Council of Theological Students China Blog

Council of Theological Students China Blog

Members of the 2009-2010 Global Ministries Council of Theological Students departed on a People-to-People Pilgrimage with partners in China on May 25th.  During their two week experience, members of the Council of Theological Students will build on networks and theological work they’ve engaged in together during the past year.  Immersed in theologies and practice of mission and the church in China, members will travel together, meet theological students at seminaries and Bible colleges in China, visit with church leaders and worship with partners.

CTS China Trip Blog

 Day 1

by Lori Heutmaker, United Theological College (Photos by Melissa Marquis, Bangor Theological Seminary)

Today was our first full day on the ground in China and what an experience we had!  We visited the Shanghai Expo, comparable to the World’s Fair, which gave us full exposure to the Chinese people in ways we never imagined. We were reminded very early in the day that what it feels to be singled out for being “different.’  Being of Scandinavian heritage, I am blond and blue-eyed which blends easily in my native Minnesota, including my home congregation.  What a difference it was to be somewhere that because I looked so completely foreign, people throughout the day stopped to take pictures of me.  It was amusing at first, but after some time, it began to feel just plain weird.  That statement speaks so much of why I am on this trip – to show me what it is like to be “other.”  However, I was lucky.  The Chinese people were polite and kind, if not even a little embarrassed about asking.  I wonder what it would have been like if I had been green, with a wart on my nose, and a third eye in the middle of my forehead.  Would my reception have been the same?  Not likely, nor has our country’s history shown a favorable face to “other.”  So who do we see when we see someone not like us?  Paul’s words are clear to us, “You are all one in the body of Christ…” (Gal. 3:28)  Looking around at millions of people in this large country, I think I will need to readjust my idea of the size of Christ’s body.



 Day 2

GM Council of Theological Students – Day 2 by Lauren Lorincz, Andover Newton Theological Seminary (Photos by Melissa Marquis)

Today we had the pleasure of meeting with the China Christian Council in Shanghai and had the opportunity to both listen and ask questions about Christianity in China today.  And afterwards we even got to have a wonderful lunch and try some of the local cuisine, including duck tongue and chicken feet!  We learned that China recognizes five religions: Protestant Christianity, Catholic Christianity, Buddhism, Daoism, and Islam.  The representatives on the China Christian Council consider themselves to live in a post-denominational era and emphasize that Christianity in China is united (but the Catholic Church is considered to be separate from Protestant Christianity.)  The Chinese Church reaches out to Chinese people in many ways and responds to the needs of the people.  The China Christian Council has done extensive work recently with the earthquake victims from the devastating April earthquake and spoke about all the work they do to care for the victims, including providing stoves for them to cook food for themselves.  It is remarkable to see the work that is going on in China and the many ways Chinese Christians live out the call of Jesus to be servants in the service of others.  And I can only pray that God continues to bless them and their ministries. 

Members of national staff of China Christian Council Members of GM Council of Theological Students with GM mission personnel, Michael and Dorene McFarlane, Xiaoling Zhu, Mary Schaller Blaufuss


 Day 3

GM Council of Theological Students – Day 3 by Merlyn Lawrence, Chicago Theological Seminary

Today we visited the Amity Foundation, Nanjing Union Theological Seminary and the Amity Bible Printing Press.  I will focus on the latter two visits.

We learned that in China there are four levels of seminaries: national , provincial,  regional and municipal.  Nanjing Union Theological Seminary was founded in 1952, closed down with the cultural revolution, and reopened in 1981.  The school body has over two hundred students, pursuing undergraduate and graduate studies.  China does not have enough qualified pastors or church leaders.  To meet the needs of rapidly growing church in China, the most important mission of the church in China is theological education.   Nanjing Union Theological seminary trains teachers, pastors and church leaders, and provides continuing education..  It is the only national seminary and is accredited to confer the master of theology degree.

