English Camps: Going Deeper in Relationships in China
Installment 13 of the History of The Outreach Foundation in China
by Jefferson Ritchie, Mission Advocate
One of the most fruitful results of the decision by The Outreach Foundation to focus on the provinces where Presbyterian missions had been historically strongest in China was a program we developed between 2009 and 2012 with the Jiangsu Provincial Christian Council. We called it the Summer English Exchange. The idea for these exchange experiences came from The Amity Foundation, a social service and development organization founded by Chinese Christians in 1985. One of the contributions Amity made to Chinese society was their Summer English Program. Every year international volunteers would spend four weeks helping English teachers in Chinese Middle Schools improve their spoken English. Many U.S. Presbyterians participated in this program which continues today.
The Outreach Foundation proposed to the Jiangsu Provincial Christian Council that we do a version of this program together to deepen relationships with the churches in the Province and renew the heritage that had sent Presbyterians there for over 100 years. The idea simmered for a few years until the Rev. Dr. Peter Lim joined our staff as China Mission Specialist in late 2008. We received the go-ahead from the Jiangsu Council and began thinking what shape and form such a camp might take.
Peter Lim and I envisioned a 1- or 2-week Summer English Exchange that would accomplish several purposes:
• meet the desire of Chinese Christians to improve the English that they had studied in school but lacked opportunity to practice.
• give U.S. Christians significant time with Chinese Christians through which they could learn some of the history, culture and language of their Chinese friends.
• enable both Chinese and U.S. participants to grow closer as fellow disciples of Jesus through worship, prayer, and the sharing of our faith with each other.
Peter worked with staff of the Jiangsu Provincial Christian Council to plan the first English Exchange which was held in July 2009 in Nanjing and other cities of Jiangsu Province. There were three components to the Exchange: an English-conversation component, field trips for culture and history, and worship.
Presbyterian mission-coworker in China, Dr. Don Snow (see Installment 9, “Refining the Mission”) had been training the foreign volunteers in the Summer Amity Program for years, and so we invited him to orient the American participants to this new venture of the Jiangsu Christian Council and The Outreach Foundation. Don had also written a book designed to help foster English conversation and cultural learning, More Than a Native Speaker, and this book became our text for the educational component of the Exchange.
The Chinese recruited twelve participants from among pastors in churches throughout the province. We recruited laypersons from churches that were already involved in China through The Outreach Foundation (First Presbyterian Church Houston and Peachtree Presbyterian Church) and from churches or individuals who had an interest in China through another connection. One of the participants, Ms. Ann Broom, had been a missionary in Taiwan and was very familiar with the Presbyterian mission heritage in Jiangsu, including the work of medical missionary Dr. L. Nelson Bell.
For the spiritual and worship component of the Exchange, we invited a former missionary to Korea, the Rev. Dr. Rebecca Ritchey, to be our Spiritual Director. The role of the Spiritual Director was to set the tone for each day through guided worship each morning and evening. American participants shared in the leadership in the morning, and Chinese participants led the evening worship.
The cultural part of the exchange was embedded into the English conversation (e.g., How do you “do” weddings in America and China?). It also included seeing places important to the wider Chinese history and culture as well as visits to places important for the history of the American Presbyterian involvement in China prior to 1949.
The first year was so successful that we increased the number of participants in 2010 and lengthened the Exchange from ten days to two weeks. We made an intentional effort to recruit young adults, especially from seminaries. We were especially blessed by two seminarians from Pittsburgh Seminary and two recent graduates of Princeton Seminary.
The program continued for two more years, but by the fourth year there was a sense that the Exchange in its present form had run its course. Nevertheless, the relationships that had developed over four years were important both to the Chinese and to the Americans. Thus we began planning for an “alumni reunion” in the U.S. in 2013. Unfortunately, our Chinese friends did not receive their visas, and we were all disappointed.
Elsewhere in China, other churches whom The Outreach Foundation introduced to China were holding their own English Exchanges. As previously mentioned in the last installment, Shadyside Presbyterian Church from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania worked with the Shandong Provincial Christian Council to develop an English Exchange in 2015. Another congregation, the Bel Air Presbyterian Church in Los Angeles, California, began a relationship in 2007 with the churches in Harbin, Heilongjiang Province through The Outreach Foundation. The following year it organized its own Summer English Camp, and those camps have continued until the present day through the leadership of Dr. David Fung and Mrs. Clair Fung, the lay leaders who have headed Bel Air’s China partnership from the beginning.
Our history of English Exchanges has shown that they accomplish the purposes for which they were set up – friendships have been formed, understanding of the two cultures has increased, and participants in the Exchanges have shared their faith with each other. On the other hand, we have found that it is hard to sustain these kinds of programs over time. There must be key people from among the Chinese and U.S. churches who have the time to engage in the in-depth planning that is needed. They must have communication skills across the sometimes daunting language and cultural divides. Finally, they must be people who believe in the transformative nature of these exchanges. Namely, when we spend sustained time with Christians from another culture, hearing their stories of faith, sharing their food, and learning something of their history and culture, we begin to see the world and God’s mission through their eyes – and we become better Christians in the process.