ELCA NEWS SERVICE
September 19, 2012
ELCA presiding bishop explores mission with Christian leaders in China
CHICAGO (ELCA) - In his first visit to China, the Rev. Mark S. Hanson, presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), shared a message of hope, appreciation for and commitment to the ministries and relationships between ELCA members and Chinese Christians. During his Sept. 11-17 trip, Hanson met with national church leaders in Shanghai and with regional leaders across China's Sichuan Province.
In a gathering with leaders of the China Christian Council and Three-Self Patriotic Movement of the Protestant Church in Shanghai, Hanson noted that his visit here was "to listen and learn. We come out of a deep history of building relationships," he said, and the "challenge is how people in our church can learn from you."
The Rev. Gao Feng, president of the China Christian Council, expressed his appreciation toward the ELCA for its support in areas of theological education, personnel training and social services. "In the 30 years since the end of the Cultural Revolution, we are now cultivating new religious freedoms that have fostered a rapid growth in the church," said Gao.
According to Elder Fu Zianwei, chair of the patriotic movement, "The church in China is in a golden era of development," he said, "but it has lots of challenges." One is that the church is being required to build up fast to meet the needs of society as society is seeking the church's response. This has also meant redefining the role of the church to meet the current context for mission, he said.
Hanson spoke of the similar challenges for the ELCA. "We are about the revitalization of congregations and ministries," he said, noting that like the Chinese Protestant Church, the ELCA is seeking to find its place in society through a similar rethinking of how it engages in ministry.
One way in which the church in China has begun to operate outside some of its traditional ways is through social services, said Fu. "The church is not just about pastoral care for church members; it is also about social services for society," he said. "With the rich tradition of the ELCA's work in social services, we seek further cooperation (with you)," he told Hanson.
Three days before Hanson departed for China, an earthquake in the Yunnan and Guizhou provinces killed 80 people and forced tens of thousands to evacuate, according to news reports. ELCA Disaster Response provided a $25,000 grant to support earthquake recovery efforts there in response to an appeal for funds by the China Christian Council.
Disaster response has been a critical point of engagement between the ELCA and China's Christian councils following earthquakes that struck Sichuan and Yushu in 2008. The southwestern region of China is prone to earthquakes, and more than $1 million from ELCA Disaster Response has been allocated to assist China's Protestant church in earthquake disaster response.
The recovery work in the Sichuan Province has led to the building of new churches and gaining members, according to the Rev. Y. Franklin Ishida, who directs the Asian-Pacific ministries at ELCA churchwide ministries in Chicago. The Protestant church in Sichuan has some 460,000 church members in 116 congregations, with many other house gatherings and preaching points.
For the Rev. Wei Kan, chair of the Sichuan Christian Council, "There is a correlation between the expansion of social services and church growth." Hanson met with Wei in Chengdu, Sichuan's capital.
"What we believe is acted out in our social services," Wei said, adding that the government recognizes more than ever before the role the church can play in society. "Faith and Christianity is now seen as a motivation for social development, whereas Christianity is also seen as part of the culture."
While the Chinese government in many instances has helped the church by providing land for building, funds from the ELCA have helped "seed" programs which, in turn, have leveraged government and other organizational funding, said Ishida.
A goal of the ELCA is to deepen global relationships, according to the Rev. Rafael Malpica Padilla, executive director for global mission at ELCA churchwide ministries in Chicago. "We rely on mutuality with sharing of resources, experiences and gifts," he said.
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About the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America:
The ELCA is one of the largest Christian denominations in the United States, with 4.2 million members in 10,000 congregations across the 50 states and in the Caribbean region. Known as the church of "God's work. Our hands," the ELCA emphasizes the saving grace of God through faith in Jesus Christ, unity among Christians and service in the world. The ELCA's roots are in the writings of the German church reformer, Martin Luther.
For information contact:
Melissa Ramirez Cooper
773-380-2956 or Melissa.RamirezCooper@ELCA.org
Living Lutheran: http://www.livinglutheran.com