On Sunday Ian, Andrew and I flew from Kunming, capital of Yunnan Province in the south-west of China to Shenyang, capital of Liaoning Province in the NE. We had seen the border with Burma, now we were only a few miles from North Korea.
Nearly 140 years ago another Scot arrived in NE China, when this part of the country was known as Manchuria. Rev John Ross (1842-1915) was born in Balintore, Easter Ross and came to China in 1872. He founded Dongguan Church in what is now Shenyang in 1889 and a year later the seminary now known as North Eastern Seminary. He is also remembered for translating the New Testament into Korean. Ross was a Gaelic speaker who was a gifted linguist – he had a solid linguistic knowledge of 11 languages, including English, German, French, Latin, Greek, Hebrew, written Chinese, spoken Mandarin, Manchu and Korean!
At both the Church and Seminary we were warmly welcomed because of the Church of Scotland’s connection with Ross. This remarkable missionary may not be well known in Scotland today but he is revered in China and Korea.
The church he founded, Dongguan Church, is the largest in NE China. Some of the facts and figures are astounding: there are 30,000 members, up to 10,000 people worship at four Sunday services – a few years ago a four storey building was constructed to accommodate offices and three floors to accommodate the overspill from the main church building and the service is relayed via video link to the overflow building. There are over 100 housegroups and 1,000 people come to weekday services. The bookshop has a budget of £100,000. Since 1989 over 16,000 people have been baptised.
Donnguan has a very strong pastoral ministry to its members and their families and several church staff spoke of how they counselled members under their care.
Rev Gao, one of the four pastors at Dongguan, and his colleagues want to revive the link with Scotland, perhaps with a twinning.
The President of the seminary, Rev Ko Yu Gua, is the son and grandson of Presbyterian pastors and visited Scotland in 2010. In fact he and I were at a function organised by the Scottish Bible Society in Edinburgh in May last year though, unfortunately, we didn’t know each other at the time. He too wants to renew the link with Scotland that was broken during the Cultural Revolution and we discussed the possibility of getting books for the library and training for staff and students.
We visited the new campus and saw the fine new buildings nearing completion. The whole project has been funded by churches throughout the north-east of China and by Christian businessmen. Rev Ko hopes to open the new building next April.
Earlier we spent the morning at the Christian Training Centre. Fifty adults, average age 45 and mainly women, come for a year for training so they can become preachers in their own churches. We spoke about the Church of Scotland, the work of WMC and our engagement with China. We were impressed by the students’ obvious commitment to learning and serving their churches. Our visit ended with a rousing rendition of Auld Lang Syne!
Rev Gao and Nina, who had taken time off work to be our translator met us at our hotel at 6.30 on Wednesday morning to take us to the airport for our flight to Beijing. We remarked that throughout our visit we have been looked after so well and received so much kindness from our hosts in Nanjing, Yunnan and here in Shenyang. The people we have met from our partners in Amity Foundation, Dongguan Church and NE Seminary showed genuine affection and appreciation for what the Church of Scotland is doing in China.
The Church of Scotland can look back and give thanks for the likes of John Ross and the many other missionaries who came to China in the past. We have old connections and we should honour these. But as Ian Alexander said at the Christian Training Centre, history is not enough. We are building on the old connections, making new friends and partnerships, exploring new possibilities for sharing our resources and experiences between Scotland China.
The Amity Foundation motto seems ever more appropriate – Love Never Ends!