Week of Compassion Committee Visits Global Ministries Partners in China
The Committee for Week of Compassion sends their greetings from China. Thanks to an anonymous gift, the committee has been able to make this journey of relationship for the same cost as their typical meeting in Indianapolis. Alongside the regular business of the committee, they are visiting a number of communities who have received support from Week of Compassion. We are grateful for the opportunity to build relationships and equip the committee members to share the stories of the impact of Week of Compassion. The trip is being led by Rev. Xiaoling Zhu, Global Ministries Executive for East Asia and the Pacific.
Wow! words are inadequate to describe this experience, but we will do our best to share what we have learned, witnessed and felt in our spirit.
We are in awe of the history of China and amazed at the scope of the work and ministry of our Chinese partners. Paul declares “But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him. But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God.” 1 Cor 2:9-10
We witnessed the economic seat of China’s power in Shanghai. The wonder of China’s history in Xi’an, and today we witnessed the seat of China’s political power in Beijing the home of the Central government.
On every stop in this 14 day odyssey, we have been reminded that there is much to see and take in as we become part of this community for a brief period of time. The food, the language, the people, the clothing, the architecture, HIV/AIDS families, orphans, children with disabilities, and so much more are all a part of being open to experiencing God’s presence in a new and profound way.
Today was a day fit for royalty and in this case fit for an emperor. Today we visited the home of the last emperor of China, visited the Forbidden City (home of 14 emperors) and the former home of the brother of the Emperor. We also visited with the Vice Minister of the State Administration for Religious Affairs, Zhongrong Chen, and met the deputies of the departments Catholic and Christian affairs. The discussions about the role that the Department of Religious Affairs plays in overseeing interactions and relationship among the five religions: Buddhism, Islam, Protestantism, Catholicism and Taoism. We were welcomed but unexpected. It was a welcomed discussion because we wanted to gain a better sense of how faith and government interacted or did not interact in Chinese society. It was unexpected because we did not expect a government official to engage the topic of faith because government officials we met are part of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) cannot be ones with Religious faith. Perhaps some of us expected a closed-lip and glowering official dressed in Communist uniform. How great is our God to turn stereotypes upside down? What we received was a man very willing and interested in answering our questions and asking us his own. And, while this government official did not profess a personal faith tradition, he was engaging, knowledgeable and insightful as he shared about the responsibility to maintain religious freedom alongside Chinese law.
Rev. Dr. Xiaoling Zhu, Area Executive for East Asia and the Pacific, Global Ministries, told Vice Minister Chen about Week of Compassion. It was found in 1941 for China earthquake relief work and continually for China 1942 famine relief. Christian Church (Disciples of Christian) had 6 missionaries stayed in Nanjing during Nanjing Massacres to create International Safety Zone and saved 250,000 people’s lives. Rufus Anderson, Executive Director of ABCFM had suggested that China mission in the future should carry on “three self” principle: Self-propagating, Self-supporting and Self-governing, which have been implemented by Church in China today.
The Vice Minister said one of his biggest challenges is how to protect his country from extremists on all sides of religion and that religion in China must be conceptualized in ways that promote mutual respect, understanding and cooperation.
There was mutual interest in learning about one another as Mr. Chen asked about Week of Compassion projects. We were able to share information about the goat project started to benefit people living in a Muslim village where many suffer from AIDS.
Recognizing that there are many different religious groupings in China, we also learned that there was a recent ecumenical gathering among the five major faith traditions in China to work together to provide social services and tackle issues of poverty
We could not have imagined when we left our homes 14 days ago that a conversation with a government official would prompt some of us to consider how faithful we would be if we lived in a place where our belief in God and confession of faith could be openly expressed only within Government approval. This is not a passing thought for me. Like everyone when confronted with a “what if situation”, I’d like to think we would come out on top. But, what if?
What if this were our reality? What if we could only express our faith so long as it was in harmony with other traditions? What if we could only openly express our faith as long as it was approved by a council or be branded a heretic. What if we had to give up all we knew to go to seminary without the knowledge that we would be able to earn a living.
In the midst of all of the wonder of this mysterious land, we indeed stand in awe of those people that we have met who listen for and are responsive to that still quite voice in the night. Our spirit rejoices and is awe of the inescapable reach of the Word of God.
