Chinese Church Voices

Chinese Churches Serving Those with Disabilities

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Among Chinese Christian charity and social services, wheelchair donation has been an ongoing ministry in supporting the disabled in recent years. Caring for people with disabilities has long been a tradition of Christian charity and social service. This article from Christian Times shows how Chinese churches and Christians should care for and serve this group.

Wheelchair Donation, Disability Theology and Construction of Charity Culture in Contemporary Chinese Churches

Among Chinese Christian charity and social services, wheelchair donation has been an ongoing ministry in supporting the disabled in recent years. According to incomplete data as of May 2018, roughly 30,000 wheelchairs have been donated across China by the China Christian Council and the National Committee of Three-Self Patriotic Movement of the Protestant Churches in China (CCC & TSPM), the Amity Foundation, and local churches working together with domestic and international organizations. (The actual number may be far higher than this. According to the 2015 Social Service Ministries Annual Report published by the CCC & TSPM Social Service Department, 6,600 wheelchairs were donated across the nation that year. Additionally, the Amity Foundation donated 1,531 wheelchairs in Jiangsu Province over the course of 2015 to 2017).1

In provinces such as Henan, Gansu, Qinghai, Guizhou, Heilongjiang, Jiangsu alone, over a thousand wheelchairs have already been donated. Starting in 2015, CCC & TSPM began cooperating with the China Foundation for Disabled Persons. CCC & TSPM donated one million yuan to the foundation, for the purpose of donating wheelchairs and building community rehabilitation centers for the disabled in places such as Henan and Hubei.2

These 30,000 wheelchairs were given to people with disabilities, one of the largest groups of people in China. The most recent official statistics show that at the end of 2010, the total number of disabled people in China was 85.02 million, which accounts for 6.34% of the country’s population, and about three out of four of the people with disabilities live in rural areas.3 Official statistics from the same period also show that there were 23.05 million Christians in China,4 which means that on average there are about four disabled people living near every Chinese Christian.5 But for various reasons, this large group rarely appears in public.

There have been two main approaches in supporting the disabled: (1) helping disabled people obtain medical treatment and rehabilitation and (2) helping them exercise their right to equality in life. The first belongs to physical rehabilitation, the latter to social rehabilitation. In recent years the idea of “social integration” has emerged. The World Health Organization proposes that the goal of social rehabilitation, guided by social integration, is to encourage disabled people to take on meaningful roles and responsibilities in both the family and the wider community, and to treat them as equal members of society.6

With the promotion of social integration, some changes have been made in supporting disabled persons in China. Take the “Yangtze River New Milestone” project of the China Disabled Persons Federation for example. There are three phrases to this project. The theme of the first phase is “Prosthetic Services” (2000–2005), the second phase is “Supportive Services for Children with Cerebral Palsy” (2007–2012), and the third is “Caring for Your Disabled Neighbors” (2014–2018).7 The first and second belong to physical rehabilitation, and the third is social integration.

Caring for the disabled has always been a tradition of Christian charity and social services. In these changing times and with the development of the model of social integration, how should Christians and the Chinese church care for and serve disabled persons? This requires the Chinese church to provide a relevant theology of disability, especially guidance grounded in a Sinicized theology of disability.

For reference we can turn to disability theology that has emerged in Western countries in recent years. The emergence of disability theology has started to correct the view that “the Bible marginalizes people with disabilities.” For example, in addition to the traditional medical and social models, Deborah B. Creamer proposed a third model, the limits model—acknowledging the limits of all people, and enriching life through accepting and understanding diversity and limits, so that disabled persons will not be marginalized by society.8 This fits well with the concept of social integration being promoted by China’s work with disabled persons.

Among contemporary Chinese churches, there is not much exegetical study, theological consideration, or preaching about disability. In their work with the disabled, most churches come from the perspective of charity and mercy, emphasizing that “It is more blessed to give than to receive” and “being light and salt.”  There is not enough attention to the feelings and dignity of disabled persons. In supporting the disabled, theological renewal and support are of vital importance.

The contemporary Chinese church’s charity culture still awaits improvement. The Amity Foundation’s “Amity Bakery” is the first social enterprise in China servicing disabled persons and is an excellent example of social integration. However, so far it is still the only social enterprise that serves the mentally handicapped. Wheelchair donation, a public project with large-scale influence that the Chinese Church has long been involved in, has the foundation and potential to develop in the direction of social integration. In the third phase of the “Yangtze River New Milestone,” one of selected projects is a family outing plan called “Enjoying the Blue Sky Together,” which is worthy of reference.

After surveying the desires of 763 disabled people in the district of Dongyuan Street in Harbin City, it was discovered that a significant number of those with mobility impairments wished to go outside and see the blue sky. In response to this need, social workers and volunteers arranged for a number of wheelchair-bound residents to visit parks, museums, and see the city etc. This was popular and will continue for several more months.9 This shows us that behind the 30,000 wheelchairs donated, are 30,000 souls longing to see the blue sky; and material donations can eventually lead to social integration. This can be considered a Good Samaritan story in contemporary China from the perspective of the Bible and the circumstances.

