Chinese Theological Review 14

Ministry to Women, Children and Minorities in China

Wu Mingfeng

In the name of Christ, I bring you greetings from China, particularly from the Korean minority in China.

My topic is the ministry to women, children and minorities in China. It would take at least three hours to deal thoroughly with these three subjects, so I am not even going to try to present a comprehensive, formal report. Instead of speaking on the topic from the perspective of an academician or a historian, I want to share with you from my personal experiences as a young woman and a minority Christian in China.

In China we say that women hold up half the sky. Indeed, the role of women in all walks of life is critically important in China today, and there have been tremendous changes in this role during the past fifty years. We believe that women and men are born equal in the image of God. Yet in reality, there still exist quite a few barriers to realizing gender equality in China.

In old China, women were treated almost as non-beings. The practice of foot-binding was indeed a disgrace. Women were confined to their homes. Less than ten percent of the women were educated. That means that ninety percent of the women could not read or write. More seriously, they were isolated from the external world, limited in their outlook, and ignorant of their own value.

Since the founding of new China, the situation of women has improved. One hundred ten million women have become literate. Twenty million women in the countryside have learned to read in the 1990s. Yet, there are still one hundred million women who are illiterate.

The church has grown tremendously in China since the 1980s. There are more than thirteen million Christians in China today, and seventy percent of them are women. Most are scattered throughout the countryside and many are illiterate. The goals of the ministry to women are to help these women study the Bible through weekly meetings and to raise their cultural level as they study the Bible. Many churches are running Bible reading classes. The China Christian Council has published a series of books on basic Christian doctrine that help the reader not only to learn the basic teachings of Christianity, but also to recognize 1000 words, the minimum requirement for reading the Bible or a newspaper. Thousands of women have been benefited from this program.

Women have kept their faith in Christ, even in the difficult times of trial and tribulation in the 1960s. In China today women share pastoral leadership with men. The church I serve is Xita Church in Shenyang, a large city in northeastern China. It has earned the nickname "Church of Mary" because its membership is over eighty percent women. The senior pastor is a woman, the Rev. Wu Ai'en, who is a second generation Korean-Chinese. Rev. Wu provides leadership to the local congregation and to the church at the provincial and national levels as well. She serves as one of the vice-presidents of the China Christian Council.

During the difficult days in 1948 and during the 1960s, all the men left the church. Rev. Wu and the few remaining women deacons prayed without ceasing. At the time of the so-called Cultural Revolution, Rev. Wu was taken to a steel mill where she was assigned to hard labor. She was mocked and persecuted. When the pressure became unbearable, she would cling to Cod in prayer. She held onto her faith in Christ even though she was physically abused and injured. She still carries the scars from that trying time on her body. In the late 1970s, when she was released from hard labor, she immediately returned to Xita and began to pray again with the women. Working with a few committed Christian women, she reclaimed the Xita Church that she loves so well. Now Xita has a membership of over 2000. Rev. Wu is a living example to us young women pastors in China.

Rev. Wu had two women friends at Yanjing Theological Seminary in Beijing in the late 1950s. All the members of the graduating class were called to serve in churches except these two friends. Finally, by the time of graduation, the two women were called to serve in Qinghai in western China. Qinghai has a large population of Muslims and very few Christian communities. There were disturbances in Qinghai, and people were involved in demonstrations. During the crackdown on the demonstrators, the police arrested hundreds of people, including some who were innocent. The two women were among those arrested and put in prison. They had scarcely begun their ministry when this happened. They were to be in prison for 20 years. Although they were unjustly put in prison and suffered a great deal, they did not give up their faith in Christ. One died in the collapse of a prison building. The other woman, Rev. Wei Anru, survived. She was finally released in 1980.

During her time of incarceration, hundreds of young criminals were sent to Qinghai. Rev. Wei lived with these young criminals and learned much from them. She learned to listen and talk with them. She became an expert in criminal psychology. She worked with these young people and ministered to them in prison. After she was released from the prison, she continued to minister to the troubled young people. A week ago, when I talked with Rev. Wei Anru, she was still busy and had spent the whole day counseling young people. She also ministers to young and old, to sick people in the hospital and to those in prison, even to the death row inmates.

While she was unjustly imprisoned, Rev. Wei experienced anew the love and care of God even as he used her to offer a compassionate ministry to young criminals. There are many such devoted women pastors who are an inspiration to us young pastors in China. They are the true pioneers of faith who teach us through their good examples. We give thanks to God for them. By the grace of God, the church in China is growing fast, and many of the new members are women. The Psalmist says, "The Lord gives the command; great is the company of the women who bore the tidings"(Psalm 68:1 1).

