Word and Deed
China and the Advance
by Diane Allen
Trying to keep up with China's economic and social development is like the well-known Chinese expression, "trying to smell flowers while galloping on horseback." Facts and figures dash by as China changes at a dizzying pace. Its astonishing economic growth accounts for one-third of all global activity. There is now a growing middle class of nearly 200 million for whom cell phones, microwaves, televisions, computers, and access to the Internet are the norm. China's functional literacy rate is 93 percent. Direct elections for local government are helping stem corruption and widen people's participation.
While Chinese leaders have spent the better part of the last three decades putting food on the table and televisions in living rooms, no coherent ideology has emerged to underpin the massive economic changes that Chinese leaders introduced. Individual competition and consumption increasingly govern people's lives. China has one of the widest gaps between the rich and the poor of any nation on earth. Twenty percent of China's population consumes 80 percent of its goods. A quarter of China's drinking water is contaminated by industrial pollution, and significant parts of the Yangtze River are completely "dead," supporting no form of aquatic life.
"Before the late 1970s, everyone was poor," explains Zhang Liwei, Associate General Secretary of the Amity Foundation, a social service organization initiated by Christians in China and the General Board of Global Ministries' main Advance partner organization in China. "The catchphrase of the 1980s was ‘Let some get rich first,' and it worked brilliantly. It encouraged individual creativity, and China began to participate in global economic life." But by the 1990s, China's economic development also intensified social conflict. "It has created a lot of wealth," Mr. Zhang reflects, "but it has also created a lot of evil and brought crime, poverty, and corruption."
Gao Zhenglan, 60, from rural Yinzhuang village, Henan Province, knows all too well about evil. Her husband and two sons died within three years of each other after contracting the HIV virus from an illegal blood-collecting scheme. Unscrupulous dealers purposely target the impoverished, like Gao's family, who earn less than $100 per year. Poor farmers are enticed to sell their blood for plasma with no regard for their health or safety. Gao's husband sold his several times a month. There were no tests for HIV, no mention of danger, and needles were reused without sterilization. The effects have been catastrophic all over China. In the same village, Li Wangzhou's husband also died from complications associated with AIDS, leaving her childless and destitute. She eked out a living by working in an illegal fireworks factory until an explosion occurred when she was working. Ms. Li was hospitalized for six months with extensive burns over her face, neck, and hands.
A Wake-up Call
Its hope is to build a "harmonious society," calling for cooperation and balance in social and human relationships. This in turn should intersect and positively impact politics, economics, culture, and the environment. In President Hu Jintao's own words, building a harmonious society fosters "democracy, the rule of law, justice, equality, and amity."
For China's Christians, the ideals surrounding a harmonious society are really nothing new and very much like being in right relationship with neighbor, self, and God. With harmony and stability key to China's emerging civil society, Chinese Christians are excited that the church is now seen as an essential presence in word and deed, with its inherent mandates of hospitality and care "for the least of these" (Matthew 25:40).
Living the Gospel
Amity's projects are people-centered and focus on sustainable development, gender equality, integrated development, education, and environmental protection. Through Amity, the Advance has touched the lives of people like Ma Xinwen, who no longer has to gather firewood in the deserts of Ningxia because her simple solar stove can cook a meat pie in 12 minutes, using only the sun's reflective rays. Sui Shuihua, blind from birth, nimbly zips around the rice fields of Rongshan county, Sichuan Province. An Amity community-based rehabilitation project gave him back confidence and mobility to begin a grain-milling business for local farmers.
As for Ms. Li and "Old"Gao, a term of respect in Chinese culture, they raise goats. Both Ms. Gao and Ms. Li applied and received a small $15 microcredit loan, which opened the door to hope for the future. Each decided to buy some goats to raise for milk, breeding, and selling at the local market. Women are the primary beneficiary of Amity's microfinance projects, in this case organized with the Zhoukou Christian Council in Henan Province. The responsibility involved in devising and implementing a small project increases self-esteem and contributes to the family income.
Ms. Gao explains why she chose goats: "They're easy to raise and easy to feed. I can sell one and have enough to buy rice to plant for autumn harvest." Ms. Li's attraction may be a bit more personal. "They're economical and friendly," she said as she reached out her disfigured hand to stroke a goat. A bit more quietly, she added, "They don't run away from me."
Diane Allen is a United Methodist missionary serving as China Program Associate with the United Methodist China Program. She can be supported through Advance #10163Z.
Tending the Flock
The Bible is one of the most frequently printed books in the People's Republic of China. For many outside China, this is astonishing news! Since 1980, the China Christian Council has published 47 million Bibles in dozens of shapes, ethnic minority languages, and versions, including Braille, for distribution and use throughout China.
Bible production in China is a cooperation between the Amity Foundation, which prints the Bibles, and the China Christian Council, which publishes and distributes them. The China Christian Council has set up 70 distribution centers nationwide that receive truckloads of Bibles, hymnals, and devotional studies every month. Even though it organizes shipments by the thousands, the China Christian Council recognizes the importance of individual care.
The Rev. Bao Jiayuan, Associate General Secretary of the China Christian Council, recalls a simple letter that came across his desk one afternoon. It was from a prisoner who had been sentenced to seven years for gang-related aggravated assault. The man had been introduced to Jesus Christ by some local Christians working in the prison and was asking for a Bible. Rev. Bao personally sent him one. "Here was a man broken and in the depths of despair. He knew that God could and would hear his cry." A few weeks later Bao received another letter from the prisoner saying the Bible had arrived. "Amazingly," Rev. Bao recalled, "he organized a Bible study group with other prisoners! These Christian prisoners are working to be model prisoners, demonstrating their newfound faith in Christ to their fellow inmates."
In China today there are nearly 20 million Protestant Christians who worship in 60,000 churches and meeting points throughout the country. From village gatherings to churches like Chongyi in Hangzhou, which seats 7,000, Christians are active and serious about their role as the body of Christ. Says Chen Meilin of the China Christian Council: "We keenly feel that pastoral care is an urgent need of the church. The great majority of Christian gatherings, especially those in the countryside, rely on a network of nearly 100,000 volunteer lay workers in grassroots communities. Publication of Christian literature is one way to fill this gap. At the least, it can supply resources to these faithful volunteers and lay church workers who are on the front line tending the flock."
Date posted: Nov 05, 2007