1970s – First steps in the CF
The Goals of the CF
Founded in 1973 by Taiwanese PhD student Abraham Chian, the CCCF’s aim was to provide an opportunity for Christians and non-Christians to study the Bible and share in fellowship with one another. It received strong support from a group of Cambridge students and Southeast Asian nurses, as well as members from the UK, various African nations, the Caribbean, and the Chinese Overseas Christian Mission in London. The inaugural meeting of the CCCF was held in Tyndale House in November 1973.
The Needs of the Chinese Community
Having previously lived in Taiwan, Brazil, and the United States, Abraham knew the difficulties associated with living in a place where one could not always fit in. He saw that there were Christians of Chinese origin from Hong Kong, Malaysia, and Singapore who did not always feel comfortable within the university’s Christian Union. He also recognised that evangelistic outreach to those within and outside the University might be more effective if done by those who understood their home issues.
The CF’s Activities
From 1974 onwards, the CCCF met weekly in Henry Martyn Hall. The meetings, held in English, began with singing, followed by Bible studies, before ending with prayers. Efforts were made to reach out to immigrants from Hong Kong, many of whom worked in restaurants and were not being attended to by British Christians but were also reluctant to engage with their British neighbours. The CF visited the homes of these immigrants and organised an informal Sunday School for their children.
1980s – Community Building
The Growth of the CF
A large cohort of Singaporean students, many on scholarships, actively participated in and led CCCF activities. Enthused by access to computing resources, a CCCF songbook was compiled with members typesetting songs in a mainframe Phoenix MVS using BBC micros. Members were mainly from Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong, and Mauritius and included university, nursing, and language students. CF members also participated in local outreach to the Vietnamese migrant community.
Support from Pastors and Missionaries
Many former missionaries to China and Hong Kong, as well as the COCM, actively participated in CF activities and ministered to many. A large number of CF members attended Eden Baptist Chapel on Sundays, then pastored by Dr Roy Clements, and the CF jointly presented an Easter Cantata in Eden with local congregational members in 1985. That same year, the CCCF worked with the COCM in organising and leading the 1985 South England Easter Conference at Cloverley Hall, Whitchurch, Shropshire.
Christmas House Parties
The annual Christmas House Party enjoyed strong participation as most members did not return home over the holidays between Michaelmas and Lent. They were organised in such places as Devon, Chagford, and Wales. They were times of fellowship and fun for many CFers, especially those who were away from home for the first time.
1990s – Church-planting
Deepening in Fellowship
Throughout the ‘90s, the CCCF met every Thursday as a fellowship and every Friday for Bible studies at Henry Martyn Hall. Improvements in cooking skills accompanied spiritual nourishment, with amateur chefs cooking in huge pots. It was difficult for members to remain in contact with their families via the Internet or overseas calls; supportive friendship in the CCCF thus took on great significance. The CCCF’s Constitution was written in 1997, enshrining its history, vision, doctrinal beliefs, committee roles, and principles.
Establishing the Chinese Church
By 1989, a group of local Chinese held a regular Bible study at Eden Baptist Church, run mainly by former CF members undertaking postgraduate study or were working locally. It eventually linked up with the COCM to form the Cambridge Chinese Christian Church (CCCC), first meeting at St. Columbus Church, with the CF’s local outreach team evolving into the church’s local outreach ministry by 1992. The CCCC became independent in 1997, with several church staff continuing to advise the CF.
Changes to Cell Groups
While cell groups were initially referred to by the names of their leaders, group names were established in 1998, mostly on a geographic basis. Additional names were added in 2001/02, with the five groups eventually named Central, Christ’s, Higher Ground, Garang Sheep, and SPROut. Once the Chinese Church was formed in 1997, many Cantonese-speaking undergraduates from Hong Kong began to attend the Church’s Joshua Fellowship (JF) rather than CCCF meetings. The Joshua Fellowship continues to reach out primarily to university students from Hong Kong.
