In the summer of 2011, I spent about two months traversing China from Kunming in the south to Hegang near the Russian border in the north. The purpose was to visit registered churches in a total of 22 cities and to interview pastors in those churches. I kept a journal in which I recorded information from my interviews and descriptions of what I saw and experienced of China along the way. What follows is the third excerpt from those journals. Previous excerpts can be found at “A Tour of Three-Self Churches.”
June 14 and 15
From Anshun I boarded a bus for the two-and-a-half-hour ride to Guiyang, the capital of Guizhou province. The scenery along the way was breathtaking. The whole area is covered with mountains and hills of various shapes and sizes, many of them looking like oversized molars.
The intercity bus station in Guiyang is well outside of the city, so I had to take a taxi in to the train station. By the time I arrived there, it was about 2pm. I set about looking for a hotel near the train station. It wasn’t long before I found one that was cheap, about US$25 per night. That should have been a clue. But I booked a room there anyway. It was very small, but given the price, didn’t look too bad. At about 9 that evening I went out for a short walk. When I returned, as I opened the door to the room, I heard a rustling sound by the curtains in the corner. I investigated, but everything seemed normal. When I went to get something from my suitcase, I discovered that a hole had been chewed into a package of crackers that I had not yet opened. It all became clear—I had a roommate!
In a state of righteous indignation, I packed up, went down to the reception desk, and demanded a refund. To my great surprise, they refunded my money. I think the fact that there was someone there waiting for a room had something to do with that. So, I got my money back, the other party got a room, and the mouse got a new roommate—everything worked out fine.
Except that it was about 11pm and I was out on the street with my suitcase and no room. Speaking of my suitcase, I found that when I packed up in the room the main zipper was broken. I figured it was an unfortunate coincidence. It wasn’t until the next day when I brought it to a repair man to be fixed that I discovered the reason for the malfunction—the mouse had chewed a hole through it in order to get at the crackers. Two different repair men agreed; it couldn’t be fixed. Some bargaining and about US$30 later, I had a new suitcase. Samsonite, the label proudly said. It had several small holes and rips, but nothing major. And seven wheels! What more could I want?
I was able to find a hotel without too much difficulty and booked a room for about US$30. I was moving up in the world.
The next afternoon I made a trip to the church I was to visit, only to find out that there were no pastors there. I was instructed to come back the next morning at 9. I was beginning to think I was not real fond of Guiyang.
Meanwhile, back at the hotel, I changed rooms because I could not access the internet in my original room. This was fine with me because the water in my original room had a mind of its own. No matter how I set the faucet, the water alternated between ice cold and scalding hot, which made taking a shower a real adventure. Unfortunately, in my new room the best the shower could manage was a feeble drip. There was also a four-inch square hole in the shower wall, which looked to me like a wide-open invitation to more furry roommates. As it turned out, there weren’t any of those. But I was able to smash a large cockroach, adding to the plethora of stains in the carpet.
I was finally able to connect with a pastor at the church in Guiyang. Once again, I was warmly and hospitably welcomed, even though I came without appointment or forewarning.
The pastor told me that Guiyang has seventeen churches. This one is by far the largest, with about 20,000 members, out of a total of about 30,000 believers in Guiyang.
The church has activities every day in order to meet the needs of its large membership. It has four worship services on Sundays and a youth service on Saturday night. There is a Sunday School and the kids sing during the worship services each Sunday. The church has six pastors and one evangelist. Some of the older yigong (lay leaders) also preach. The largest demographic in the membership is middle-aged people.
There is a Bible school in Guiyang. Graduates from the school must serve a church for four or five years, then they must be evaluated by the congregation and go through testing by the lianghui before they can be ordained. In spite of this seemingly rigorous process, this area, like most of China, has a severe shortage of leaders. Also, many pastors are poorly trained. The Bible schools are sort of glorified high schools with some theology attached. Even most of the seminaries accept high school graduates, so the level of training is not what people in the West would expect.
After talking with the pastor, I went and picked up my things, including my new suitcase, and made my way to the bus station to begin my trek to Sichuan province. I was happy to be moving on from Guiying.
Further excerpts from Wayne Ten Harmsel's journal of his tour of Three-self churches will follow in the coming weeks. You will be able to read them all in the series "A Tour of Three-Self Churches."
Image credits: Wayne Ten Harmsel
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