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Story Magazine

Second Quarter 2008

China Service Ventures

by Andy Behrendt, M.Div. middler

Without CSV, some children would be unable to afford school.

But the folks at the helm of China Service Ventures, many of whom were once Luther Seminary students, faculty and staff, are chalking it up largely to "coincidences."

"The story of China Service Ventures is of one coincidence, so to speak, after another," says Paul Ofstedal,'58, the organization's president and one of its founders. "There's an old saying that coincidences are God's way of remaining anonymous, so we feel that God has put together a whole series of events and meetings and opportunities that we could never have imagined, let alone devised."

With manifold ministries focused mainly on rural areas near Xinyang in China's especially poor and populated Henan province, China Service Ventures (CSV) formed officially in 2001. It was created with funds in honor of Lutheran missionary Cora Martinson, whose family had served in Henan since 1902. It was a new undertaking for CSV's founders, many of whom were already invested in local mission to the Chinese through the St. Paul-based Hospitality Center for Chinese and Faith Chinese Fellowship.

For founders Charlotte Gronseth, Cora Martinson's niece and a former associate director of Luther Seminary's Global Mission Institute, and Gronseth's brother, Paul Martinson, professor emeritus of Christian Missions and World Religions, CSV was also a renewed effort in an area of China where they spent much of their childhood amid their family's missionary work in politically turbulent times. Given the modern Chinese government's rules against public evangelism, the founders crafted CSV as an openly Christian organization that could spread the gospel principally through its deeds.

Ministering in many ways

CSV launched its first venture in rural Xinyang in 2003 with a disbursement of funds to poor children otherwise unable to afford school. That summer the organization sent its first group of American volunteers to train local teachers in English. The next year, volunteers from the United States began working with Chinese nursing students to perform health assessments, distribute nutritional supplements, teach about germs and install hand-washing stations in the region's schools. Visiting youth groups from U.S. churches, accompanied by Chinese high-schoolers from cities in the region, started to paint and fix up the impoverished schools.

Over the years, the benefits have exceeded those services. For one, Ofstedal notes, the cooperating Chinese high-schoolers and nursing students often realize for the first time the extent of the poverty in the rural areas around them. Last summer, some urban high-schoolers were so moved that they and their parents sent two truckloads of clothing back to the poor villages.

Some have been moved to do even bigger things. During a CSV visit in fall 2006, a district official told visitors that he and his son, who had been among city youths who assisted in the rural areas that summer, were so amazed by CSV's Christian service that he wanted to restore a Christian presence to Jigongshan (Rooster Mountain), a mountain in his district on which missionaries once had summer homes, a school and a church.

"He said that China has mountains devoted to Daoism, some to Buddhism, but none to Christianity, and he would like Rooster Mountain to be the Christian mountain that will radiate its influence throughout China, which to me is stunning," says Gronseth, noting that a delegation will soon examine whether the existing buildings can be regained for use.

Mission through service

That connection was one of those blessed coincidences. But Ofstedal notes that as an openly Christian organization, CSV has sought to build the trust of Chinese officials rather than circumvent them. In this way, the group has spread Christianity not through outright evangelizing but through raising curiosity. The Chinese people often wonder why U.S. teachers, doctors and nurses would pay their own way to serve people they've never met. And when such questions are asked, Ofstedal says, the visitors can give honest answers--that they're followers of one who showed that the most abundant life is the life of serving. If the conversation becomes private, they can say that they believe in a loving God and are called to show that love.

"It's very humbling and very amazing, and God is working in so many ways through China Service Ventures because the best way to do ministry is building relationships with people," says Jennifer Krueger, CSV's communications director and a 2001 M.A. graduate in Cross-Cultural Ministry. "Again and again we get to say, 'Well, we're serving God, and we're doing this because we want to have that opportunity to help you.'"

A growing partnership

For CSV's sister organization, the Hospitality Center for Chinese, an evangelization-through-service model has had powerful results since 1991 with Chinese living in the Twin Cities. The center shares with CSV a building across the street from the St. Paul campus of the University of Minnesota, which, says center Program Director Amy Lindquist, has more Chinese students than any other North American university. The organization hosts events for students and their families and connects them with other students and with local Christians who provide temporary housing, furniture, friendship and help with English.

"It's exciting to be able to tell someone their first Bible story. They'll ask questions about Jesus--they have no idea who he is," says Lindquist, a 2005 M.A. graduate in Cross-Cultural Ministry and an ELCA-rostered deaconess, noting that her Lutheran theology often comes in handy. "I gave one student Luther's Small Catechism, and he said it was one of the best books he ever read. It just made sense to him."

Some of CSV's grandest "coincidences" have come through its partnership with the Hospitality Center. Yaning Xu, who became a Christian through the Hospitality Center's ministry, sought her job with CSV just as the organization was seeking someone with contacts in China.

"Just coincidentally--we know God works through a lot of coincidences--she was born and grew up in the very area where we work, which is also where my parents and grandparents worked," Gronseth says with a laugh.

China Service Ventures' annual budget now stands at about $450,000, made entirely through contributions. It has three staff members in St. Paul, one in Tacoma, Wash., and one in Beijing.

Its board and base of more than 100 volunteers include people from across North America, thanks largely to connections made by folks like CSV Director Steven Ray, a former ELCA missionary in Hong Kong now based in Tacoma. In recent years, the organization has also been blessed by the timing of both Lutheran Campus Ministry's exit from the St. Paul building that now houses CSV and the dissolution of the Lutheran Literature Society for the Chinese, which granted CSV $50,000.

Other blessings have come through CSV's close ties with Faith Chinese Fellowship, a St. Paul congregation that meets at St. Anthony Park Lutheran Church, where Ofstedal was senior pastor until 2000.

Powerfully restoring the Lutheran missionary tradition among the Chinese, China Service Ventures continues to grow in its efforts. Among projects on the horizon is the establishment of a community center in Xinyang. If the blessed coincidences keep meeting the blossoming organization's needs, there's no telling how many more needs it will meet in China.

"It's an amazing thing," says CSV founder Milo Gronseth,'62."It's like there's a need, and it's met; there's a need, and it's met."

To learn more about China Service Ventures or to get involved, visit or call (651) 659-1396. The organization will host its annual benefit gala at St. Anthony Park Lutheran Church in St. Paul on May 3; for tickets, call the church at (651) 645-0371.