Networking for Mission in China
Installment 14 of the History of The Outreach Foundation in China
by Jefferson Ritchie, Mission Advocate
God’s mission flows into the world through relationships, and our mission in China has been marked by a plethora of such relationships, both within and beyond the Presbyterian family. This installment of our history will mention several networks in which The Outreach Foundation participated, including a Presbyterian China Network of which we were one of the founders.
Christian Leadership Exchange (CLE): Shortly after The Outreach Foundation became seriously committed to mission relationships in China, we learned about a network called Christian Leadership Exchange. Its purpose was to introduce American mission organizations to the officially recognized Church in China through an annual symposium on the Church in China. CLE invited a dozen or so leaders to meet with U.S. mission organizations that had an interest in working in China. The relationships developed at these meetings resulted in many projects which contributed to the development of the Church in China and its outreach to Chinese society.
For The Outreach Foundation, the CLE symposia provided us with the opportunity to spend more time with people we had already come to know such as the Rev. An, Xin Yi of Jiangsu Province. We also met new friends from other parts of China whom we visited from time to time. Another bonus of the CLE meetings was discovering other organizations doing work similar to ours in China. One of them, Christian Communications, Ltd., a Hong Kong-based ministry, has become a significant ministry partner in our ongoing project of providing mini-libraries to graduates of seminaries and lay training centers (see Installment 7: This is the Golden Age for the Church in China).
Pacific Network for Mission Education (PNME): Another organization, the Pacific Network for Mission Education (PNME), was a West Coast network concerned with issues in East Asia. China was frequently the focus of its forums, often done in partnership with Christian Leadership Exchange. Some of those involved in PNME had themselves been teachers in China through the Amity Foundation and were enthusiastic advocates of what they had seen and experienced. In addition to their annual conferences to which they invited representatives from Amity, they also organized trips to China as part of their work. I attended a PNME meeting in 2011, but by then my primary energy was directed toward another network within the PC(USA).
China Network of the PC(USA): In the first decade of the 21st century the PC(USA) began encouraging the formation of mission networks by country or region. Congregations, presbyteries, and people involved in the particular country through other mission organizations gathered together to hear updates on the church in their country of interest, share their mission work there, and discuss common issues of church and society in the country. The China Network of the PC(USA) was born during a national mission conference in 2007 when General Assembly staff for East Asia and the Pacific, the Rev. Dr. Insik Kim, brought together former Amity teachers, members of mission support organizations like The Outreach Foundation, and persons who had connections in China separate from the denomination.
The following year at the Presbyterian General Assembly in San Jose a purpose statement was drafted and a steering committee was set up to organize the next meeting. Early leaders in the Network included the Rev. Hugh Wire, a former Amity teacher, who was part of the PNME network; Mrs. Caroline Becker, another former Amity teacher who became the first Moderator of the Network; and the Rev. Lou Haase, from First Presbyterian Church of Evanston, Illinois, whose congregation supported a U.S. seminary professor teaching in the Department of Religion at Peking University in Beijing.
Outreach Foundation staff participated enthusiastically in the China Network from its inception. We encouraged those who had been on our trips to China to come to the annual meetings and invite others to learn what God was doing in China. First Presbyterian Wilmington and Bel Air Presbyterian Church, two partners of The Outreach Foundation in China, hosted several of the meetings. Dr. Walt Conser of the Wilmington congregation served as the second Moderator of the Network and was tireless in his support for it over five years. Jimmy Quinn, a participant on five Outreach trips to China, took care of the website for a number of years and documented the meetings through his incredible photography.
At each meeting we heard updates on the Church in China and on the China ministries of Network members. Especially meaningful were those meetings when Chinese leaders were present. At the 2011 Network meeting hosted by First Presbyterian Wilmington, for example, we welcomed the Director of the Overseas Relations Department of the National China Christian Council, Elder Ou En Lin, and a young pastor studying for a year at Princeton Seminary, the Rev. Wang Bin. We had met both of these leaders in China, but seeing them again in the U.S. deepened the relationships.
We found that the Network was a good place to interact with churches and mission organizations whose work in China complemented ours. The North Avenue Presbyterian Church of Atlanta, Georgia, for example, had been ministering for years among Chinese scholars studying at nearby Georgia Tech University. We explored with them how we could work with them and with our friends in China to help those scholars who had come to faith in Jesus find a church home when they returned to China.
The life of mission networks goes in cycles as people and churches enter different seasons of life. For example, now that so many churches and missions have developed relationships with the Church in China, the purpose of those earlier ecumenical networks has been largely fulfilled. In the case of the China Network of the PC(USA), the continuing members are largely those who have been on Outreach Foundation trips. The most recent Outreach trip (October 2018) generated new energy for the Network, for which we are grateful. It is our firm belief that when people working with the same mission partner also connect with each other to pray together, share best practices, and find areas where we can join in mission together, our mission can be more fruitful and faithful to God’s purpose of bringing all things together under one head, Jesus Christ (Ephesians 1:10).