The History of The Outreach Foundation in China: Built upon 150 Years of Relationships

Installment 3 of the History of The Outreach Foundation in China from 1993-2018

by Jefferson Ritchie, Mission Advocate

The Outreach Foundation was a new missionary movement within the Presbyterian “family” when the churches in China reopened. When the time came for us to work in Mainland China, we looked to those within the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) who already had connections with the Church in China. In this blog I want to highlight two of those people, Dr. Insik Kim and Dr. Donn McCall. Dr. Kim opened the way for us to build relationships with the Church in China, and Dr. McCall gave us confirmation of the mission strategy we would pursue. 

The Rev. Dr. Insik Kim was Coordinator for East Asia and the Pacific for the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) from 1973-2008. Prior to the opening of the churches in China, Dr. Kim was part of a China Working Group at the National Council of Churches in the United States and Canada (NCCCUSA) that was tasked to explore what they could do collectively in China when the churches would be permitted to open again. After that happened in 1979 and the National China Christian Council (CCC) was formed in 1980, a small group from the CCC visited North America. Its goal was to reestablish connections with the churches that had previously sent missionaries to China. Insik Kim, as secretary of the National Council, coordinated the group’s schedule. 

When the delegation visited Atlanta, Dr. Kim found out that three of the delegation had Presbyterian connections. Bishop K. H. Ting, the leader of the delegation, had been Secretary of the World Student Christian Fellowship prior to 1949. His predecessor at the WSCF had been Presbyterian missionary Francis Miller, and Bishop Ting asked about contacting the family of his former colleague. Another person in the delegation, Dr. Han Wen Zao, had graduated from Hangzhou College, which was founded by Presbyterians. He expressed the desire to see the son of the founder of Hangzhou College who was a member of the Board of the Division of International Mission of the PCUS at the time. The third member with Presbyterian connections was the Rev. Peter Tsai. Prior to 1949, Presbyterians in the United States had funded his studies at Princeton Seminary and those of his wife, Eleanor, at Westminster Choir College. The Rev. Tsai was eager to thank those churches for their support so long ago.

Amazingly, the newly-opened churches in China had leaders with Presbyterian connections, and they were eager to reestablish those relationships. The door thus opened for American Presbyterians to reengage in China. They began by taking official and unofficial trips to China in the 1980s and 1990s where they were warmly welcomed. Support for Bible production, health ministries, and theological training soon followed, and English teachers were recruited for schools in China.

One of those who made several unofficial trips to China in the years following the reopening of the churches in China was the Rev. Dr. Donn McCall, a long-term missionary to Japan and Taiwan. His wife, Virginia Montgomery McCall, had grown up in China as the daughter of missionaries. Some years after Virginia died, Donn married a recent widow, Jessie Junkin. Mrs. Junkin and her first husband, Bill, had been missionaries to China until 1949 when they were expelled following the Communist takeover. 

Because of the connections of Virginia and Jessie to China, Donn was able to visit China several times, first with Virginia and later with Jessie. The last of these trips was in 1996. Accompanied this time by the son of former China missionaries, Donn visited eight seminaries scattered throughout the country. Everything was arranged by the Office of Overseas Relations of the China Christian Council.

This trip was extremely significant for the future work of The Outreach Foundation in China. Donn sent me the report of his trip, and his experiences confirmed what I had seen on our 1993 “Evangelism Immersion” trip in 1993; namely, the best way American Presbyterians could help the Church in China in its work of evangelism was to support leadership training of pastors and lay leaders through the seminaries. Prior to my joining the staff of The Outreach Foundation in 1998, we had supported the expansion of Zhejiang Seminary, as mentioned in the previous blog. However, we did not have the personnel to build on-going relationships with the Church in China.

By 1998, however, we were ready to cross the relational bridges provided by our Presbyterian history in support of evangelism and leadership training in China. Our status as a Validated Mission Support Group of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) enabled us to be considered as part of the Presbyterian heritage and receive a warm welcome from the Church in China.  

Where would we start? Would we go to those provinces in eastern China where Presbyterian missions had been strongest – Zhejiang, Jiangsu, and Shandong? Surprisingly, we began our long-term engagement in China in the far northeastern province of Heilongjiang. That will be the story of my next installment.

Jefferson Ritchie
Mission Advocate