Disciples pastors trip to China

Article from Salisbury Post about Tom Brooke and other pastors' trip to China

By Susan Shinn, Salisbury Post

CHINA GROVE — Tom Brooke had always wanted to see China.

Tom, who serves on national missions boards for the United Church of Christ, mentioned this goal to his friend Dr. Xiaoling Zhu.

Xiaoling is area executive for East Asia and the Pacific with Global Ministries, a partnership between the Disciples of Christ and the United Church of Christ.

He just happened to be leading a group of Disciples of Christ ministers to China — and there was room for Tom and his wife, Carole.

In March, the Brookes, who are attorneys in China Grove, joined the group of 10 for two weeks in China. Group members met with national and provincial church leaders, attended worship services, visited seminaries and took time for sightseeing.

"It was really fascinating to travel with that group," Carole says.

"Even being in China for two weeks, it's more of a mystery now," Tom says.

"There's so much history and culture and tradition," Carole notes.

The tour was well organized and everything ran according to schedule.

"When we got to each place, church leaders would greet us and stay with us the whole time we were there," Tom says. "They're very formal and very organized."

Their group had designated a person to make introductions and small gifts were exchanged with each group they met.

"They told us to bring 50 presents and we thought that was crazy," Tom says.

"We were very limited in space, so we brought historic China Grove post cards," Carole says. "I don't know how many people got that — from China Grove to China. It got lost in translation, but we tried."

Tom received many nice silk ties — they're priced at about $10 there.

"Except for the ties," he notes, "there weren't really good deals there. I think it's the way the dollar has fallen."

From 1966 to 1976, the cultural revolution in China meant that schools and churches were closed, and no artistic activities or entertainment was allowed.

Although Xiaoling was separated from his family and sent to work in the rice fields, he was eventually allowed to come to seminary in the United States, and studied at Emory University.

"It was the opposite of what it sounds like," Carole says, "and people are still recovering from that."

Especially the churches.

Churches began to reopen about 1980. In China, Christianity is allowed and is regulated by a government group called the Chinese Christian Council. There are no separate Protestant religions.

The Brookes found, however, that with the influence of Western missionaries, one church might have more of a Baptist flair, while another may have a Lutheran flavor.

"They seem to give them pretty free rein," Tom says of churches, which must register with the government. "It's really a different way to do business. Without it, they would worship illegally."

Many churches are being built now — and most have huge congregations numbering in the thousands.

Finding members is not a problem, Tom says, in a country of more than a billion people.

The Brookes were in China for Easter Sunday, worshipping at a congregation in Chengdu.

"It was marvelous," Carole says. "The service was in Chinese, but a gentleman behind us translated for us, so we got the gist of the sermon. The music was very fine and the choirs were really good."

Although the music was in Chinese, the tunes were the same and the Brookes felt comfortable with the format of the service. The choir members even wore western-style robes.

Carole found the students in the seminaries they visited "very conscientious, studious and attentive. For teachers, they're just a joy to teach."

Their sightseeing opportunities were diverse. They visited the Nanjing Massacre Museum, which recounted the Rape of Nanjing by the Japanese in the 1930s. It was especially meaningful for their Disciples of Christ friends because many of those missionaries chose to stay during this atrocious event.

They visited the Drum Tower Hospital, built by Disciples of Christ missionaries, which is now the largest and most modern hospital in China.

They saw thousands of terracotta warriors in Xi'an, the capital of ancient China. An emperor spent 40 years assembling this army for his mausoleum.

A favorite stop was the panda garden in Chengdu.

"All they do is lie on their backs and chew bamboo," Tom says of the cuddly creatures. "It's amazing they weren't extinct a long time ago. I don't think they could've made it without interference of man. Everybody just had a smile on their face when we were there."

The Brookes' favorite part about visiting the Great Wall was seeing a friend from Concord, fellow attorney Phil Carroll — which goes to show how small the world can be at times.

In Beijing, the Brookes visited the Forbidden City and witnessed much evidence of preparation for this summer's Olympics in that city.

Huge stadiums are under construction and trees are being planted everywhere, Tom says.

The Brookes felt safe everywhere they went but were reminded of the closed society that still exists when they could find no information about the riots in Tibet — which happened when they were there.

When the English-language CNN station started reporting on the protests, the screen went black. Likewise, Tom and Carole couldn't pull up any information about it on the Internet.

"To be denied information is an awful thing," Carole says.

Still, the Brookes remain optimistic about China and its emergence onto the world scene.

"Maybe we're brainwashed," Tom says, "but the Chinese are trying so hard to be part of the world.

"I'm kind of rooting for them with the Olympics. They want to put on a good show. They're trying hard and they're so excited."

If you'd like to learn more about Carole and Tom's trip to China, they're hosting a Chinese dinner at Mount Zion United Church of Christ. The event is set for 6 p.m. Sunday, May 18. To attend, call the church at 704-857-1169.

Original article with photos on Salisbury Post website