The Amity Foundation, a Christian-Initiated Non-Governmental Organization
Installment 15 of the History of The Outreach Foundation in China
by Jefferson Ritchie, Mission Advocate
After the opening of China in the late 1970s, the Church in China was permitted freedom to worship and engage in ministry inside the church walls. It was not, however, allowed to do social ministries outside the church. Neither could it print Bibles which were scarce because so many had been destroyed during the Cultural Revolution.
The leadership of the China Christian Council found a way to address these needs by setting up a non-governmental organization (NGO), the Amity Foundation, in 1985. Its mission was to print the Bible for the churches in China and to serve the society of China through education, health, development, disaster relief, and other specialized ministries. Since Amity was set up as an “NGO” and not as a church, it was permitted to receive large donations from overseas churches and non-governmental organizations. Over thirty-three years it has leveraged those funds into projects that have blessed the Chinese people in many ways. Its work now extends beyond China into other parts of Asia and even into Africa.
The Amity Printing Company: One of the first gifts the Amity Foundation received was a printing press donated by the United Bible Society with support of churches like the PC(USA). Since 1986 the Amity Printing Company has printed more than 180,000,000 Bibles in Chinese and in dozens of other languages, not only for the Church in China, but also for churches and ministries throughout the world. Visitors to the Amity Printing Company are amazed by the efficiency and productivity of this division of the Amity Foundation. In a relatively short time, Amity has become one of the largest printers of the Bible in the world, and it has expanded its geographical presence by opening an office in Ethiopia.
Educational Work: The opening of the churches in China in 1979 did not include permission for missionaries to return to China. However, as an NGO, Amity Foundation has been free to welcome English teachers for two programs they initiated. The first program brings English-speaking foreigners to teacher training colleges in China where they serve for two years. As Chinese society developed, those teachers have been increasingly sent to underserved areas of China, especially to the western part of China. The Presbyterian Church recruited both young adults and active seniors to this program. For example, as a young adult, Ms. Caroline Sunquist Becker served two years with Amity in Central China. She later became the first Moderator of the Presbyterian China Network. Among those active seniors who became Amity teachers in retirement, Ms. Marie Melrose is noteworthy. Born in China to missionary parents, Marie served twenty-seven years as a missionary in South Korea (spending a year in China during that time). After retiring from Korea, she returned to the land of her birth for two years with Amity (1989-90). She volunteered again in 2010, this time as a participant in The Outreach Foundation’s English Exchange Program.
The other English-language program is Amity’s Summer English Program (SEP). For a month each summer, overseas volunteers are sent out in teams to various parts of China where they help Chinese English teachers in Middle Schools improve their spoken English. Many Presbyterians have participated in the SEP. Upon their return they have been among the most enthusiastic advocates in their churches for the Church in China and for the Presbyterian China Network described in the last installment of our China history.
Health Work: American Presbyterians have also supported the Amity Foundation in the area of health. Grants from the PC(USA) in the late 1980s and early 1990s helped train Village Health Workers for service in government-run rural clinics in the central and western part of China.
By the 1990s Chinese churches were able to do some outreach beyond their doors, and many wanted to have health ministries. The Amity Foundation set up a training center in Linqu, a city in Shandong Province, to train Christian medical personnel how to set up sustainable church-based clinics and senior citizens homes. That project received major Presbyterian funding from a sister organization of The Outreach Foundation, the Medical Benevolence Foundation (MBF).
The main U.S. congregation to partner with MBF in this endeavor was Peachtree Presbyterian Church in Atlanta, Georgia. In 1999 it pledged $1,000,000 for the work in Linqu to be spent over a ten-year period. For the first few years Peachtree sent its support through MBF, and some members of the church visited the project. However, pastor of the church, the Rev. Dr. Vic Pentz, and his Director of Mission, Mrs. Marilyn Borst, were keen to involve more people in this major commitment of the church to China.
Marilyn had worked with The Outreach Foundation in the previous church she had served as Mission Director (First Presbyterian Church of Houston, where Vic Pentz had also served as pastor), and she thought we could help Peachtree make a more personal connection with their work in China. As a result, Peachtree began supporting the medical work in Linqu through The Outreach Foundation and joined our trips to China in 2006 and 2008.
Ultimately, Peachtree decided to focus its efforts on the church connections it was able to make through The Outreach Foundation, particularly in Jiangsu Province. But the Amity Foundation reminded us on our recent trip to China (2018) how important that support for this project had been for one of their early church-related projects.
The Outreach Foundation and the Amity Foundation: Because the Amity Foundation was not, strictly speaking, part of the official Church in China, The Outreach Foundation has focused more of our people, programs, and projects on the work of the Church in China rather than on the Amity Foundation. However, we continue to be friends with and advocates of the Amity Foundation. We make sure to visit the Amity Printing Company each time we take a trip. We rejoice in the way that the Amity Foundation has increasingly benefited the churches in China by building their capacity to carry out social service projects in their communities. We honor the Amity Foundation as a pioneer in the field of non-governmental organizations in China and note their leadership in creating a spirit of philanthropy inside China. We see a bright future for the Amity Foundation in China and throughout the world. They make the world a better place.