2000s – Developments in the CF
In 2003, official links with the COCM were changed to historical links. Further changes to the constitution were made with respect to the CCCC in 2007, reflecting historical links with the Church without enshrining accountability. This saw continued cooperation between the CCCF and the JF as they were both affiliates of the CCCC, such as through the organising of Christmas concerts.
With the establishment of the Chinese Church, the CF was able to consolidate its focus on undergraduates as the church reached out to the local Chinese community. While there were postgraduate-specific cell groups in the 1990s, these were discontinued owing to the presence of more robust postgraduate programmes in local churches. The CCCF logo was designed and adopted in 2001/02.
Changes to Cell Groups
The CCCF has historically been organised into Cell Groups based on geographical location in Cambridge itself, with subject and home country being taken into account. The CF has seen the creation and dissolution of various CGs. As of 2020, the CF operates in five cell groups: Anew, Christ’s, Garang Sheep, Higher Ground, and SPROut. Anew was formed in 2013, two years after the disbanding of Central CG in 2011.
2010s – Partnerships and Collaborations
Restructured Talks and Lunar New Year Dinners
Under the 2015/16 committee, weekly CF-wide Monday meetings were merged with monthly Combined Cell Group meetings at St. Andrew’s Baptist Church, consisting of dinner, a talk by an invited speaker, corporate worship, and a Bible study. Speakers have included the CF’s advisors as well as guests from the UCCF, YWAM Cambridge, The C3 Church, The Jubilee Centre, and Friends International. The CF’s largest evangelistic events, its annual Lunar New Year dinners, take place in Lent.
Retreats and Getaways
Originally the CCCF’s annual house party, the retreat has taken on various iterations. 3-day retreats to various recreational centers across the UK were a staple of the CCCF, particularly at the end of Michaelmas. In 2019/20, the retreat was replaced by a day away in Lent to avoid clashes with the house parties of St. Andrew the Great and Holy Trinity Church. The CCCF also sends a contingent to Word Alive at Prestatyn each year between Lent and Easter.
Partnership with Other Societies
While the shape of collaboration varies each year, the CF persists in partnership with other parachurch organisations. The CF works in tandem with CICCU, making space for one another’s events and building on each other’s strengths to facilitate the spread of the Gospel. The CF has also actively partnered with Just Love Cambridge since 2015 through joint talks, volunteering in ministry to the homeless and economically vulnerable in Cambridgeshire, as well as through CF members writing for Just Love’s blog.
2020s – The Future of the CF
Amid great volatility, God continues to be faithful to the CCCF. This was made evident with the disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, which saw the scattering of the CCCF across various countries. The transition to ministering over video chat platforms proved tricky but not impossible. God has been faithful in strengthening the fellowship throughout and even providing opportunities to serve homeless communities in Cambridge.
As of 2019/20, the CF’s demography continues to consist primarily of Singaporeans and Malaysians with a smaller number of Hong Kongers. However, as with its original vision of inclusivity, the CF has continued to welcome members of various national and ethnic backgrounds, including those who trace their heritage to the United States, Brunei, the United Kingdom, China, Canada, South Korea, Nigeria, Germany, the Philippines, Indonesia, Taiwan, and India.
As the CF continues to provide members with opportunities to serve, we pray that the seeds of discipleship, stewardship, and Christlikeness will continue to take root. We praise the Lord for blessing the CCCF over its four decades, and pray in the years to come that the CCCF will continue to provide a fellowship where people from across the world can learn about God’s love and salvation through Jesus Christ, and find the only Way, Truth, and Life.
A Home for Many
Over many generations of students, the CCCF has remained a crucible for evangelism and spiritual formation, with many members coming to Christ and being equipped to continue walking in their faith after graduating from Cambridge or other institutions. Many alumni went on to enjoy intergenerational blessings as their own children joined the CF during their time in Cambridge.
Life after Graduation
Many CF alumni have gone on to full-time ministry, whether as pastors, church historians, theologians, missionaries, or church staff. These include seminary deans, missionaries to nations across Asia, and the first coordinator of the Alpha course in Singapore. Others have gone on to participate fully in common Christian life, whether as deacons, elders, or congregants, caring intently for their home churches and for those who may be new to their communities.