A student leader shared that the focus and activities of the student union are  foremost concentrated on spiritual formation, theological studies, entertainment and recreation, and life concerns.  “Through our collective labor as a student body we express our gratitude to God by building up this campus into a garden of prayer”.        

The Amity Printing Press was established in 1985 and to date has printed 70 million bibles in 75 languages, including Braille, for 147 bible societies in 200 countries.  I was pleased to find copies of the Afrikaans Bible as read in the country of my birth, South Africa. The printing press publishes 45,000 bibles a day.  Imagine that!   Our group eagerly purchased bilingual bibles in English and Chinese for ourselves. The priority of the Amity Printing Press is to print bibles for Chinese Christians and churches, churches which are growing by leaps and bounds. 

At each place we visited, our Chinese brothers and sisters offered us warm welcome and wonderful hospitality.  We have been energized by their faith and will return home holding them in our hearts and prayers, inspired with new vision and mission for the Church of Jesus Christ.   

Volunteer at Amity Foundation, faith-based social service and disaster relief organization in China Lauren Lorincz, Andover Newton Theological Seminary, identifying a favorite textbook in the library of Nanjing Union Theological Seminary


 Day 4

GM Council of Theological Students – Day 4 by Melissa Marquis Bangor Theological Seminary, Maine

Greetings from Nanjing! We started the day with an amazing breakfast buffet at the hotel. Our first stop was at the Jiangsu Bible School. This is a school operated by the China Christian Council. With 1.3 million Christians in this province, the training of pastors is critical.

From the Bible School we visited the Nanjing Drum Tower Hospital. This hospital was started by a Disciples of Christ missionary, Dr. William Macklin in 1892. We toured the old wing of the hospital where there is now a museum, visited the newest Chinese citizens in the maternity ward and had a fine lunch with some of the administrators and doctors of the hospital.

 From there we visited the Nanjing Memorial Museum. The Nanjing massacres occurred in 1937 resulting in 300,000 Chinese people being killed by the Japanese in six short weeks. It is amazing to me that we experienced the miracle of birth and the sadness of death (especially violent deaths) in the course of one day. We laughed; we cried and reflected on the grace of God and God’s presence with us from birth until death.

We feel truly blessed for the opportunity to meet all the kind people we have met and a chance to learn about Christianity in China.

Next stop Xi’ian! Until then, blessings and peace to you all.

Merlyn Lawrence, Chicago Theological Seminary, presenting thank you gift from UCC/DOC seminaries to Rev. Fan Jing-fang, Dean of Studies at Jiangsu Bible College Next to statue honoring Dr. William Macklin on the campus at Nanjing Drum Tower Hospital.  Pictured are members of the Council of Theological Students, staff and administrators of the hospital, Rev. Shelton Neth, General Secretary of United Church in Micronesia who has joined the group for this pilgrimage in China and to meet with partners
CTS group visiting Nanjing Seminary  


 Day 5

GM Council of Theological Students – Day 5 by Jayme Harvey, Brite Divinity School

On Sunday we got the awesome privilege of worshipping with the people of Jinyong Church, located just a few miles outside of Xi’an.  We were greeted with warm hospitality.  The people were so eager to receive us, and we were so excited to be there.  What took place during worship that day has been imprinted on my spirit forever. 

One word comes to my mind when I think about that worship service:  Passion.  The passion the Chinese people of Jinyong Church have for worshipping God is profoundly beautiful.  At one point in the service, the pastor asked the people to pray.  Everyone stood up and began to pray out loud, each with individual prayers.  As the praying went on the room just grew louder and louder and louder, the beating of God’s heart forming a melody that saturated everyone present.  Some fell to their knees.  Some just closed their eyes.  Many had salty tears flow down their cheeks. 

Every song sung and every prayer spoken by the Chinese people of Jinyong Church came from the deepest and most intimate places of the heart.  As a visitor, it felt like one of the most genuine and honest times of worship I have ever experienced.