Contemporary Chinese church charity culture needs to learn from the Good Samaritan. It is necessary to review the biblical teachings related to loving your neighbor. After Jesus talked about the mission of loving God and loving neighbors, a lawyer tested Jesus by asking, “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus did not answer directly but told a story about a good Samaritan instead. A man fell among thieves. Both a priest and a Levite walked past but continued on their way without stopping. Finally, a passing Samaritan “took pity on him” and helped him. Jesus asked the lawyer: ” Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” He said, “The one who had mercy on him.” Then said Jesus onto him, “Go and do the same.” (Luke 10:36-37)

The passage is often used in sermons to exhort believers to “love their neighbors” and even “search out” their neighbors. But from Jesus’ perspective on neighbors, neighbor relationships are built to focus on the weak and their needs, and not centered on those who offer help. This reminds the contemporary Chinese church that when fulfilling the mission of “love your neighbors,” they should avoid self-centeredness and understand that the acts of “do the same,” “good Samaritan” and “having mercy” are how Jesus taught us to love our neighbors.

Faith is always connected to historical circumstances. Chinese society and the disabled groups exist in their own particular environment of historical, social and cultural characteristics. That disabled persons rarely appear in public in China is primarily due to the social environment. How the Chinese church and Christians should respond to, care for, and serve the needs of the 80 million disabled people, is closely connected with the development of Chinese church charity culture, development of Chinese theology, and even the Sinicization of Christianity.

A 2013 report of the CCC & TSPM shows that, the most important current task of the Chinese church is to “transform the fruits of theological thoughts,” which includes “how to provide theological motivation from public charity.” In addition, “strengthening social services and practicing Christ’s teaching of ‘love your neighbor as yourself’” is also one of the current tasks. According to this report, the importance of “exploring effective approaches for Christianity to engage in charity,” “discovering and cultivating church charity culture,” and “striving to expand the scope of social services” is beginning to gain attraction.10

In the Outline of the Five-Year Working Plan for Promoting the Sinicization of Christianity in our Country (2018–2022), one of the five tasks of Sinicization of Christianity is to “engage in charity and strive to serve the community.”11 From wheelchair donations, disability theology, to the development of contemporary Chinese church charity culture, we see an ocean of opportunity.

Originally published by WeChat account “Christian Study.” Published with permission. This publication does not hold the rights to this article.

Chinese article: 轮椅捐赠、残疾神学与当代中国教会慈善文化建设 by Christian Times.
Translated, edited, and reposted with permission.

Endnotes

  1. According to data from the CCC & TSPM, as of 2012 Chinese churches have donated 20,000 wheelchairs. Statistics since 2012 are compiled from public data from the CCC & TSPM website, 2015 Social Service Ministries Annual Report of the CCC & TSMP Social Service Department, and other such sources, including 271 wheelchairs in Zhejiang and 10 in Shanxi during 2013, 1,100 in Henan in 2014, 6,600 in 2015 (including 1,000 in Heilongjiang and 950 in Henan), and 1,531 in Jiangsu from 2015-2017.
  2. 丹桂飘香,爱满信阳——记2015宗教慈善周•河南信阳轮椅发放, The Protestant Churches in China [CCC & TSPM website] http://www.ccctspm.org/newsinfo/5675.
  3. This includes 12.63 million people with visual impairments, 20.54 million with hearing impairments, 1.30 million with speech impediments, 24.72 million with limb impairments, 5.68 million with intellectual disabilities, 6.92 million with mental illness, and 13.86 with multiple impairments. The number of people in the different levels of disability are: 25.18 million people with severe disabilities, and 59.84 with moderate or mild disabilities. http://www.cdpf.org.cn/special/wzajstl/tlzdckzl/201207/t20120704_267560.html [China Disabled Persons Federation website].
  4. Household Survey Report of Christianity in China by Institute of World Religions Research Group at the China Academy of Social Sciences; Blue Book of Religions: Annual Report on China’s Religions (2010), Beijing: Social Sciences Academic Press, 2010.
  5. Translator’s note: Official statistics list the number of Christians in China at 23.05 million which excludes unregistered house church Christians. The total number might be as high as 40 million.
  6. Community Rehabilitation Guide, World Health Organization Rehabilitation Training and Research Center, February 19, 2011.
  7. http://cj3.cdpf.org.cn/guanyuwomen/2014-05-26/79.html (Yangtze River New Milestone website).
  8. Chen Nanfang, An Experience of Studying Disability Theology and Bible Interpretation, key article in Divinity School Newsletter issue 46, November 2015 (Divinity School of Chung Chi College, The Chinese University of Hong Kong).
  9. Official WeChat account of Enjoying the Blue Sky Together Family Outing Plan https://mp.weixin.qq.com/s/z4aaWsg7XMMrVg38FT3IcQ.
  10. Bringing Hearts Together: Building a Chinese Church that Develops Harmoniously and Healthily—Work Report of the Eighth National Committee of Three-Self Patriotic Movement of the Protestant Churches in China and the Sixth China Christian Counsel, September 10, 2013
  11. http://www.ccctspm.org/cppccinfo/10283 (CCC & TSPM website).
Image credit: Bruno Aguirre on Unsplash.
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