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|Dr Julianne Stewart in China|
“Christianity moves and compels people, not by its doctrines, but by the love made manifest, love held high and spread abroad, love waiting eagerly for the final coming of a world of love. This love draws countless men and women who give their all to enlarge love’s realm.”
These words were written by Anglican Bishop KH Ting, the man responsible for the founding of the Amity Foundation, a Chinese development and social services organisation with whom ABM partners to deliver health awareness and other health-related services to ethnic minority women in South Western China.
Bishop Ting was (and still is – he will be 96 this year) a great visionary. He was made a bishop in the Anglican Church before World War 2 and lived in China throughout the revolution and beyond. He co-founded Amity in 1985, a few years after China opened up to the outside world, after the end of the Cultural Revolution. At this time, Christianity was looked upon by most Chinese with suspicion, as a foreign religion (even though Christianity had first come to China from Persia in the seventh century). Christianity had more recently come to China in the 19th century from Europe, and was associated with opium and weapons. After the revolution, the Chinese Protestant Churches set about building up the church from a base of around 700,000 members. In 1980, under the leadership of Bishop Ting and others, they formed the China Christian Council. After the Cultural Revolution, the prime focus of this ecumenical protestant church was on evangelisation, and they now have 23 million members. Christianity is growing rapidly in China, and the number of Christians from all denominations is estimated to be approaching 200 million.
But Bishop Ting believes that Christians have a prime duty to serve society. Hence his focus on “diakonia”, both as means of living the Gospel message, and as a way of informing China — its people and its government — of the vital social role that the church can play. It is not that the Chinese Christian Council does not engage in evangelisation any more – they do this through the printing and distribution of Bibles and in their local church outreach – but the key way of demonstrating the love of Christ is through love of one’s neighbours, and in China, with 1.3 billion people, there are more neighbours than in most countries.
Now, some 27 years later, Amity is a thriving provider of social and development services throughout China, particularly in the less developed Western provinces, and in Nanjing city itself. It is possibly the largest home-grown NGO in China. This is quite a remarkable achievement, given the small proportion of Christians in the population.
ABM’s Work with Amity
The Australian Anglican Church has historical links with China – missionaries from Sydney and Melbourne dioceses, among others, went to China as part of the China Inland Mission. Following in this tradition, ABM began working with Amity in 2010. When ABM was first introduced to this partner by the National Council of Churches in Australia, we were very impressed with their professionalism and dedication to helping those in great need in their country.
ABM currently funds a very exciting project, managed by Amity, aimed at improving the health of women in Longchuan County of Yunnan Province, in China’s southwest, near the border with Burma. In this county, 55% of the population are of Dai (Tai), Jinpo (Kachin) and De Ang (Ta’ang) ethnicity. Most are practising Buddhists (Dai and De Ang) and the Jinpo are Roman Catholics. They share their ethnicity with Burmese people across the border. It is a rural area, where most of the people are farmers engaged in growing rice and sugarcane. In the 1980s, drug addiction and HIV/AIDS became a problem, when drugs were imported from the Golden Triangle after China opened up to the outside world.
Over a three year period, ABM has funded the training of community health workers from inside the ethnic communities who then set up women’s committees and provide training for women in general health information. The women say that these committees have been a wonderful boost to their communities. Not only do they organise performances and dances demonstrating health messages, but they also engage in sports days and quizzes, have village clean-ups, and arrange care for elderly people in their communities. The women say that now that they have organised themselves, the young people have also decided to form their own associations to run sports and other activities, and that the communities have been greatly invigorated by way the project has empowered them. They also requested (and received) training in simple literacy (in Mandarin) as part of their ongoing empowerment.
These committees set up health bulletin boards in their communities, which are regularly updated with health information relevant to the community. The project also provides women with a complete physical health check-up, usually the first they have ever had. In addition, plumbed toilets have been installed in communities (replacing unhygienic bush toilets) and there are regular health publicity activities conducted in the marketplace, including quizzes, showing and distribution of health DVDs and handing out of health pamphlets.
Working with the Chinese Government
In most development activities, the key to sustainability lies both in empowering the local communities to work better with government, and in engaging with government to ensure the government provides the services they are supposed to provide.
One of the things that people outside of China find most surprising about Amity is how well they work with the government, particularly at regional and local levels. What Amity is doing here is actually building the capacity of the local government to deliver services to their communities in a participatory and responsive way, rather than mandating things from the centre. In the area of community health, this participatory approach is proving extremely successful. The local government officials are very appreciative of what they are learning from Amity’s approach to community development.
Building a Strong Civil Society in China
Another contribution Amity is making to community development in China is their mentoring and support of the development of local non-government organizations – NGOs. One of the ways they do this is to sponsor an annual NGO Expo in their home-base of Nangjing. Here hundreds of local NGOs, ranging from student welfare organizations to cultural groups to health awareness groups, are able to showcase their activities to the wider public. The notion of NGOs is still fairly new in China, and Amity’s support of their growth is a major step in building a strong civil society.
Although Amity is still primarily funded from overseas donors like ABM, there is increasing financial support from businesses and private citizens within China. Private Chinese funding of Amity now comprises 40% of their funds and this percentage is growing. This is also a good indication of the growth of a civil society which believes in the benefits of organizations like Amity.
Printery and Bibles
Amity, in conjunction with United Bible Societies, produces millions of Bibles each year at its huge printery in Nanjing. These Bibles are both for export and use within China. This year marks the printing of their 100 millionth Bible, amid great celebration.
To conclude, let’s return to Bishop Ting. After enumerating the things that are wrong with the world we live in – wars, environmental degradation, government corruption, homelessness and extreme poverty – he writes, “A Christianity which turns a blind eye to all this, one which thinks all this bears no relation to the Gospel, which believes the Gospel is concerned only with personal salvation, is not a two-legged Christianity, but a lame one”. (p. 481)
Dr Julianne Stewart
ABM Programs Director
(Reference: Janice Wickert (ed), 2000, Love Never Ends: Papers by K.H. Ting, Yilin Press, Nanjing.)