. We see politics reform. We see Asia reached. We see all that happen. I believe that God will hear those prayers and a new wave of this movement will start.”
For more information visit ricemovement.org or to be involved in RICE, you can sign up here.
Source: Eternity News.