The Publication Work of the Church in China
The following is a slightly abridged version (and free translation) of a presentation by Ms. Chen Meilin at the Fourth Chinese Church Ministry Symposium, held in Pasadena, California in February 2002. Since the Seventh National Christian Conference in China met in May this year, Ms. Chen (Mary) has been appointed Executive Associate General of the China Christian Council.
Christianity is a religion of propagation, either verbally or by writing. Paul was a great evangelist. He spoke boldly (Ephesians 6:19), and also " wrote with his own hands" (Galations 6:11). The great words he spoke can no longer be heard today. However, his writings have been passed down from age to age, giving nurture to Christians for two thousand years.
The church in China has always attached great importance to Christian literature and publication. After the Cultural Revolution, the church was overwhelmed with the tremendous responsibility of recovery, and its energies were taken up by countless long-neglected tasks. While negotiating for the return of church properties and resuming the printing of Bibles, the church also began publication of Christian literature. The shortage of church leadership and lack of their proper training make it even more urgent for Christian literature to become the important resource of pastoral care. The China Christian Council has 12 commissions. Seven of them are closely related to publication:
Reverend Bao Jiayuan has given you an introduction to the work of Bible publication. Within the limited time, I hope to tell you in brief about our Christian literature.
Even though we do not have enough human and material resources, we have, with the grace of God, spent much effort in the past 20 years on publication work to meet the daily spiritual needs of Christians. The Lord has blessed our giving of the five loaves and two fish. With God's help, we have published 300 kinds of Christian literature. They include the following categories: hymns of praise, theological books, Bible commentaries and research papers, devotional literature and sermons, pastoral nurturing books, Christian classics, plus videos and audio cassettes. Tian Feng resumed publication in 1979 and is now a monthly magazine. Besides the Bible, our largest publication is the hymnal (editor's note: each Chinese buys his or her own hymnal). Since May of 1983, we have printed 10 million copies of the New Hymnal, which include the numerically-scored version, the text-only version, as well as those with the traditional musical score. In addition we printed 240,000 copies of a hymnbook with short songs well liked by rural congregations. We have also produced half a million cassette tapes, videotapes and video CDs of hymn music. I am happy to introduce to you a new video CD entitled "The Praise of Chinese Christians," which features ethnic minority hymns and indigenous musical instruments.
The faithful and wise servants of God are given the responsibility to distribute food to their households at the proper time (Matthew 24:45). Today we have 15 million Christians in China, and only 3,000 ordained pastors. The great majority of Christians, especially those in the countryside, do not have properly trained leaders. These congregations and meeting points depend on volunteer lay workers to keep them going. In China, we have 70,000 of these lay church workers in grassroots communities. While the harvest is ready and laborers are few, we keenly feel that the work of pastoral care is far behind the urgent needs of the church. Publication of Christian literature is therefore one way to fill the gap. At least it can supply resources to these faithful volunteers and lay church workers who are on the front line tending the flock.
In 1983 the church in China published a six-volume teaching material for the training of volunteer church workers. This material has been in use for nearly 20 years, and proven to be very effective. At the moment the Commission on Rural Ministries is working on its revision and updating. The same commission has a periodical named "By the Waters," which is in great demand. Other pamphlets and booklets written specially for Christians in the countryside have been printed.
Christian literature is essential not only for nurturing but also key to the understanding of our faith. We need educational material which is written to explain, in simple language, what we believe and how to act as Christians. In 1983 we published a volume entitled Basic Christian Doctrines, which has 100 questions and answers about Christianity. We have printed and distributed 4.05 million copies. This book gives insights and learnings of Christians throughout history. It is through the sharing of experiences and reflections that we as a Christian community will grow together. It has been regarded as an important volume by Christians both within and outside China, and has been translated into English and German.
During the past 20 years the church in China has published many titles on devotional literature and Bible study material. The following are some of the titles and number of copies printed:
Since "Constructing Chinese Theological Thinking" is a priority for the church, we have published a number of theological books, such as the five theses by Bishop K. H. Ting: On Theological Construction, On the Bible, On God, On Christ, and On Three-Self and Church Construction.
The production of video and audiocassettes is an important part of our publication work. Many rural churches and meeting points without pastors listen to sermons on tape as they gather for worship. This kind of nurturing and evangelism through invisible preachers is a unique feature of the church in China. It is a stopgap method, but at least the gospel is propagated and the basics of the faith can be taught, even when we do not have enough trained leaders. A series entitled Sermons for New Believers is specially helpful and welcomed by Christians. We have sold 780,000 sets.
Tian Feng (Heavenly Wind), the only regular periodical of the church in China, has expanded its content and volume. It has over 100,000 subscribers. This year it has received an award as one of the best magazines in Shanghai. On the provincial level, a number of Christian councils have their own periodicals, such as Tian You (Heavenly Friend) by the Hebei Christian Council, and Collection of Sermons, by the Zhejiang Christian Council.
Many overseas friends have asked if it is possible for them to cooperate with the church in China in ministry through publication. We welcome such cooperation if the material to be published is suitable to the needs of Chinese Christians and that the church in China is the primary overseer of this printing. A number of books, such as Rev. Kou's Bible Study Commentary, have been published under this principle. Of course, each request has to be considered on a case by case basis.
At the moment our publication work is facing several challenges: The shortage of human resources -- writers, editors and layout specialists. We do not lack people who can write. But most of them are either too old or too busy serving the church. Some that have the time cannot write. We realize the importance of training future leaders in many aspects of the ministry, but the training of future writers has not been put on our agenda. We have tried to send a group of theological teachers to the beautiful Tianmu Mountains, giving them time and a quiet environment so that they could do some writing. The group did go, but was not able to take with them the necessary library and reference materials. Last year we sent an associate editor abroad to a training program, which was very helpful. But language was a problem, and to provide a translator was costly.
Chinese Christians are so eager for Christian literature that they tend to "see anything green as grass." All kinds of reading material have found their way into China. Some are not suitable and some are even unhealthy for the growing church. This is a grave concern for us.
Since China joined the World Trade Organization (WTO), some overseas Christian publishing organizations, confident that they have the upper hand, have already started planning to enter China to work with Chinese secular presses to produce books in China. This is a real challenge to Chinese selfhood and integrity.
Another problem of cooperation with overseas Christian publishers lies in cultural differences. Some of the devotional books that our overseas friends want us to print are too western in orientation. The illustrations are often foreign, including pictures. Therefore, even though the words are in the Chinese language, the content is basically Western and does not connect with Chinese Christians. When illustrations are too remote from the readers' daily life, they prevent the readers from understanding the message.
With these challenges, we pray for God's wisdom and vision. We also hope to accomplish the following in the coming years:
Here I would like to thank our overseas Christian friends for their support, sharing and prayers. May God prepare for us suitable nourishment to feed the flock, and enable us, God's servants, to distribute spiritual food to members of the Christian household in a timely manner.
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