Christianity in China appears to be thriving based on a Nov. 17 to Dec. 1 official visit to China's Christian Churches and seminaries. I was one of a twelve member short term musical ministry team, East West Christian Outreach (EWCO). EWCO is a National City, California based organization. Its founder is the Reverend Harold Jow. Team members represented five Chinese American congregations in Honolulu, Mobile, Alabama, Cerritos, and San Diego. Finances are derived from team members, EWCO friends and Church congregations in the United States.
EWCO's aim is to bring greetings and support to China's Christians from American Christians, especially Chinese-American Christians. EWCO has seen the rapid rise of Chinese Christians and realized that pre-revoluntion seminary trained pastors either had passed away, retired, were ill or advancing in age. To encourage a new generation of seminary trained pastors and to prevent heresy in Christian Doctrine, The Rev, Harold Jow began sending funds to purchase Bible commentaries for graduating seminarians and by sending funds to Chinese Christian organizations.
This was the fifth trip by EWCO to China at the invitation of the China Christian Council (Expenses paid by EWCO and team members). The Catholic and Protestant Patriotic Church is the only recognized church in China.
The EWCO Team from the U.S. Singing in Beijing
Our trip included stops to Beijing, Tianjin, Xian, Chengdu, Kumming, Guilin and Shanghai. In brief are some highlights:
Tianjin - newly built 700-seat church in that city with a greeting from the Christian Council. The Council member claimed sufficient Bibles were available in China but a member of the State Bureau of Religious Affairs was present when the statement was made. A wonderful meal of potstickers was cooked and we heard a presentation by the three choirs of the Protestant Churches in that city. The choirs sang with robust voices with the choir members taking time off of work to spend the afternoon in song. A post church visit was paid to the former church pastor who is in ill health and had been persecuted by the Japanese during the War and by the Red Guard.
Beijing - 250 mostly elderly women at 9 A.M. in the morning gathered at Chongwenmen church to pray upon their knees. This service was lead by a 27 year old female pastor as the senior pastors of China's churches were in bi-annual meeting in Jinan. EWCO team leader, the Rev. Harold Jow spoke without restriction or advance submission of text on the subject of prayer. EWCO's signature song "Wo Jiang Ping An", "My Peace", afforded an opportunity for EWCO team members to move among the congregants and the tears flowed. This church presented team members with a cassette tape of hymns made by a member of the church who is a professional singer. An evening visit with 200 career-aged congregants was at Gangwanxi Church on Xidan Road. I had worship there previously two or three time in 1984 when I attended a Mandarin language program in Beijing. This service came after a day of work and some brought their non-Christian friends to attend.
Another visit was to the Yenjing Seminary. There I met seminarians from Shanxi Province and Mongolia. The seminarians are in a five year program with the 3rd year being a field placement. Seventy two seminarians were enrolled with 60% being female. The late afternoon gathering saw the students sing come contemporary praise songs. As at other seminaries and as in past years, EWCO promised graduation gifts of Bible Commentaries upon graduation. The tuition cost is $1,000 RMB which generally come from the seminarians home church and council. The real cost is borne by the seminary.
Xian - due to poor weather in Beijing our host waited for us in the airport from morning until 2 A.M. and we missed a Saturday welcome gathering and Sunday Church service. However, we did visit a rural church that was started 90 years ago by a Chinese Christian. The old black brick church was dwarfed by a high vaulted new church building. Inside the church were some 50 choir members who greeted us in Shanxi dialect song. Our pianist had her first of several opportunities to play a foot pump organ.
Chengdu - I was ill and skipped the first days visit to a Bible School. I did attend a trip to a rural church in "Jiajia". A 93 year female pastor still lead the church with a younger pastor assuming more control. The 93 year old went to seminary before women could be ordained. She was ordained and during the revolution she became a nurse. She returned to her faith and when given a choice, chose to work in this rural setting. The sanctuary had embedded concrete post seats. The Church had a day care and several children entertained. As we left the Chengdu airport we met a Canadian Chinese pastor on a sabbatical to Chengdu. He taught a course at the seminary and for the past several years has worked out an exchange of seminarians from Chengdu to Canada and for Canadians to Chengdu.
Kumming - Kumming was a highlight due to is pleasant weather and the experiences encountered. We had dinner and meeting with the local Christian Council. They arranged an evening gather with the Choir from Holy Trinity Church. Presently they use a rented storefront for mid-week activities. Their church was torn down and they rent a movie theater and accommodate 1,000 worshippers for morning and afternoon services. Choir members, some children sacrifice much time in practicing and singing all day at church. Due to cramp facilities there was no childcare.
The real highlight was a 3.5-hour bus trip to a Miao minority Christian village. The last hour of the trip was on rugged dirt road and even no road. Most drivers refuse to take people to this remote area due to the wear and tear on their vehicle. Fortunately, a Christian driver willingly took the group. The 50 - 60 member choir in ethnic dress lined the road for us to walk into their village upon our arrival. The village had one motorized vehicle and limited electricity. We visited the church that was the sole painted structure in this village of corn and squash farmers with limited education and opportunity. They hosted a luncheon that they began food preparation three days in advance and went out to buy us store rice.
The Miao Minority Village Choir
Guilin - Guilin had real natural beauty. We attended the sole Christian church in the city that had a membership of 1,000 with half of the congregants present. A half hour singing program preceded the formal service. Here as elsewhere in China there was a great choir. Rev. Jow delivered the message and there was fellowship time with worshippers and choir members. The grill work around the church, openly displays the cross and all the churches in China had large and adequate signage.
The Congregation of the Guilin Church
Shanghai is China's great city reflecting western thoughts and values. Approximately 124 Protestant churches exist in Shanghai with 125,000 Christians or 1% of the population. We visited the Mu En Church off of People's Park. I had visited this church in 1981 and the church is more fully restored with stained glass windows. In this church as well as other multi-service churches, the same sermon is delivered each service so that worshippers do not stay for more than one service. The church found that before morning services began worshippers were waiting outside the gate. Even upon unlocking the gates earlier in the mornings, worshippers came earlier. To my surprise the church pamphlet described Saturday, 7th Day Adventist foot washing services. I understood that denominations do not exist in China. Our host explained that pre-Three Self Movement Patriotic traditions were still retained and continued. The Chinese church continues to use familiar hymns that are found in the West. The church presented teams members with a gift of a Chinese hymnal.
The thoughts written are the authors alone. They are only a glimpse but a positive one of the current state of the Church in China today.
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