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Farewell to China

Written by Doreen and Michael McFarlane
July 1, 2010

When the two of us headed to

China for the first time, in 2006, we understood it would likely be for one year and possibly two. As it turned out, we have lived and worked in China for four years. Our calling was to serve as a "Critical Presence" to the people of China. As our ministry with the Common Global Ministries Board of the Christian Church Disciples of Christ and the United Church of Christ draws to an end, following our upcoming home assignment visiting churches throughout specific areas of the country, we can say with all our hearts that we have been deeply blessed! We have been blessed by the assignments given to us by the CGMB. And, we have been deeply blessed by the people of China who have changed our lives significantly! It is our hope too that we have, in turn, been a blessing to them.

As you may have read in earlier reports from us, we spent three years as visiting professors at the Nanjing Union Theological Seminary. I (Doreen) taught Biblical Hebrew and Greek, and Biblical interpretation, while Michael served as choir director and taught western sacred music. Our students lived on site, as did we, in the loveliest historic campus which was located in the center of downtown Nanjing, a huge active and busy city! (Nanjing was, for many years, the capital city of China.) Halfway through our third year, the new campus was completed, in the outskirts of the city and we all moved out there! There were many highlights during our time in Nanjing. These were often connected with music, as Michael led the choir through seasonal concerts each year, with performances by talented students, faculty, and guest artists. In addition, we especially enjoyed the many esteemed visitors who came to our campus. These included seminary presidents, deans, faculty, and board members from any number of seminaries in the U.S. and elsewhere, luminaries from various worldwide ministries including Franklin Graham (son of Billy Graham) Robert Schuler, and even the General Secretary of the World Council of Churches! These guests often gave lectures and engaged in question and answer periods with our students! Nanjing Union Theological Seminary was indeed the hub of theological education for all of China. In addition to our Chinese faculty colleagues, we enjoyed sharing life with visiting seminary professors from Canada, U.S., Germany, and Finland. The cultural mix was always engaging.

This last year, we took on new assignments, this time in the magnificent city of Shanghai! I was to be the first westerner to teach as visiting professor in the history department of the Shanghai University, teaching American Culture and American Religion. What a rare privilege! Michael would serve as choir director and concert coordinator of the newest branch of the Shanghai YMCA.  I also worked at YMCA, teaching American Culture to a group of seniors. In addition, we taught singing, gave vocal performances ourselves (being longtime professional singers), and led an English Club of about 40 young Shanghai adults all at the YMCA. (The YMCA has been in Shanghai since its first building, recently renovated, was erected in 1908 – under the auspices of a man named Lewis whose grandson, Brian Lewis, was by chance a parishioner of mine in the 90s when I served as a pastor in Sarasota Florida.)  

Our work in Shanghai had one aspect that was very different from that at the Nanjing Seminary; most of our students and the people we interacted with were non-Christians and even atheists. In most cases it was not that they had chosen to be "against" religion but only that they did not have a religion! Learning this brought immediately to my mind an old hymn we used to sing as children in Canada. Its second verse went like this.

How kind was our savior to bid these children welcome.

But there are many thousands who have never heard His name.

The Bible they have never read. They know not that the Savior said:

"Suffer little children to come unto me."

When I was young, I never expected to actually be meeting these people. And, now, here in Shanghai, we were living among them, and seeing them as gentle and kind and giving – but without any religion, many never having heard the name of Jesus. We were not permitted to proselytize, as the Chinese government does not allow it. Still, there was no reason why could not talk 'about' Christianity and, maybe even more importantly, to try to role model in as simple and sincere a way as possible just how a Christian behaves. It was easy to love and serve the Chinese people, as they were always so good to us. This gave us pause to think about who we are and what we need to do as Christians in the world.             

As you may imagine, we have a hundred stories to tell! We will be meeting with many of you as we carry out our home assignments which we currently expect to be in Canada, Connecticut, and Nebraska in coming months. If you hear that we will be in your area, be sure to come to one of the churches or events to meet with us. Ask us any questions that may have been on your mind about China or about the work of the Common Global Ministries Board.  As you might imagine, China is a complex place with a very long and ancient culture – not anything one can assimilate in four years at all! Still, we have impressions and thoughts and memories to share. We look forward to time with you and also to hearing more about your churches and your ministries.

Respectfully submitted,

Doreen and Michael McFarlane  

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