When You Follow Jesus into the World: Transforming Mission in China

Installment 5 of the History of The Outreach Foundation in China from 1993-2018

by Jefferson Ritchie, Mission Advocate

In my previous blog on the history of The Outreach Foundation in China, I emphasized how meeting Chinese Christians has impacted the lives of American Christians. In this blog I want to share a two of those impact stories. 

David Bridgman, the son of missionaries who returned to China on our 1998 trip after fifty years away, wrote a journal of his experiences entitled “China 1998: An Opening Door.” Our time in Harbin was especially moving for him. This is what he wrote on the meeting our group had with two of the church leaders, the Rev. Lü De Zhi and the Rev. Li Mei Lan:

As we prayed for Li and Lü and they, in turn, prayed for us, we were deeply aware of God’s presence among us. Who would have imagined such palpable evidence of the Spirit in this far-off city and among people so different from us, yet profoundly our kin in the Lord? Memories of this day are so indelibly impressed upon me that I shall count it one of the most significant of my life. (pp. 25-26)

After David Bridgman returned to Eastminster Church in Kansas, the church put the Hallelujah Church project into their “Millennium” capital campaign. Over $200,000 was given for the construction, and in August 2000, David led a team from Eastminster to celebrate the opening of the church. Shortly thereafter, Bridgman retired from Eastminster and joined Presbyterian Frontier Fellowship as an advocate for the Chinese Church’s missionary outreach among the minority peoples of China, particularly in Yunnan Province. He visited Yunnan sixteen times before his death in 2018 in support of the Church’s evangelistic and educational outreach to dozens of ethnic groups who lived there. The deep love that David felt for his Chinese co-workers and for the people of Yunnan was revealed in the marvelous photos he took. He truly lived into the meaning of his Chinese name, Qiao Ai Hua, the “bridge” (qiao) who “loves China” (ai hua). 

Walter Lewis, a businessman from Wichita and member of Eastminster Presbyterian Church, was among those who joined David Bridgman in 2000 for the inauguration of the Hallelujah Church in Harbin. This is an excerpt of his testimony to the impact of that trip and a subsequent one he took in 2002:

While I was aware of the scale and importance of China with regard to international trade and geopolitical influence, China was not high on my travel wish list. When an opportunity to visit China arose, I was intrigued because of Pastor Bridgman’s knowledge of China, love of the people, and the generations that his family dedicated to serving God there. Bridgman’s enthusiasm for China was something I wished to experience, so I joined him for the dedication of a great new church building in Harbin in 2000. 17,000 friends, church members and curious neighbors attended the dedication ceremonies.

Walter Lewis observed something else on that trip: Chinese Christians were looking for friends.

The 2000 trip to China also included a stop in Beijing where I noticed that several of the church leaders we met seemed disinterested in our visit. Their presentations were made as though they had shared the same news hundreds of times to visiting church groups. One leader seemed particularly bored until Pastor Bridgman shared the name his father gave him in Chinese at birth and told about growing up in North Jiangsu Province. The elderly church leader broke out of his stupor because he now had a visitor who was not just a religious tourist who planned to visit one time, but someone who had a heart for China. I mention this because in 2002 I returned to China, traveling with Dr. Jeff Ritchie of The Outreach Foundation and Rev. Bridgman. We revisited some of the churches and leaders from the 2000 trip. Upon entering a meeting room, Rev. Bridgman and Dr. Ritchie were warmly greeted as friends who had returned. I also was recognized, mostly because of the camera I had used to record the (2000) trip, and I also was welcomed as a returning friend. Multiple visits build relationships and friendships.

Walter returned to China with The Outreach Foundation two more times (2006 and 2008), and he journeyed to different parts of the United States on four occasions to meet Chinese who were visiting the U.S. Two of those people he met multiple times were our friends, Pastor Li and Pastor Lü from Harbin. The photograph is from 2005 on the joyous occasion of Rev. Li’s receiving her Doctor of Ministry degree from McCormick Theological Seminary.

Walter Lewis also became part of the mission committee of Eastminster Church and was Eastminster’s primary China advocate following the retirement of David Bridgman. Over seventeen years Eastminster supported not only the Hallelujah Church in Harbin, but also seminaries and lay training centers throughout China, the development and publication of discipleship training materials for new believers and a Sunday School curriculum, and the Rev. Dr. Peter Lim, who became our China Mission Specialist in 2008.

Mission friendships over time have a lasting impact. The transforming effect of China upon David Bridgman following his 1998 visit was also caught by Walter Lewis, with the result that the Church in several provinces of China was strengthened in its leadership development and provided with resources for its call to make disciples. Additionally, Walter and I have become good friends over the years through our journeys to other lands besides China and through his service on the Board of Trustees of The Outreach Foundation. The blessings of friendship have multiplied over the years of mission together.

David Bridgman and Walter Lewis are not the only ones to have been impacted by China. In future blogs we will share what others have said about their time in China. As we say in The Outreach Foundation, “Follow Jesus into the world, and the first life you change may be your own.” Wherever The Outreach Foundation has gone, we have found that friendships, nurtured over time, change our lives, build the mission capacity of our global partners, and sustain mission involvement for the long term.

Jefferson Ritchie
Mission Advocate

The Outreach Foundation