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 second excerpt from those journals.
Walking down the street in Anshun, Guizhou province, brought me back to the days when we first arrived in Beijing. The “hellos," “waiguoren” (foreigner), and giggles were ubiquitous. I don’t get much of that in Beijing these days.
Anshun is definitely a small town, not even a MacDonald’s or KFC that I could find. So much for my coffee addiction. In the hotel, I watched Dallas defeat Miami to win the NBA finals. After that, I decided to head out for lunch.
I had walked only a block or so when I saw a Buddhist temple, with a pagoda towering above it on a small hill. As I was taking a few pictures, I noticed a cross in the background. Assuming that was the church I was looking for (how many could there be?), I decided to head over.
As I entered the gate, I noticed a number of people sitting there and several people in white uniforms. I asked, and yes, it was a clinic. I asked one of the patients if this was a church (dumb foreigner question) and he said yes. I asked if the pastor was around and he pointed me to an open door on the left side of the courtyard and told me to ask in there.
When I entered I saw an old woman cooking. I asked if the pastor was around. She smiled, revealing very few teeth, and said there was no pastor here. This, she explained, is a Catholic Church and there is only a priest. She then called a junior high school-aged girl over to talk with me. This girl, along with several others, is in training to be a nun. She showed me around the church.
After the tour, they insisted that I have lunch with them. By this time, the priest had shown up. He was probably in his late 30s and had been at this church for less than a year. He explained that in his last church he had started a school, which had grown to 200 students. He was proud that this was the only school of its kind (Catholic) in China. He had already started on a school at this church. In addition to the clinic and school, the church also operates an orphanage and seniors’ home.
Following lunch, three of the nuns-in-training escorted me the 15 minute walk to the Protestant church. It must have been good entertainment for the folks on the street—an old laowai accompanied by three junior high girls!
My reception at the Protestant church was not as elaborate, but equally hospitable. The door was shut and locked when I arrived. But a couple of the neighbors and I made enough noise to alert the entire neighborhood and soon a little girl arrived to open the door. I explained that I wanted to see a pastor if possible. She led me through dark and crumbling hallways to a small room with a middle-aged woman sitting in a chair.
Given the condition of the room it took me a while to figure out that this was where the pastor (this middle-aged woman) and her family lived. The room was no more than 15 feet square and held a bed, a table, a couple of chairs, and several shelving units. All of these were piled high with stuff, books, toys (the little girl was the pastor’s daughter), clothes, paperwork, and all sorts of other things. There was hardly room to walk through it.
Pastor Zhang (not her real name) had graduated from Sichuan Seminary in Chengdu and was one of three pastors at the church. The church is called, very practically, the Anshun City Protestant Church. Maybe the other four churches in the city think this a bit pretentious. This church was founded by the China Inland Mission in 1884. It was the first church in Guizhou province. Currently it has more than 2000 members out of the 7000+ Protestants in Anshun. Pastor Zhang explained that the church has worship services each Friday (to commemorate Christ’s death) and Sunday (to commemorate the resurrection). The church has three pastors and one evangelist. Pastor Zhang pointed out (twice) that she was the only female. She said the pastors regularly go to rural churches to preach and help out in addition to their service at the church.
Anshun City Church is composed mainly of Han Chinese and conducts services in Mandarin, but the area has a lot of minority groups and churches. Pastor Zhang listed the following: The Dahua and Xiaohua (大花，小花), the Yi (彝族), the Miao (苗族), and the Shui (水族). She said there are a number of churches that use the Miao language.
At one point in the conversation, I asked Pastor Zhang if this church was part of the structure of the provincial Three-Self Patriotic Movement. With a look of chagrin she said she does not like that way of looking at things. The church is Christ’s church, she emphasized, the Three-Self is simply a bridge for communication with the government. This seems to be a common sentiment among registered church pastors. When I followed up with a question about the relationship between the church and the government, she said it was good.
Back at the hotel, I prepared for the next leg of my trip—Guiyang. Had I known what sort of adventures awaited me, I might have skipped that city!
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."
Header image credit: Zhangmoon618 - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link
Text image credits: Wayne Ten Harmsel
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