The Heart of a Servant
by Jeff Ritchie
Mentors along My Journey in Mission: Bao Jia Yuan, A Humble Servant of the Lord
One of the sayings we have in The Outreach Foundation is, “Follow Jesus into the world, and the first life you change may be your own.” I have had a pilgrimage in cross-cultural mission that has spanned forty-five years. Over that time my life has been shaped, molded, and transformed by the Christians I have met in that missionary context. Most of these men and women who have been my teachers in faith and practice, my mentors if you will, have come from a culture not my own. I would like to introduce you to some of those who have demonstrated a Christ-formed life for me and for countless others.
I have known the Rev. Bao Jia Yuan, a minister of the Church in China, for over fifteen years. When I first met him, the Rev. Bao was part of the leadership of the National China Christian Council (CCC), the administrative body of the official Church in China. His responsibility was with the Bible Distribution Department and with the Rural Ministry Department of the National CCC.
In one of the early trips I made on behalf of The Outreach Foundation to China, the Rev. Bao gave our visiting delegation a briefing on the rural church in China. He had just returned from a visit to churches in the countryside and told us about some of the lay leaders who were serving these churches. One of those faithful leaders was so dedicated to the people he served that he would travel the mountain paths at night without a flashlight to guide him. Bao said that if he had had 25 Yuan (at that time about $3), he would have bought that evangelist a study Bible and a flashlight to aid him in his pastoral ministry to the scattered congregations.
The Rev. Bao went on to tell our U.S. delegation, “I wish that all our lay leaders serving congregations could have a small library of reference books – commentaries on the Old and New Testament, a Bible dictionary, a concordance, and some practical theology books – to help them in their ministry.”
I was struck by the shepherd heart of this minister of the Chinese Church. This was a man entirely devoted to building up the church in rural China where it was experiencing the greatest growth, and his wish was a simple one: give them a few more tools to carry out their work. We took that wish and worked with the Rev. Bao to create a project that has put thousands of such “mini-libraries” into the hands of lay leaders in China over the past fourteen years.
The next time I met him he had been tapped by the Church’s leadership to help it carry out a special project. Known as the “Bible Ministry Exposition,” this project aimed to introduce the Church in China to the United States and Europe by an exposition which showed the impact of the Bible on the Church in China. The role that Bao Jia Yuan played was not as the “face” of the China delegation. Rather, he was behind the scenes, taking care of details, making sure that the Church in China was able to communicate how important the Bible has been in the formation of the Chinese believers since it was translated into Chinese and minority languages in China.
After the Bible Exposition tours, my friend finished out his active ministry coordinating special training and continuing education opportunities for pastors in central and western China. He is now retired but has not stopped ministry. When a small group from The Outreach Foundation visited China in the fall of 2014, we had supper with the Rev. Bao in Nanjing. Over a delicious Chinese meal he shared with us that he was organizing a group of retired pastors to volunteer to go to the rural areas and have preaching missions to encourage the believers in those places.
Retirement has become Bao’s opportunity to continue ministry opportunity among the people who have always been in his heart – rural Chinese Christians. As I listened to my friend share about his on-going work, I thought, someday I hope to write an account of his life in which he can share in his own words his early years of faith and service, his ordeal during China’s Cultural Revolution, and highlights from his ministry.
Even if that story never gets written, however, what can be said now about the Rev. Bao Jia Yuan is that he is a true shepherd of the Lord’s flock. He has led Chinese believers, lay leaders, and pastors to green pastures where they can feed on the word. He has guided them to still waters and restored their souls through the retreat and training ministries.
I want to mention one more aspect of the Rev. Bao Jia Yuan that is so evident to all who know him – his humility. Wherever he has been asked to serve in the Church in China, he has done it cheerfully, “as unto the Lord.” He has never been chosen to serve in the highest offices of the Church in China. Rather, he has always served in a low-profile way without regard for status or position. The Rev. Bao has modeled for me the words of Jesus, “Whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant” (Mark 10). Thank you, brother Bao, for showing me what a servant of the Lord looks like.
Associate Director for Mission
The Outreach Foundation