Rev Ji Zhang continues the story of the UnitingWorld and Uniting Care Australia journey to China to engage with the Chinese Church, share training and further the partnership between our two communities.
“A thousand mile journey begins with simple steps”.
In rural areas, we began to encounter two virtues of this Chinese saying: simplicity and persistence.
A group of elderly people aged between 78 and 98 were singing a welcome song as we entered their facility. We were not strangers to them; this is the third visit we’ve made in the last two years. Stepping forward, we held their hands, saying “Nihao” (Hello – literary means “You are good” in Chinese). The UCA nurses quickly went into a room with female caretakers, and Geoff and I were left outside to talk to the ministers from the provincial church and the local government. When a dozen women came out of the room, they pronounced: “It worked. She is healed.”
They were speaking about a joint medical process that has been happening over the last few weeks. During our first visit, the UCA nurses were asked about how to care for those permanently in bed, and how to treat damaged skin caused by the body’s own pressure. This encounter deeply moved the UCA nurses. When they returned to Australia, they used WeChat (a popular social media app) to discuss best practice treatment. In the case of this woman, the size of the wound was big, and infection began, but the caretakers did not have medical training. Wesley Mission Brisbane came up with the simplest method – warm water – to clean the area, and then cover the wound with cream. With frequent turning to increase circulation, the body healed itself.
This story is a testimony. Community-to-community connection can be simple and effective. Through the internet, Wesley Mission Brisbane has helped the bed-ridden elderly in this remote facility. Moreover there is happiness on the face of the residents here when they received the gift made by hand by the elderly back in Brisbane.
This exchange is also learning for us, and capacity building for our staff. The CEO Geoff remarked, “They have taught us about passion and faith. I believe more of our facilities would be interested to form a sister-relationship with elderly homes in China”.
In Chinese there are 5 mountains named after 5 Phases (Gold, Wood, Water, Fire, Earth) according to the Daoist theory of change. The Eastern Mountain Tai is home to the northern school called Comprehensive Teachings. To reach the temple 1500m above, the team took the cable car up and walked in the rain. For one thousand years, this mountain has been a place of pilgrimage and the summit has been the location of imperial worship and sacrifice to mark the beginning of a new dynasty. This is the place where the rising sun is first observed. On the day we visited, however, the mountain masked its image with its own mystery.
At the foot of the mountain we visited a local church built in1900 by American North Presbyterian Church. Rev Fu started his role in 2005, and built the congregation from 350 to a membership of 2000. What is the secret of this growth? Rev Fu attributes it to the witness of believers. Here evangelism is done through church members. Each year the church publishes about 40,000 introduction materials about Christian faith and the Gospel teachings. The members then take the material to their family members and friends in communities and villages. Each Christmas they will distribute most of them, inviting believers to share fellowship and witness. On Wednesday, the first choir will practice. Thursday, the ministers run a bible study, book-by-book and chapter-by-chapter. On Friday, the fellowship of young men takes place in evening. On Saturday, volunteers clean the church for Sunday and the second choir will practice.
The harvest is plenty, but the labourers are few. They put together limited human resources in the central church, and from here they travel to 52 gathering places for pastoral visits and delivering communion. These gathering places have membership ranging from 20 to 200. The method of feeding the flock is also simple – equipping the laity.
The training centre was an Anglican Church school built in 1876. It has been occupied by a local school until 2007. Due to lack of repair, the local government viewed its structure as too dangerous to be restored. The decision was made to demolish it. A group of elderly women from the church came to live in the damaged building. They lived on the ground floor but could see the sky above them. The church engaged a process of negotiation between 2007 and 2009. Eventually, the government agreed to accept the church’s proposal: return the property to the church, and the church would restore the site. Now this building has been enlisted as a provincial heritage building, and is permanently protected.
In a room upstairs, we met the training class. 40 lay people gathered here for 7 months. They have left their families behind, work behind, and live here as a community. The courses cover the bases of biblical and theological teachings, and pastoral care. When they return to those 52 gathering places, their job has one purpose only: feed the sheep. Throughout the year, the 5-people ministry team will visit and support them.
We shared together, and we prayed together. Before our departure, they blessed us with their singing: “The Lord bless you and keep you, and the Lord has his face to shine upon you…”