Loving God and the Bible with Chinese Leaders
by Juan Sarmiento
In his youth the Rev. Shan Wei-Xiang was the pastor of a typical Chinese congregation during those years: One that owned no Bibles. In fact, since the only copy of the Scriptures in town was found in the library, the congregation had agreed that nobody else but him would check the Bible out each week from the local library and they would help him write down by hand copies of the passage from which Pastor Shan would preach to have it distributed among the people.
Things have changed significantly in recent decades but Rev. Shan’s commitment to sharing God’s message remains strong. He now heads a program of the Church in China that is responsible for the distribution of the Bible inside China. Since the late 1980s, tens of millions of Bibles have been distributed inside China as the church has tried to keep up with the growth of disciples of Christ. The most conservative estimate of the number of Protestant Christians in China is 46 million, up from less than one million in 1949 when the Peoples Republic of China began. It is estimated that every year 400,000 people become members and that every week six new church buildings are erected by what is now the largest Protestant denomination in a single country. As Director of Media and Communications of the Chinese Christian Council, Pastor Shan also oversees efforts to help hundreds of thousands of people learn to read through Bible literacy classes, enabling ethnic minorities to have the Scriptures in their language, providing children quality materials to grow in their faith and distributing devotional resources to an even broader readership over the internet.
The first two priorities after the church in China re-opened in 1981 were the printing of Bibles through Amity Printing Company and the reinstitution of Nanjing Union Theological Seminary. With some of the initial funding coming from Presbyterians in the United States, Amity Printing Company is now the number one producer of Bibles in the world. It has printed over 100,000,000 and has the capacity to print in excess of 10,000,000 per year.
There are currently 23 seminaries scattered throughout the vast territory of the China. They are dedicated to meeting the pressing demands for trained pastors. Their combined student body is approximately 4,0000 students of whom around 1,000 graduate annually. There are efforts to expand the number of theological training centers which offer one- and two-year programs for the development of lay leaders. Those centers have played a crucial role in the formation of more than 200,000 people serving in that capacity. Among the primary funding concerns of seminaries and theological centers is providing their students and graduates with Study Bibles, discipleship resources, Bible commentaries, and devotional books.
Currently in China there are 13,000 church members per pastor. Conversely, the ratio of ordained clergy to member in the United States is 1:230. During the almost 15 years in which The Outreach Foundation has nurtured deep relationships between Presbyterian churches and Christians in China, we have been mutually enriched in equipping more leaders like Shan Wei-Xiang, people who love to help others learn how to relate to the Scriptures in meaningful and transforming ways.
On a recent visit of The Outreach Foundation to the national offices of the Chinese Christian Council in Shanghai, one of its leaders described Chinese Protestants as “being fervent in loving God and loving the Bible.” We in the United States have benefited greatly and can benefit even more from getting to know Chinese Christians who thrive with a significantly lower availability of written resources and trained pastors. As we do, we also seek to express the unity of the body of Christ that goes much beyond our different cultures, social systems and historical situations.
Associate Director for Mission