Friday, December 4th
Friday was the end of our first week in China. We have jelled as a group, recovered from jet lag, learned to use chopsticks and to recognize and enjoy some of the unfamiliar foods that appear at the centre of the round tables at which we often share our meals, sharing food as companions with one another and with our hosts.
In her presentation at day two of the Nanjing Union Theological Seminary consultation, Betsy Anderson recalled the influence that Katharine Hockin had as a returning missionary on United Church missiology. Katharine spoke of our call to be in solidarity with other churches in their own context, not just as partners but as companions, ones who share food, listening to the other and to the Bible.
Our group had ample opportunity to do both this Friday, accompanied by friends and companions along the way. Our intense experience of listening to one another during the conference ended at noon with speeches of gratitude and hope for future engagement.
Next on the agenda was a tour of the Amity Printing Company, which has been printing Bibles since 1988 and is now approaching 142 million copies, not only in Chinese but in multiple other languages. We witnessed all stages of the printing and binding process, as part of a well organized and polished visit complete with a group photo upon arrival, refreshments during presentations, and a laminated copy of the group photo for each delegate as we left.
We moved on to the centre of Nanjing to the office of the Amity Foundation, where Nora Sanders introduced the delegation, starting with our two elders, Ray Jones and Ray Whitehead. Ray Jones has been a respected elder speaking as an Indigenous voice from the Gitxsan Nation of B.C. bringing depth and substance to our conversations. Ray Whitehead has been greeted with respect and affection at almost every stop on this trip, often by students whom he had taught while in Nanjing in the early 2000s. The two Rays have been important elders and companions on the journey.
A younger companion has been Shi Meiying from the China Christian Council office, a young woman, fluent in Mandarin and English, who pursued theological studies first at Nanjing Theological Seminary, then at Columbia in Georgia, USA. Meiying has been our guide, interpreter, travel agent and friend – organizing us to get up on time, shepherding us onto buses and into restaurants, translating speeches and conversing informally on the road, endearing herself to us all with her grace, intelligence and confidence.
An invisible but important companion throughout the trip has been Bishop K.H. Ting (1915-2012), whose leadership and vision had such an influence not only on the life of the Chinese Protestant Church, but also on its relationship with The United Church of Canada. He had a key role in founding the Amity Foundation which partners with government and sectarian sectors to offer emergency relief and development through a range of projects and services.
Helen Zhao, a graduate of Nanjing Union Theological Seminary who studied under Ray Whitehead, gave an impressive review of the Church’s role in Amity, which includes promoting Christian participation in social issues, facilitating the wider Chinese society to have a better understanding of Christianity, and encouraging further unity among religions and churches through dialogue and cooperation. She concluded with this Chinese saying:
If you are planning for a year, sow rice;
If you are planning for a decade, plant trees;
If you are planning for a lifetime, educate people.
The companionship of listening and learning which has been sown and taken root during our short visit as guests of the China Christian Council, will surely bear fruit for a lifetime.