Balancing Between Bethel and Abroad

There are some gatherings that don’t happen in China — meeting for Sunday School is one of them. “But you can have choir rehearsal, and you can teach Christianity through music,” says Assistant Professor of Music Vicky Tan Warkentien, D.M.M.

In a country where the practice of religion is strictly controlled by the Communist government, Warkentien has found ways to spread the love of God through her vast knowledge of piano, sight singing, ear training and conducting. Whenever she can, she teaches Chinese church music (traditional church music translated into Chinese) to Chinese Christians in Asian countries, as well as Australia, Canada and the United States. Just as soon as Bethel’s classes end in May, she is off to another city or country to teach a workshop, conduct a concert or run a summer camp.

Warkentien has been an assistant professor of music at Bethel since 2005. She holds a doctorate of music ministry from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and a master of church music from the Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary. But it all began with her love of music, and how it can be used to spread the gospel.

She started playing the piano at the age of 5. Born of Chinese parents but raised in Saigon, Vietnam, she attended an Episcopalian Christian School. (Her grandfather moved to Vietnam in the 1940s, moving the family away from political conflict in China.) When the Vietnamese conflict broke out — and she had to hide out in the family bunker — she would soothe herself and practice piano by making a fake keyboard out of newspaper. She was only 11 years old.

In 1999, she was living in Perth, Australia, because her husband’s U.S.-based employer transferred him there as sales manager for Asia. She was working with a Chinese church there, and was asked by the World’s Association of Chinese Church Music to talk to a church choir in the city of Shenzen, in the province of Canton, China.

“The door was being opened at that time for some religious freedom in China. But a lot of people were still being detained. I said, ‘let me pray about that,’ because the country is still Communist and not entirely open, and I didn’t want to get into a [difficult] situation there.”

It wasn’t until many years later — 2006 — that she would feel comfortable going to China and working with a choir. And what a choir it was. “There were about 400 people, in the choir alone, welcoming me. I was very surprised. The church itself had about 20,000 members. I got there and my name was on the billboard. They were starving for information.”

Wherever she goes to conduct a workshop, she gets the same reception. Her students are very excited and “are very hungry.” Sometimes they even come from three hours away and will sleep the night before in the church basement.

“You can imagine how good it is to be so appreciated as a teacher, and that keeps me motivated. This is a way to evangelize through music. If I can teach even 10 leaders, they each go out and teach 1,000. Do the math there.”

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