Cheryl Sybrant & Donald K. Gillett, II
Water seems to be a theme for the Week of Compassion committee as we travel in China. It’s not just because it has rained almost everyday (which it has), but because we are witness to and continue to be the Living Water that is moving in the hearts of God’s children around the world.
On Wednesday, October 26th, we were met by Elder Li, the director of the Elim orphanage in Xuchang. Not only does Elder Li lead a congregation of 500 that worships everyday, but he shepherds 42 children, from first grade to high school in a dormitory next to the church. There are 3 attractive and sturdy wooden bunk beds in each room with tidy shelves for personal belongings. The play room had a colorful collection of stuffed animals, toys, and a well used ping pong table. There was a small library and a canteen where they can purchase snacks and sundries. The currency is “Loving Money” which is earned by doing good deeds. And they have clean water! Week of Compassion joined Global Ministries provided funds that helped pay for digging a new well – going 2100 feet deep – far past the polluted ground water that had irritated the children’s hair and skin. It was impressive to see the spotless kitchen and dining room and know that the water they drink is just as clean.
The children have been orphaned by a variety of circumstances such as grandparents who are no longer able to care for the children, parents who have moved away to the cities for work, or children who are not accepted by a new step-parent. It is not likely, nor is there a structure for these children to be formally adopted into Chinese homes.
We also visited the Xuchang Love Children’s Healthy Garden, a center that serves children with disabilities, which receives some government funding and some support from the local church. Even though they do not have the level of resources we may be used to in the United States, the core values are the same, which is to help each child develop to their full potential and have a happy life.
Finally, we enjoyed lunch with the students at Xuchang Training School, a bible school. There are 114 Christians who spend 2 years away from their families to prepare for the seminary examination. They sleep and study in unheated rooms and are not sure they will pass the exam or be supported as they continue their seminary studies. Their faith is inspiring. As we browsed through their library we were delighted to find the Chinese versions of the Berenstein Bears: Go To Sunday School, God Loves You, Say Their Prayers.
Although we may be 6,200 miles away, Jesus’ message is the same. We are all living vessels who have been blessed with the challenge of sharing the Living Water with all. We have been filled to the brim with the powerful love of Christ that we have witnessed here in China.
The Week of Compassion Committee started the first morning in Zhoukou with a visit to Zhoukou Church. We were warmly and enthusiastically greeted, from the crowd gathered on the street, the drum corp and marching band, and those who lined the path into the church. A large choir heralded our entrance, and those gathered applauded our arrival as we were led to seats of honor. To say we felt welcomed would be an understatement. While it was not easy to follow the 20 church & community leaders addressing the crowd in their native tongue, collectively we were reminded by our Global Ministries guide, Rev. Xiaoling Zhu, of the love of Jesus that binds us all together, and that we are called to care for the least of these in God’s name.
After lunch, we bore witness to projects with which we have been involved through Global Ministries, projects that fulfill that very directive. We toured a village outside Zhoukou full of families that have been affected by HIV/AIDS. The village has received our support in the form of school construction assistance, medical assistance, and agricultural assistance. The school was a partnership between Week of Compassion, Global Ministries, the Amity Foundation, and the Zhoukou Church. Medical assistance is provided to the villagers in several forms including home health visits. And in a village of 360 families, Week of Compassion has provided funds for 60 goats, both to provide milk for the family and income in the form of offspring that can be sold. Our last two stops involved a tree project that provides income for people in a different village living in poverty, and the church that headquarters the efforts. Like the perfect bookend to the day, we were again greeted with crowds of people and serenaded by a choir. This setting was more modest and involved fewer people, but their welcome was no less sincere.
It is helpful to see the results of projects we, all, collectively as Disciples of Christ through Week of Compassion and Global Ministries, have supported. Seeing the faces of the people who have been directly impacted, however, is a reminder that we are all one body of believers and that we can and should do what we can to lift each other up in whatever ways are within our means.
It is Sunday morning in China and we are headed to worship along with 40 million other Chinese Christians. When I first heard that 2-3% of the population of China were Christians I didn’t realize that it would translate to 40 million people.
In the United Sates we sometimes hear that the church is dying, because many of the older Anglo congregations are declining but the church universal is growing and growing rapidly. And that is especially true in China.
