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September 2008

Ministry Inside the Dragon

The Olympics dominated my TV in August. I watched everything from swimming to badminton, from beach volleyball to the marathon. I cheered every American athlete until late into the night.

My trip to China in August also made the games more special (I even got a glimpse of the Redeem Team). Our first goal as an ELCA delegation was to visit a 1997 Luther graduate, Gao Feng. He was called as president of the Chinese Christian Council this year. Afterward, we traveled from city to city witnessing the work of the Christian community. We watched the Olympics opening ceremony in the city of Chengdu. Chengdu is a city just a few miles away from the terrible destruction caused by earthquakes in May. We toured unimaginable destruction that day! The church's response, however, was simply tremendous! Thousands died. Homes were destroyed.  Tent cities were built everywhere. But a church that represents less than six percent of the population was also everywhere, offering aid, serving needs and providing spiritual comfort.

Nina and I left China from Shanghai after 10 days of witnessing a vibrant church. Shanghai's century old St. Ignatius Cathedral comfortably seats 2,000. Even so, the four Sunday Masses are usually standing room only. According to a recent survey, 40 million Chinese identify as Christian -- although there's ample evidence that the population is much larger.  The Chinese Church is growing, and they are interested in a deeper partnership with the ELCA. What do they need from the ELCA? The answer is clear: theological education. We will be actively studying how Luther Seminary can meet the need of providing teachers and leaders for China.

Then came the surprise! As a parting gift, the Christians in Luzhou, who had just experienced a devastation beyond belief, offered the delegation an envelope containing the equivalent of $500 (contributions from members) to assist with ELCA members affected by the recent floods in the U.S. "Receiving that gift," wrote Rev. Malpica Padilla, "was worth the whole trip."

Apart from Las Vegas, I have rarely seen so much hot, tubed color as in Shanghai. Walk along Nanjing Road in downtown Shanghai, and you are blinded by every kind of neon sign.  Behind the commercial glitter, however, there is a spiritual surge taking place.  The Spirit is moving in China! Stay tuned.