What Is the Future of The Outreach Foundation in China?
Installment 16 of the History of The Outreach Foundation in China
by Jefferson Ritchie, Mission Advocate
For almost a year I have chronicled the work of The Outreach Foundation in China from the 1990s until 2018. In this final installment of our China history, I will list a few projects that have not been previously mentioned. We will also speak of our on-going relationships, programs and projects which are now coordinated by the Rev. Juan Sarmiento. Finally, we will suggest some future possibilities to explore with the Church in China as well as potential challenges.
Bibles for New Christians and Study Bibles for Lay Leaders and Pastors: From the beginning The Outreach Foundation has provided Bibles for the Church in China. In the early years of our involvement, we sent funds to the Amity Foundation for Bibles for new Christians. Later on our focus became providing Study Bibles as part of our on-going “Mini-Library” project or as one-time gifts to training programs in various provinces.
Zhi-Mian Academy of Psychology: On my sabbatical in 2004 Dr. Don Snow, whom I have frequently mentioned as an unofficial adviser to our work in China, introduced me to Dr. Wang Xue Fu, a Christian pastoral counselor who founded the Zhi-Mian Academy of Psychology. By this time, Chinese churches were establishing medical clinics, but the ministry of counseling was undeveloped. Dr. Wang’s Zhi-Mian Center was an early attempt to meet this need. He taught pastoral counseling in seminaries, held workshops, and had hot-line centers for immediate counseling needs. The Outreach Foundation supported this work for several years.
Involvement in Western China: The historic Presbyterian mission connections in China were largely in the eastern provinces, and that is where The Outreach Foundation decided to focus our efforts. However, the western part of China is the poorest and least developed part of the country, and it is home to many of China’s minority groups. The Outreach Foundation took two early trips to Yunnan Province in Southwestern China to see the work of the Church and the Amity Foundation among the many minority peoples there (2001 and 2005). We supported several Bible translation projects of the Yunnan Provincial Christian Council for a few years. Our sister organization, Frontier Fellowship, made Yunnan their priority for mission in China, and we looked at another part of western China.
In 2004 we began visiting the Church in Shaanxi Province, which is one of the gateways to western and northwestern China. The Church there is well-organized and has a good working relationship with Amity and its projects. We looked for a lead US church to partner with us in Shaanxi as we had done in Heilongjiang and Jiangsu Provinces. However, we did not find that partner, and on our own we did not have the capacity to make Shaanxi a priority.
The Future of The Outreach Foundation in China: I retired from The Outreach Foundation at the end of 2016. Prior to my retirement, the Rev. Juan Sarmiento was called to succeed me as Associate Director for Mission and became our point person for mission relationships with the Church in China. Juan accompanied me on my last official trip to China in the fall of 2016 and has met our friends in the key provinces where we will continue our work, discern new opportunities, and respond to challenges that emerge.
Relationships: Our relationships remain strong in Jiangsu and Heilongjiang Provinces. We continue to build our relationships in Shandong Province, and we keep in regular touch with the Amity Foundation. The Outreach Foundation remains in close touch with the PCUSA’s Regional Liaison for East Asia, the Rev. Choon Lim, who has a deep commitment to connect the Korean Church with China.
In the US, we continue to nurture US partners who already have strong connections in China—Bel Air Presbyterian (Harbin, Heilongjiang), First Presbyterian Wilmington (Jiangyin, Jiangsu), University Place Presbyterian (Suzhou, Jiangsu), and Shadyside (Wei Hai, Shandong). We regularly connect with the China Initiative at Fuller Seminary and with China programs at other seminaries to see how we can increase exposure of seminarians to the amazing Church in China.
An opportunity that we see emerging is that the Church in China has increasing freedom and opportunity to connect with the non-Western Church. The Rev. Juan Sarmiento, who is also tasked with the development of The Outreach Foundation’s program, “Developing South-South Mission Relationships,” is already looking to connect the Church in China with partners in Korea, Brazil, and Africa.
Programs: Our annual trip to China, with occasional trips by Chinese to the US, continues to be our primary program activity to introduce new American friends to the Church in China. We support short-term courses at Jiangsu Seminary taught each year by PCUSA co-worker John McCall, a mission co-worker in Taiwan. We hope to enlarge the number of short-term teachers, for we have an open invitation from the Jiangsu Seminary.
Projects: We continue our mini-library project which has now expanded to include every seminary of the official Church in China and many lay training centers as well. This expansion is thanks to our cooperation with “Book-Gifting Project” of the Hong Kong-based Christian Communications, Ltd. One other on-going project is our support for continuing education for Chinese pastors on a case-by-case basis.
Challenges Facing the Church in China: As 2018 began, the Chinese government issued a new set of regulations governing religious bodies in China. We were concerned about this, and on our October trip to China we carefully asked our key church partners about the impact of the new regulations on them. They replied that they have not been impacted by the changes, even though some things are different.
The Church in China lives and works in a context very different from us. Even after twenty years of our friendship and partnership with it, we are still learning how to ask the right questions of our Chinese friends (or ask them in the most helpful way possible) in order that our partnership may be beneficial to them.
At the same time, we realize that we are part of the same family, God’s family, and we never cease to be amazed at what God has done and is doing in and through our brothers and sisters in China. We are humbled to have the opportunity to participate in God’s work among them, from whom we have learned so much. We pray and trust that our “China Connection” will continue to glorify God as we experience Emmanuel, “God with us,” with the Church in China.