Today we worshiped with the seminarians in the School in Shaanxi Province.
Of the 25 seminaries in China this is the poorest seminary as it serves the 10 mostly rural provinces of the north. There are 140 students and 12 professors at this seminary and there is a waiting list for the people who qualify and want to come to seminary but the seminary does not have enough room for all the people who want to attend and the churches that need trained leaders.
This seminary needs more classroom space, more library space and books, more professors and a larger chapel to meet the needs of the growing churches in the surrounding provinces.
And they have a dream for a new seminary to serve 350 students and to house a new congregation on the campus. They hope to raise 90 million yuan from locals and government and partners overseas. That translates to roughly 13 million dollars. It is a Spirit filled dream.
The Shaanxi seminary is owned by the Provincial Council of churches. China is living in a post denominational world and all Protestant congregations are united in the Council.
There is a long history of Christian presence in the province but the China Christian Council in Shaanxi province dates back to 1887 when the Protestant missionaries arrived.
Yes there is a lot of difficult history for Christians in China, but after the “Open Up” policy the church has grown rapidly. In the last 30 years the northwest provinces have grown to 560 congregations and 1300 meeting points (unregistered house churches with no building). There are 500,000 Christians 89 ordained pastors 107 associate pastor 278 preaching and 3000 volunteers who are preaching every Sunday as well.
“To love our neighbors” is the slogan
Of the Shaanxi Provincial Christian Council, they have Ministries that provide volunteer training 3-4 times a year for local pastors in Communications and finance and social services training and they have website and publish quarterly magazine.
Theses are our partners for the Gospel in China. Please remember them in prayer.
Susan Gonzales Dewey
It was a good weather day in Nanjing. It rained all day. I’ll admit to the disappointment of the weather at first. After all, it had rained our entire visit in Nanjing thus far. After visiting The Nanjing Massacre Museum today, however, the rain somehow seemed appropriate. In late 1937, the Japanese forces moved in on the capital city of Nanjing after toppling Shanghai earlier that year. Air raids began raining bombs on the city; “Disaster falling from the sky” read the headlines. A rainy day, however, was a respite from the terror as planes were grounded; a good weather day. The men, women, and children of Nanjing, however, could not have imagined the utter devastation that would soon befall their community.
The next six weeks would dehumanize a people in unfathomable ways. Murder for sport was the game – young, old, military, civilian, man, woman, child – no one was free of the atrocities of the Japanese invasion. The Rape of Nanjing included such massive devastation that part of the massacre was loosely termed “occasional” to describe the more informal slaying of the innocents against the more formal killings deemed “intentional.” Some 300,000 Chinese people were removed from existence in forty-two days. Rape. Intimidation. Rape. Mockery. Rape. Mutilation. Rape. War is a brutal machine that increases bestiality and strangles humanity. Step by step through the museum, name after name, victim upon victim, image upon image – humanity raining disaster on the innocent without second thought.
In such unspeakable times, we heed the words of Mr. Rogers who said, “Look for the helpers.” And they were there; people of all races and creeds stepping alongside the citizens of Nanjing; some of them our own. Minnie Vautrin, the “Goddess of Mercy,” chief among them. For twenty-eight years, she served as a Disciples of Christ missionary to the community of Nanjing. When many evacuated as the invasion was imminent, she stayed, a constant advocate, willing her own very being in front of thousands of women and children whose fate were in grave jeopardy.
Just moments before visiting the Museum, we paid homage to Minnie’s efforts at Ginling College, where she served as Dean and acting President during the Massacre. There, our trip leader, Rev. Dr. Xiaoling Zhu, Global Ministries Executive for East Asia and the Pacific, laid flowers at the feet of a statue of Minnie who smiled even as the rain poured down over her bronzed image. Without any certainty that we would have had the courage to stand with the people of Nanjing as she did, we stood next to her graven image, humbled by her spiritual capacity to care and emboldened with the Disciples of Christ heritage she left for us to carry on ourselves. There were other missionaries, surgeons, leaders who served courageously during the massacre, but Minnie, somehow, made it personal to the extent that I felt like I could call her Minnie.
