China #1: Remarkable Faithfulness and Growth
Days in Harbin, October 12-15
Reflections by Jeff Ritchie, Jimmy and Lynne Quinn, Choon Lim and Juan Sarmiento
Five of the sixteen participants in the 2018 Outreach Foundation trip to China began their trip with a four-day visit to Harbin, the capital of Heilongjiang Province in northeast China. Harbin was the place where most of the early Outreach Foundation trips to China centered on. For four of the five travelers, this was a homecoming to people who have become like family. For Juan Sarmiento, Associate Director for Mission of The Outreach Foundation, it was his welcome to the family.
Choon Lim, the Regional Liaison for East Asia for The Outreach Foundation, had first gone to Harbin with The Outreach Foundation in 2000 when he was a missionary in Taiwan, fresh out of language school. Lynne Quinn made her first trip here in 2002, then brought her husband, Jimmy, on subsequent trips to China in 2004 and 2006. Jeff Ritchie, the retired Associate Director for Mission of The Outreach Foundation, was making his fourteenth trip to Harbin.
What a reunion it was. Lynne shared this emotion in a reflection time: “Jimmy and I arrived in Harbin dead tired after the long flight from Houston to Harbin. All we wanted was to go to bed. Then we heard the Rev. Dr. Li Meilan, pastor in Harbin greet us, ‘Jimmy!’ ‘Lynne!’ This busy pastor was waiting for us at the airport with flowers and love. She treated us like long-lost family members.”
For us who had returned after 2 years (Choon and Jeff) or 12 years (Lynne and Jimmy), some things were the same. One of those things was the worship at Hallelujah Church, the 10,000-member church which The Outreach Foundation helped build from 1998-2000. The worship time and the fellowship with worshipers conveyed a sense that God was alive and present in our midst as it had the first time we came.
Other things were new. The Heilongjiang Theological Seminary had a new campus in a mountainous setting. The various buildings had been marvelously constructed to convey a sense of worship and commitment to grow in faith in the architecture itself. The library, once housed in two book cabinets, now numbered in the tens of thousands. This seminary, once a struggling Bible School, was now fully accredited as an institution that could grant a Bachelor’s Degree. The Rev. Dr. Lu Dezhi, husband of Rev. Li Meilan, has been the chief architect of this growth, and we were so glad to have him guide us around the campus. “It is all God’s grace,” said Dr. Lu.
Another new thing was a senior citizens home founded by the churches in the city of Harbin. The population of China is aging, and churches all over China are beginning senior citizens homes to address the need. What stood out among the residents of this particular home was the joy on their faces. They were so happy to receive us and welcomed us with handshakes, hugs, and smiles. “They feel that they are the owners of this home and are hosts to us who are visiting,” explained a pastor from the Harbin City Christian Council who showed us around.
Other members of the “Harbin family” who cared for us during our four days there were staff from the Heilongjiang Provincial Christian Council--Mr. Zhang, the Rev. Shao, and several drivers, and a lay sister, Ms. Ma (“call me Miranda”), who had taken a couple of days off her job to translate for us.
A final experience of grace that occurred during our short time in Harbin was the farewell dinner with the Revs. Lu and Li and an official of the Religious Affairs Bureau of Heilongjiang Province, Mr. Ma. We learned that night that Mr. Ma, Rev. Lu and Rev. Li had been friends for more than thirty years. They went into the service of the church and he joined the Religious Affairs Bureau. We sensed the deep commitment of Mr. Ma to the welfare of the Church in Heilongjiang Province as he spoke of his admiration for the work of Pastors Lu and Li and of his concern for the plight of the struggling rural churches. Being an official in the Religious Affairs Bureau almost seemed like a calling for him, or so it seemed to us.
Our theme verse for the 2018 trip to China, Ephesians 3:18-20, came to life in Harbin. Over the past 20 years, God had truly done more than we could have asked or imagined in this northeastern corner of China. To God be the glory!