by Susan Gonzales Dewey, Co-Regional Minister
As many of you may know, I am a member of the Week of Compassion Committee and this year’s fall meeting was held in China (due to a gift from an anonymous donor this trip cost the Week of Compassion no more than a regular fall meeting). I am thankful to the Executive Director of Week of Compassion Rev. Vy Nguyen and our Global Ministries Area Executive for East Asia Rev. Xiaoling Zhu for arranging this pilgrimage and opening our eyes to the wonder of China and the Christian movement in this part of the world.
We went to meet with our partners and to see first hand what is happening with Week of Compassion’s Sustainability Grants given in the recent years. It is very difficult to give you a full flavor of two weeks, 6 cities and 39 meals, planes, trains subways and busses, and more partners than I can count, but I want to share some of this trip with you in print, and would love to come and share more in person if you would like to invite Don or me to visit your congregation or group.
Week of Compassion was started in 1939 as a movement to bring relief to China after the 1939 Earthquake and the 1941 Famine. Over the last several years the Week of Compassion fund, through its Sustainability Grant program, has supported in China a well for an orphanage, programs for children with disabilities, goats for families with Aids, and tree farms to raise funds for poor villages heavily impacted by aids. (These villagers were encouraged to sell their blood and were infected through unclean needles).
While we were there, we met with the National China Council of Churches and Provincial Councils of Churches, seminaries and social service programs sponsored by the congregations in China.
On Sunday morning in China, we headed to worship along with 40 million other Chinese Christians. When I first heard that 2-4% of the population of China were Christians I didn’t realize that it would translate to 40 million people.
In the United States, we sometimes hear that the church is dying, because many older Anglo congregations are declining but the church universal is growing and growing rapidly. And that is especially true in China.
We worshiped with the seminarians in the School in Shaangxi 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. However, 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. (This was the story we heard from all of the Seminary leaders we met with, the need for more space, more books, more teachers, and more scholarships)
At the Shaangxi Province Seminary 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 Yuen from local people, the government and partners overseas. That translates to roughly 13 million dollars. It is a Spirit filled dream.
The Shaangxi seminary (like all seminaries) 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 came to the Province. 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 pastors, 278 church workers who are preaching, and 3000 volunteers who are preaching every Sunday as well. (Again these are the kinds of ratios we heard about all through our visit)
“To love our neighbors” is the slogan of the Shaangxi Provincial Christian Council and they have Ministries that provide volunteer training 3-4 times a year for local pastors in communications, finance and social services training (what we might call outreach Ministries) and they have websites and publish a quarterly magazine.
The China Christian Council works with Amity Foundation to fund much of the work. This is an organization that can receive funds for good works from outside of the country, and it supports a printing business that can produce up to 14 million Bibles per year. They help the churches to rebuild schools and help poor families as well as provide training to churches on how to operate social service projects.
The Disciples of Christ have a long history in China as well, and in particular in the province of Nanjing. My friend Mark Briley wrote of our visit there:
"When we visited Nanjing it was a good weather day in Nanjing. It rained all day. It was a disappointment of the weather at first. After all, it had rained our entire visit in Nanjing thus far. After visiting The Nanjing Massacre Museum, 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 brutality 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, 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.” Thank you Mark!
Since our Visas said we were in China as “tourists” we did get to visit the Terra Cotta Soldiers. It was amazing to see this collections of artistry built for one mans burial and afterlife. So many people were tasked to create the Terra Cotta soldiers and horses and then paint them and place them in the underground tomb. The extent of the ruins is amazing, and so is the tourist crowd to see this bit of history. We saw the Forbidden City; it is the largest of the ancient buildings. It was the political center of the empire for the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) and the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). I loved the main hall names, the Hall of Supreme Harmony, the Hall of Complete Harmony and the Hall of Preserving Harmony were the spaces for the Emperor to conduct the business of the Empire. The Summer Palace was a place for the Emperors family to relax and spend time around the lake. It is amazing that in the very busy and crowded city of Beijing this extensive property is kept as a museum to the past. I think in the United States, it would have been turned into a resort.
But of all the tourist sights we visited the Great Wall was my favorite. We only walked a very small portion of this 21,196 km (31,170 miles) wall (the more popular Ming Dynasty section is about 5500 miles) This is a wall that was once built to keep foreigners out is now a place where people from all corners of the world gather, we heard Russians and Ethiopians and South Americans and Germans and French walk the wall with us.
From the Soaring Cities of Shanghai and Beijing to the small rural villages outside of Zhoukou City we met with Christian partners, Pastors, Volunteer Church workers, seminary students, seminary Presidents, Christian Council Leaders and even the Government leader of the State Administration for Religious Affairs and heard about the work of the Christian community that is working along side the government, and the other religious communities to make a difference in their world, to bring hope to the poor, to the lonely and abandoned, and to make the Good News of Jesus real for the 1.3 billion people in China.