May 27, 2009

Finding Faith in China

Finding Faith in China:
Historic Visit Begins in Shanghai and Wuxi

Read Report 2 ,Report #3

 “The kingdom of this world . . . is become . . . the kingdom of our Lord, and of His Christ.”

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General Conference president Jan Paulsen and Northern Asia-Pacific Division president Jairyong Lee show a giant  66-language Bible to believers at the Wuxi Adventist congregation's mid-week worship service on Wednesday night. [Photo: Glenn Mitchell/NSD]

capThe stirring prophecy of Handel’s “Hallelujah Chorus” soars above the blue-robed choir to the shadowed arches of this old Anglican cathedral in Wuxi, China. I feel the tears swell in my eyes as I stand with the Wednesday night congregation of 700 Adventists in tribute to the One Who was, and is, and most importantly, is to come. Here, in the vastness of the land once known as the Middle Kingdom, I see the light in the eyes of believers as they stake all they have on the truth the choir announces: “And He shall reign forever and ever.”

A delegation of church leaders led by General Conference president Jan Paulsen is making a one-week visit to the People’s Republic, learning about the condition of the Christian Church in this land and offering encouragement to Adventist believers in several cities. Here in Wuxi, a city of 4 million 100 kilometers west of Shanghai, the schedule included a moving 90-minute evening worship service in the downtown sanctuary that Adventists share with other Protestant believers.

“I am often asked by Adventists as I travel around the world, ‘How is the family in China? How are our brothers and sisters in China?’” Paulsen reported to the hundreds who came to the mid-week service to greet him and other international and regional leaders of the church.  “I am pleased to tell them, ‘They are alive, they are strong, they are vibrant, and they are committed to Jesus Christ.’”

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The choir of the Wuxi Adventist church performed three anthems at the Wednesday night service, including "Nearer My God, to Thee," "Lift up the Trumpet," and Handel's "Hallelujah Chorus." [Photo: Rajmund Dabrowski/ANN]

The president opened his message by holding aloft a gigantic multi-language Bible specially printed as part of the world church’s international “Follow the Bible” initiative. Assisted by Northern Asia-Pacific Division president Jairyong Lee, Paulsen described the 18-month journey through dozens of nations that copies of the 66-language Bible will take before arriving at the church’s quinquennial session in Atlanta, Georgia in July, 2010.

“The final point of reference for your life and mine is found here in the Bible,” Paulsen said as vice-president Eugene Hsu, originally from China, translated for him. “And so, I commend to you the Bible.”

Paulsen’s visit, the first he has made to China since being elected General Conference president in 1999, is being hosted by the Chinese Christian Council and the Three-Self Patriotic Movement, umbrella organizations representing nearly 20 million Christians in the People’s Republic. Nearly 400,000 Seventh-day Adventists in the country are grouped with other Protestant faiths in the government-sponsored organizations, and frequently share meeting places with congregations which use the buildings for Sunday worship services.

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Wuxi Adventist Church pastor Zhu Ziming is also a vice-president of the Wuxi Christian Council, an umbrella organization that coordinates the affairs of Protestant churches in the city of more than 4 million. [Photo: Bill Knott/AR]

Besides Paulsen, five General Conference leaders are visiting China, including Children’s Ministries director Linda Koh, Griggs University President Donald Sahly, general vice-president Eugene Hsu, and Communication director Ray Dabrowski. NSD president Lee is joined by associate secretary Glenn Mitchell, China Union Mission president James Wu from Hong Kong, and Paul Song, media center manager for the NSD.

The schedule began in earnest on Wednesday morning, May 13, with a visit to the national headquarters of the China Christian Council and Three-Self Patriotic Movement. CCC President Gao Feng welcomed the delegation to the national office in the heart of Shanghai, and gave an thoughtful overview of the condition of the Christian Church in the country of 1.3 billion people.

“The issue of the Chinese Church is very complicated,” Gao reminded the Adventist leaders, pointing to the trauma of the nation’s Cultural Revolution of the late 1960s when all Christian churches, seminaries and Bible schools were closed. Public worship was banned, and copies of the Bible burned.

According to Gao, Christian churches began to reopen in the late 1970s, and grew rapidly during the last two decades. “Every two days, three more churches are organized,” Gao reported, noting that there are now some 55,000 churches and “meeting points”—often house churches—where Christians gather for worship. With an annual growth of 400,000 persons, the Christian Church in the country is struggling to supply trained pastors and lay leaders to the many congregations springing up, including Adventist ones. Nineteen seminaries and Bible Schools operated by the CCC and the Three-Self Patriotic Movement train pastors, including Adventists, for parish leadership, but the number of pastors is inadequate to meet the needs of China’s churches.

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The stunning new Wuxi Dongting Adventist Church, just opened in January, will seat 1200 believers, and offers space for a wide range of outreach, education, and health initiatives to the community. [Photo: Bill Knott/AR]

Responding to Rev. Gao’s remarks, Paulsen also highlighted the importance of pastoral training for the future of Adventist believers in China. “The survival of the faith, the strength of our faith, depends on the nurture and shepherding of members by trained pastors,” Paulsen said.  “We would welcome the opportunity to work with you to put together training programs to meet your needs and those of Seventh-day Adventist churches in China.”

The president went on to suggest the possibility of setting up a specific curriculum and classes for Adventist ministerial training at some of the nation’s seminaries, as well as working toward the possible appointment of well-trained Adventist  professors who could serve the broader needs of seminaries and the unique requirements of Adventist training.

“Local churches are crying out for more training of leaders to avoid offshoots and divisions that otherwise emerge,” added China Union Mission president Wu. “Good, authentic training of Adventist pastors is necessary.”

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Completed at a cost of 10 million RMB ($1.5 million U.S.) and financed almost entirely by local giving, the Wuxi Dongting Adventist Church is located in a high-growth corridor on the edge of the expanding city. [Photo: Bill Knott/AR]

An afternoon visit by the delegation to the offices of the Shanghai Christian Council, a regional arm of the CCC, also gave leaders of both groups an opportunity to review goals they have in common and highlight points of possible cooperation. More than 5000 Adventists worship in four large congregations and numerous smaller “meeting points,” according to local leaders. As at the morning’s meeting, all participants agreed on the need for expanded training opportunities for Protestant and Adventist pastors.

In Wuxi, where the day’s schedule concluded, another 5000 Adventists worship in 35 congregations and meeting points scattered across the metropolitan area. A brand-new 1200-seat church and education complex, just opened in January, now welcomes the expanding city population in the suburb of Dongting town, Xishan District, and promises to become an important site for outreach, community education and health programming for the church.

For additional information about the visit of church leaders to China, click here.