China #7: So, what did you DO in China?

by Rev. Nancy Fox

In Shanghai on Tuesday, October 23, we met with six of the top leaders of the Three-Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM), which is the official Protestant church (a single denomination) in China and the largest Protestant body in any country. In Jiangsu Province alone (where we have spent most of our time), there are about two million members. The “three-self” element is drawn from what was new Protestant mission thinking around the end of the 19th century that newly planted churches should be self-governing, self-supporting and self-propagating. That approach was shown to be highly successful in Korea and was embraced by the Chinese church after foreign missionaries were expelled in 1949 and the re-opening of churches following the Cultural Revolution. Because of this three-self emphasis, the Protestant church in China is truly Chinese.

Rev. Dr. Manhong (Melissa) Lin, Associate General Secretary, headed the TSPM delegation with which we met. She introduced us to their seven departments and their work and shared that they continue to work toward contextualization of church and theology in their unique Chinese societal and cultural context. The TSPM will celebrate the fortieth anniversary in 2019 of the re-opening of the churches in 1979, the same year in which The Outreach Foundation will celebrate our fortieth anniversary since our founding. Associate Secretary Lin shared with us the four principles of healthy partnerships of the Chinese Christian Council (CCC)/TSPM: sincerity, openness, legality and equality. She shared their desire for continued support in theological education (especially teachers of theological English), training for social services if people have expertise in specific areas such as health care ministry and senior care homes.

General Secretary Lin shared that the 38-40 million Protestants in China are still a small percentage of the 1.4 billion people in China, so there is much room for growth of the church which is still on the margins of society. Both round tables of our combined groups discussed politics over lunch and shared a desire for relations between our countries to be healthy. We agreed that we will pray for each other as we face similar and different challenges to live as faithful Christians in our contexts.

The trip is drawing to a close, and our minds are turning towards home and how we will share about our time here. When people return from a “mission” trip, a typical question tends to be “So what did you DO there?”

The list of things we have NOT done is much longer than what we have done. We have not built buildings or done medical work or trained leaders or done anything FOR our colleagues and hosts. But we have exchanged lovely gifts. We have feasted on course after course of typical regional specialties through multiple banquets, doing our best with chopsticks. We have sat around tables, asking and answering questions, to seek to understand each other and the differences and similarities of our churches, ministries, contexts and challenges. We have posed for a lot of pictures. We have worshiped in Chinese, hummed along with sometimes familiar tunes and stood in front of congregations to be introduced. We have listened to PowerPoint presentations, toured and admired church buildings, seminaries and hospitals. We have tried to understand what it is like to be a Christian and to be the church in China. We have let our brothers and sisters in Christ in this very different context teach us about how God is working in their context and their understanding. We have prayed together. We have BEEN together.

Dr. Marvin Hage, an obstetrician from the Wilmington church, led our team devotion, reflecting on what it means to be an obstetrician. He said that “obstetrics,” in Latin, means to “stand with,” and talked about how true it has been of his work - to just BE there, usually not doing much, and how like that is to what we have “done” here in China.