 Day 6

GM Council of Theological Students – Day 6 by Melissa Marquis, Bangor Theological Seminary, Maine.
Monday May 31, 2010

Sing joyfully to the Lord you righteous; it is fitting for the upright to praise God. Praise the Lord with the harp; make music to God on the ten stringed lyre. Sing to God a new song; play skillfully and shout for joy Psalm 33:1-3.

Today was another amazing day in Xi’an, China. We met with the Shannxi Christian Council leaders then visited the Shannxi Bible School. There we had lunch with the faculty then met with 50+ students in the chapel and had some devotional time with them. What is it about music and singing that fills me with the Holy Spirit?  Their singing and praying is like nothing I have ever seen before. When they sing, they sing with incredible joy and love for God. It is clear that the Holy Spirit was with them as they sang and cried with overwhelming passion. It touched me deep in my soul. The magnitude of the faith that these students have amazes me. We were also very honored to one by one share a bit of our own faith journeys. It is a moment on this trip that I will never forget.

The afternoon was filled with visits to the Stone Tablet and Terracotta Museums then another flight, this time to our last stop: Beijing!

p.s. Mary ate chicken feet for breakfast this morning!

Shannxi Bible School Chapel Service Stone Tablet in Xi’an records early Nestorian Christian presence in China in 6th century with Lori Heutmaker, United Theological Seminary, MN


 Day 8

GM Council of Theological Students – Day 8, The Departures by Lori Heutmaker, United Theological Seminary, Minnesota
Thursday, June 3

After our visit to Yanjing Bible College and witnessing the work happening there, we left once again moved by the work of the Spirit in China. We were warmly greeted by the faithful, with more conversation of what it is to be Christian here. It will take me some time to integrate all I have seen and heard, but I know that it has changed my thinking even in this short of a visit.

Of the Top Ten Things to do in Beijing, climbing the Great Wall has to rank in the top three! Mary Blaufuss, our fearless shepherd, and myself climbed to the top of the peak where we had entered. A fine and glorious moment just for the view it afforded us. Our visit to one of the “Seven Wonders” was awe inspiring, capping what has already proven to be an inspirational journey.

Alas, our day was bittersweet as we knew it was to be the last that we would spend together.  Xiaoling knew a mutiny was brewing, so to end the day we had some shopping time at the Pearl Shopping Center.  Thanks to Tom and Lynnae (Global Ministries’ mission personnel current and future – Tom Morris and Lynnae Walker are engaged to be married in August. Both have been serving in China for the past 3 years), we learned how to barter for pearls and all the gifts we needed to pick up for our return trip.

Parting with our friends was sweet and brief, as the group going on to the Henan province left directly after dinner to travel on an overnight train.  However, it went without saying that our separation is only temporary, for we now have new relationships to continue to grow.

Mary, Melissa, and I made one last stop before leaving Beijing to Tiananmen Square.  We passed through a security checkpoint much like we’d find at the National Mall in DC, but emerged into a place that immediately overwhelmed me. I felt, in the middle of the Chinese national pride in that square, we were also standing on hallowed ground.  That square has seen leadership come and go through the decades, and the courage of those who have stood there remains as an undercurrent, a witness to the strength of the people.  My tears prompted a prayer for the many throughout history who have passed through the gates in the hope of being heard.  They were today.

On the campus at Yanjing Bible College,  Beijing – Jesus washing the feet of his disciples  (Photo by Lauren Lorincz, Andover Newton Theological Seminary)


The group at The Great Wall of China – Members of Council of Theological Students, Xiaoling, Mary, Tom & Lynnae (Global Ministries mission personnel current & future), and Hong Liang Liu (pastor in Beijing & seminary student at Eden Theological Seminary, St. Louis, beginning in September, 2010)


 Days 9 and 10

GM Council of Theological Students – Day 9 by Merlyn Lawrence, Chicago Theological Seminary

Jaime Harvey, Lauren Lorinz and I, together with Rev. Dr Xiaoling Zhu left Beijing for the Henan Province on Wednesday evening and spent the night on the train arriving in Zhoukou City on Thursday morning (Day 9). 

