In the beginning – October 23, 1939 – the board members of the United Christian Missionary Society came together and sought to call attention to “the appalling distress resulting from the hostilities in China and urge generous support”. They recommended that the Committee for China Relief serve as the agency for churches in the United States to administer aid.
One of the sources reporting the appalling distress was likely a Disciples of Christ missionary from Illinois, Minnie Vautrin. Minnie was born in 1886 and received her teacher training at Illinois Normal University and University of Illinois. She attended the University Church and was part of the Bethany Circle – a woman’s church group on campus. The pastor brought Minnie to the attention of the Foreign Christian Missionary Society (Disciples of Christ) who asked her to consider a teaching position in China. Minnie arrived in China in 1912, studied the language for a year and began teaching at a small Christian school for girls. In 1918 she returned to the states to obtain her Master’s degree from Columbia University, and when she returned to China in 1919 she went to Nanjing to help establish the first women’s college- Ginling College.
There was considerable turbulence within China in the 20’s, but much more serious troubles with Japan began in 1931. Initially, the violence remained in the north. But by 1937, China and Japan were officially at war. As the fighting increased in the south – around Shanghai – refugees moved west towards Nanjing. Minnie’s diaries, which are kept in the Disciples Historical Society, located at Bethany College, contain her daily reports and observations during this terrible time. Under Minnie’s guidance, the staff did their best to prepare a “safety zone” for the refugees. They put a large American flag on the courtyard and anticipated they could house about 2,750 women and children at the college. At the height of the violence, there were over 10,000 women and children staying on the campus. There is no doubt that this Safety Zone – and Minnie’s interventions – spared many women and children from brutal attacks by the Japanese. But she could not save and protect them all. By May of 1938 it had become “safer” for the refugees to leave the campus, but they had little to return to because homes and crops had been destroyed. Minnie’s spirit had been destroyed as well. She returned to the states in 1940 to receive treatment for a nervous breakdown. In 1941 she wrote a letter to her friends saying she preferred death to insanity, and took her own life.
This tragedy is part of the foundation of Week of Compassion. The Committee for China Relief has grown into an organization that is able to respond to disasters all over the world of both natural and manmade origins, provide personal and financial resources that support sustainable development, and be an agent of connectivity between those in need, and those who care. We cannot heal every wound, save every life, or repair every village, but we have no doubts that our outreach ministry is truly the work of Disciples of Christ. That is who we are. Thank God.
The 12 members of the Week of Compassion Board will be traveling to China to visit the Nanjing Massacre Museum as well as some of the programs Week of Compassion has supported. Susan, who serves on the WoC Board and myself are privileged to travel on this mission trip to China with Week of Compassion. We will travel from October 16-30.
Every 4-5 years the committee has been able to travel out of the US to actually visit some of the overseas programs. In 1998 a few members of the committee went to El Salvador – right on the heels of hurricane Mitch. They were a response team – as they pooled all their money, purchased supplies, hired a truck, and drove over washed out roads, avoiding bandits, to deliver supplies to a remote village. We hope that our experience will not be as harrowing!
During this election season – with the focus on the need for transparency – we want you to know that ALL of the expenses in China for WoC Board members are being covered by an anonymous donor. The flight tickets were purchased by WoC at the remarkable price of $533 – round trip. That cost is not much more than the cost for people to travel to Indianapolis for a 3-day meeting.
The group arrives in Shanghai on Oct. 17 and hopes to follow a very full itinerary guided by Dr. Rev. Xiaoling Zhu, the Executive Director of Global Ministries in East Asia. He has scheduled visits to many Christian organizations, Week of Compassion programs, as well as traditional tourist sites. In China, we are traveling as tourists, not a religious group. In Shanghai we will visit the China Christian Council, before going to Nanjing where we will see the Nanjing Massacre Museum and then the Terracotta Soldier Museum in Xi’an. On Sunday 23rd about 13 hours before you gather, we will worship with the Shaanxi Chinese Christian Church, and have lunch with seminary students. Our next stop is Zhoukou where will have the chance to see the goat project and tree farm supported by WoC. AIDS has had a devastating impact on small villages in this region because those who had limited income sold their blood – that was gathered with contaminated needles. The personal impact as well as the stigma has severely limited their ability to support families.
On the 26th we will travel to Xuchang to visit an orphanage where WoC has provided funds to dig a well deep enough to obtain clean water. We take a train that afternoon to Beijing where we will meet with the Religious Affairs of the State Administration of China, and the Beijing Christian Council. We’re scheduled to have lunch at the Yanjing seminary the next day, and in between squeeze in visits to the Great Wall, Summer Palace, and Forbidden City.
According to this very tight itinerary – we can go shopping on Saturday afternoon! We return home on Sunday, Oct. 30th –arriving by the clock – 20 minutes before we left!
This is an opportunity to build relationships with our partners in China, and build a foundation of friendship and understanding with the people of China. We will be able to see the work that has been done with the support of Week of Compassion and allow the people in China to put names and faces to some of the Disciples of Christ who care. We would ask you to offer up some prayers for the safety and health of the travelers on the WoC team. Lift us up that our hearts and minds remain open and strong. Send us some courage, stamina, and good humor! And be prepared to hear our stories.
Together on the journey,
Don and Susan
Co-Regional Ministers, PSWR