Seeing these atrocities up close; unearthed layers of remains of fellow human beings and knowing such is still happening in the world, we were left to ponder the question: What is ours to do? Our response must have something to do with compassion. After all, the launch of the very entity that brought us to China is rooted in the compassionate response of Disciples to the people of Nanjing. The work of Week of Compassion is the presence of many who care; longing for the peaceable Realm of God to be known on earth as it is in heaven.
Toward the end of our journey in the museum, there was a powerful display entitled simply, “12 seconds.” The sound of a drop of water resonates through the space every twelve seconds. If counted by the time, every twelve seconds for six weeks, a brother or sister of Nanjing was slaughtered. Drip. Drip. Drip. Life is simply that fragile. There is constant work for us to do and compassion for us to bestow. Today was a reminder that we stand on the shoulders of our own, like Minnie, to do the compassionate work Christ calls us to do in our day; in our time. Our committee is resolved, like never before, to ensure good weather days for all of humanity – where compassion rains over the pains of this earth and where God’s love reigns supreme.
Today the Committee for the Week of Compassion had a very full day of developing relationships and receiving spiritual grace through the works being done on behalf of Christ here in the City of Nanjing.
Our first meeting was with the leadership of the Amity Foundation. This is a Christian based Foundation started in 1985 to serve as a bridge between the Chinese Church and the Global Church and to receive resources in order to respond to the great need for social services for the elderly, children with autism, the HIV crisis and others. They also respond to natural disasters like earthquakes, flooding and tsunamis.
Since it’s formation this organization, which is also a member of the ACT Alliance, has grown in so many ways. For example:
When it started, 95 percent of all monies received were from outside China. Now 76 percent of the monies raised for their mission are from within China.
When it started the organization responded to the Social Service and Disaster response needs exclusively in China. Now they are a provider distributing funds and providing personnel and goods to disasters around the world.
We then went to the Nanjing Drum Tower Hospital. This is a very large 3000 bed comprehensive hospital that not only provides compassionate care equally to all but is partnered with Nanjing University Medical School and engaged in teaching the latest medical knowledge and technology and conducting medical research. They are very proud and go to great lengths to promote their Christian roots from its founding by Dr William Macklin in 1892, to the response to the atrocities during the Japanese occupation during WWII into the present day by treating all equally with compassion and respect.
To round out the day we visited the Amity Press. This is a fantastically modern facility that has produced over 150,000,000 bibles in Chinese and to the many minority languages of China as well as over 90 languages worldwide. Their mission is to spread Gods love through the written word across China and the world. They are a well respected employer winning awards for their efforts in the workplace, their efforts to be a Green production facility, and for the quality of their work as a printer.
To date we have soaked up the culture through our interaction with the wonderful people we have met. Their history is amazing and Christ’s love is felt everywhere we travel.
Having arrived at various times the previous day, the group began the second day with breakfast together at the YMCA hotel. We began with a quick orientation an went over the schedule for the next couple of days. Following breakfast, we walked to our first partner site visit.
Our first meeting was with the General Secretary and Vice President of the China Christian Council. CCC is an umbrella organization for all protestant churches in the People’s Republic of China and it was established in 1980. The group we met with was part of the Social Service Ministry. We heard of some of the challenges they fce in being a church based social service ministry. Their emphasis is on helping churches become more focused on providing humanitarian support for people in need through increasing awareness, establishing pilot projects, and strengthening connections and networks across different churches.
After our time with CCC, we went to visit two YMCA facilities in Shanghai. Both facilities were focused on providing elder care. The first facility offered both residential options and daycare options. They have a select number of beds for residents to live there fulltime. They also provided daycare services for seniors to come and spend the day socializing with others, eating together and receiving some basic care service. The facility also offered assistance for families with children dealing with autism. They educated parents on how to engage in developmental activities with autistic children. The second facility was for daycare services for seniors.
The amazing thing about both the CCC visit and the YMCA senior facilities is seeing the church in China establish itself as a significant provider of social services and compassionate care. I couldn’t help but reflect on how, in the first few centuries of the Christian Church’s growth throughout the Roman Empire, one of the most distinctive characteristics of the Church was the ministry of care and compassion. Early Christians were known as people who cared for the poor, the elderly, and the sick. This attracted countless converts. Converts who believed in a risen savior and were compelled by the gospel, to care for the least of these. As Christianity spread across the vast Roman Empire, it led with faith and compassion. It is powerful to see the church in China grow in similar ways.