The Henan Province is the largest province in China in that it makes up 10% of the Chinese population.  It is also the largest agricultural province in China and one of the poorest areas in China.  It has 11 counties with a population of 11.4 million people.  In the city of Zhoukou, there are 700,000 to 800,000 Christians, attributing to 6% of Christians in this area. 

The Chinese Church bases itself on the principles of Three-Self Patriotic Movement to be self-governing, self-propagating and self-supporting.  Many churches are able to uphold the first two principles and financially depend on Sunday offering, but Churches in the poor area in Zhoukou, Henan are working hard to have all kinds of projects to generate fund to support themselves fully.  This area also has large numbers of people with HIV/AIDS, having sold their blood seeking to make a better life.  In these rural villages, there have been hundreds of deaths related to HIV/Aids, leaving scores of orphaned children.  Many villages were infected without even knowing it.  The City of Zhoukou has 34 villages.  In one village of 1300 people there were 56 known cases of people infected with the virus of whom 36 are still living.

For our two days (Thursday and Friday) in the Province, we visited several villages, a hospital, a seminary, churches, schools and the projects supported by Global Ministries. There are projects sponsored by Global Ministries in collaboration with the Amity Foundation or ones where the sponsorship goes directly to the NGOs.  Through it’s Green Project, Global Ministries helps the peasants and farmers grow a variety of trees and fruit and vegetables and helps them learn new, innovative models of farming and agricultural technology, enabling them a better income and to be self supporting.  At the seminary students also farm to help the seminary to be self supporting.  Global Ministries supports the orphans whose parents have died of HIV/Aids.  We interacted with families, orphans and recipients of goats and livestock from Global Ministries.  We were very impressed by a new school being built in one village supported by Global Ministries.  At the time of our visit, it was harvest time and so students from the seminary in Zhoukou had left for home and farms in the rural villages to help with the harvest.  Of the 1200 churches in Zhoukou, it only has 6 ordained pastors and 32 elders, who all serve the church on a volunteer basis.  No one is paid for the service they render in the church. 

But by far the most exciting time for us as a group and a significant highlight on this journey was our encounter with the children on Day 10, Friday.  As we walked through one village, the children started to follow us and engage with us, the crowd becoming larger as we went along.  The children were enamored by the sight of us foreigners, delighted in our interactions with them, loved the attention they were receiving, eagerly posed for pictures and accompanied us all the way.  In another village we visited an elementary school where many of the children who are orphaned attend and found ourselves surrounded by a hundred playful and laughing children, happy to be photographed as they raised their arms and hands giving peace signs.  What a way for us to end our pilgrimage to China, being sent off by the children from those rural villages in love and peace.   We hold all we encountered in our hearts and prayers.

We left Zhoukou on Friday evening by overnight train bound for Beijing.  On Saturday Day 11), we were able to make one final visit to Tiananmen Square before leaving for the Beijing airport bound for home.  



 About CTS and the China trip

Each academic year, Global Ministries gathers a Council of Theological Students (CTS) composed of representatives chosen by theological schools and associations related to the United Church of Christ and Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).  Members gain first-hand experience of Global Ministries work through the opportunity to experience the home-based work of Global Ministries in education, interpretation, and advocacy; and the option to participate in a People-to-People Pilgrimage with global partner churches and schools. 

Please pray for the China pilgrimage participants:
Lori Ann Heutmaker, United Theological Seminary, Bloomington, MN
Lauren Ashley Lorincz, Andover Newton Divinity School, Newton Centre, MA
Jayme Sue Harvey, Brite Divinity School, Fort Worth, TX
Merlyn Judy Lawrence, Chicago Theological Seminary, Wheaton, IL
Melissa Jacqueline Marquis, Bangor Theological Seminary, Acton, ME
Mary Schaller Blaufuss, Wider Church Ministries Volunteer Ministries Executive and the CTS Coordinator
Xiaoling Zhu, GM East Asia and Pacific Area Executive