"This is the Golden Age for the Church in China": Opportunities for The Outreach Foundation at the Beginning of the New Millennium

Installment 7 of the History of The Outreach Foundation in China from 1993-2018

by Jefferson Ritchie, Mission Advocate

I closed my last blog with this reflection:

“As the 21st century dawned, The Outreach Foundation was ready to make a strong commitment to the Church in China. We needed more insight on how to work well with the Church, whose top priority was leadership training. The next trip would lead to a huge breakthrough for The Outreach Foundation.”

In this blog I want to highlight how that 2001 trip led to The Outreach Foundation’s first national-level project in China. I begin with the following summary of the trip:

From May 9-23 The Outreach Foundation was part of an official Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) trip to China. The group traveled to Nanjing, Yunnan Province in southwest China, Hangzhou on the east coast, and to two northeastern provinces. Everywhere we went we heard similar refrains:

“This is the golden age for the Church in China.”

“It used to be that we had to go to the people and invite them to church. Now they come to us of their own accord.”

“Six new churches open every day.”

“There is only one pastor per 10,000 believers.”

“Lay leaders are the backbone of the church, but they need more training and more resources.”

“The new believers have a weak biblical background and can fall into heresy easily.”

“We need to reflect on our faith theologically in ways that help us share the Gospel better.”

With 1.3 billion people, only a tiny percentage of whom are Christians, the work facing the Church in China is immense. It is doing its best to be a church that governs itself well, propagates the faith well, and supports itself well. At the same time, it welcomes the help of “friends from overseas who love the Lord,” said the Rev. Sun, President of the Heilongjiang Provincial Christian Council in northeast China.

As one of the “friends from overseas who love the Lord,” The Outreach Foundation has been able to respond by helping with the construction of the Hallelujah Church and Training Center in Harbin, NE China. We have supported the Heilongjiang Provincial Bible School, also in Harbin, in its construction of new facilities, acquisition of library books, and in its desire to provide start-up libraries for its graduates. And we want to do more – with your help.

We have heard of needs for English teachers for the Amity Foundation’s summer program next year (2002) and for its two-year program. We have been challenged to consider a major project to provide mini-libraries for lay leaders: Bible commentaries, Bible dictionaries, study Bibles and other resources. We also saw first-hand the continuing needs for support for the Amity Press, which prints millions of Bibles each year. Finally, we saw many opportunities for church and seminary construction in key places throughout China.

A key to the success of the 2001 trip was that it grew out of a consultation in 2000 between the China Christian Council and the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), including Presbyterian mission support groups like The Outreach Foundation. At this consultation we asked the Chinese to set up a trip to see how the Church there was reaching out to the minority people groups. The Church sent us to Yunnan in southwest China and added many other stops as well, all of which were designed to give us a comprehensive picture of the Church in China. For The Outreach Foundation, this trip was also an opportunity to see the new campus of Zhejiang Theological Seminary, the first project in China of The Outreach Foundation (1993-95), and we were delighted to return to our friends in Heilongjiang.

We had just begun our trip when the new opportunity emerged for The Outreach Foundation in China. In Nanjing we were being briefed on the overall state of the Church in China by the Rev. Mr. Bao, Jia Yuan, Associate General Secretary of the China Christian Council (CCC). He spoke passionately about the deep commitment to God’s work of volunteer lay workers on whom the church in China depended. With only 2,000 ordained pastors (at the time of this visit) for over 50,000 churches, there was no way the churches in China could function without the 60,000-80,000 volunteer lay workers serving the churches, especially in the rural areas. Said Rev. Bao, “These dedicated workers are carrying the gospel to the people. They put the Lord’s work first.”

The Rev. Bao expressed his hope of providing these lay leaders with more biblical and theological resources to equip them better for their ministry. Afterwards, I told the Rev. Bao that The Outreach Foundation would like to help his dream of providing lay leaders in China with the kinds of resources he had mentioned: study Bibles, commentaries, Bible dictionaries, pastoral guides, etc. Bao was encouraged by my response, and we then enlarged the conversation to include Dr. Insik Kim, Coordinator for East Asia and the Pacific for the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).

Dr. Kim was also enthusiastic about what we started calling “The Mini-Library Project.” He suggested that we submit this project to the national organization of Presbyterian Women of the PC(USA) for funding through their major annual mission project, the “Birthday Offering.” Following our return to the United States, The Outreach Foundation submitted the project to Presbyterian Women. Dr. Insik Kim as PC(USA) staff endorsed it and actively advocated for it. The Rev. Bao, as representative of the intended recipients, wrote Presbyterian Women details of the project and stressed how important it would be for the Church in China.

A few months later we rejoiced when we heard that the Presbyterian Women voted to include the Mini-Library project as one of five recipients of a projected $1,000,000 offering to be taken in the spring of 2002. We thanked God that just at a time when the growing church in China needed greater resources for its leaders, the Chinese Church, the denominational leadership of the PC(USA), and The Outreach Foundation worked together to create the Mini-Library Project.

The project’s initial funding of $175,000 came from the 2002 Birthday Offering of Presbyterian Women. The Outreach Foundation would more than match this amount over the next several years, but that is a story for the next blog.

Jefferson Ritchie
Mission Advocate