By the end of 1994, 387 women had been ordained as pastors. Women account for one-sixth of the total number of men and women pastors in China. Many of these women pastors are serving in rural churches. Of the theological seminary students in China today, fifty-six percent are women. Among the seventeen top national church leaders, six are women. Women serve as principals of seminaries and many women hold faculty positions at the seminaries. Women also work as senior engineers, doctors, nurses, teachers, managers and politicians in China.

China is in a transition from a planned economy to a market economy. With the change comes pressure on the family. Traditional family values seem to be undermined by rampant materialism. Women used to care for the children and elderly people, but now they are a part of work force outside their homes. Chinese Christian women are challenged to provide a ministry to children in these changing times.

China enjoys a relatively high rate of schooling for school-age children. According to a report issued in 1990, there are 290,000 kindergartens and one million elementary schools in China. Jihua shengyu. one child per family, is the policy in China today. While this policy has helped control population growth in China, it also presents new challenges in the areas of education, family nurture, and socialization of children.

1) Education. According to the Chinese saying Wangzi chenglong. parents want their child to become "a dragon". This means that all parents hope that their child will receive the best possible education and become an outstanding person. So, the parents enroll their child in extra classes, such as music, foreign language and other special studies. Because of the heavy load of study placed on them, children sometimes rebel against studying or become afraid of studying. Such family pressures prevent the child from achieving a balanced development in body, mind and moral character.

2) Family nurture. The home is the first elementary school where a child experiences education. A mother is a child's first teacher as well as the most important teacher. Mother's face is the living textbook for a child, her lap is child's schoolroom, her words are the child's nourishment, and her hands are a child's heaven. However, in China today, a mother does not have time to provide the nurture for her child because she has to work outside the home. Children are either sent to child care facilities or cared far by grandmothers. We would like to learn from the mothers of the Presbyterian Church (U .S.A) how you provide nurture for children.

3) Socialization. As a result of the shift to a market economy, people are enjoying a higher standard of living. Parents do their best for their one child by providing an abundance of clothing, toys. and books. Because there is only one child, the parents treat him or her as a king or a queen. Children do not do chores at home. In fact, they are not allowed to do chores. Parents seem to exist for the child (his mistaken attitude of the parents creates an egotistic and self-centered attitude in the child. Paul says, "Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. 'Honor your father and mother' -this is the first commandment with a promise"(Eph. 6:1-2). But in today's China, it seems that "honor your child" is the first commandment. Such a practice makes our children selfish and keeps them from serving others. We are deeply concerned about our children's future. We hope that you can suggest ways to resolve the problem.

We in the church in China provide training for young parents with a particular emphasis on education for mothers. A study was conducted of 657 women teachers, pastors and seminary students in China as to how they became Christian. Fifty-seven percent indicated that they became Christians when they were young through the influence of their mothers. Reaching the younger generation with the teachings of Christ, particularly the children, is the best education. This is the challenge before the women in China today.

Lastly, let me briefly share with you about the minority nationalities in China.

China is a unified, multi-ethnic country, with fifty-six nationalities. The Han people account for ninety-two percent of the total population of the country, leaving eight percent for the other fifty-five ethnic nationalities. The principle that guides relationships among ethnic nationalities is equality, unity and common prosperity. The law prohibits discrimination against and oppression of any ethnic nationality in China.

In old China, severe ethnic minority discrimination and oppression existed over a long period of time. However, since the founding of new China in 1949, discrimination against and oppression of minority people have been abolished. There is now a system of regional autonomy for minority nationalities. Structures of self-government have been set up in the regions where the minority nationalities are concentrated, and the minority people handle their own internal affairs. At present there are 159 national autonomous areas. These autonomous areas exercise all the rights of self-government including the handling of local financial, economic, cultural and educational affairs in accordance with the laws of the country.

China's law stipulates that all minority peoples have the freedom to use and develop their own spoken and written languages. The government also preserves and encourages the traditional cultures of the various ethnic nationalities and promotes education for them.

Whereas the one child per family policy is applied to the Han people, the minority couples are legally allowed to have two.

As for religion, the ethnic minority people practice Buddhism, Islam, Taoism and Christianity. Among the fifty-five minority nationalities, seventeen follow the Christian faith. The China Christian Council reaches out to minorities. The Council has published both the Bible and the hymnal in seven minority languages because it is important for people to be able to worship and praise in their own language. There are also theological seminaries for the minorities. The one in Yunnan Province in the south of China has eighty-seven percent minority students. North China (Dongbei) Theological Seminary in Shenyang, where I teach, has fifty-seven Korean students.

The China Christian Council is actively promoting the training of leaders for the minority churches in China. I was one of these. endorsed by the Council for study outside of China. With the rapid growth of the Christian communities, including the minority people, our most urgent task today is to train new leaders. I ask for your prayers for the church in China.

Talk given in Louisville, KY, at the Consultation on Partnership between the China Christian Council and the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), 19-22 March 2000. English test.

Rev. Wu Mingfeng is associate pastor of Xita Church in Shenyang.