China Report, September 2009
arrived in Chengdu yesterday to unbearable heat and oppressive humidity. The
three star hotel overlooks a rather muddy river and the urban expanse. We are a
motley group of faculty and graduates of Fuller Theological Seminary. Ron
Hammer teaches pastoral counseling there and Esther Liu is a doctoral candidate
in pastoral theology. Nathan Chau is an M.Div graduate living in Hong Kong and
Justin Yu is a Fuller MFT graduate. Elizabeth Chang, the wife of a pastor and
recent SOP clinical psychology graduate, has been on our trips to China many
times. Amy Arnold has been hospital chaplain for ten years. Charles Svendsen, a
career interim pastor, will arrive in a week.
first day begins with a buffet breakfast in the Riverside Hotel dining room
followed by an introduction to Rev. Li Dong in the lobby. He is the vice
president of the Sichuan Theological Seminary. He seems perpetually happy. We
followed Rev. Dong on foot through the busy Chengdu streets to the seminary. On the way, we see firsthand the many faces
of God in the multitudes of bicyclists and moped riders making their way
through the chaotic streets. The day was
young and seemed full of possibility.
This was to be the seminary’s opening day of school!
We meet the fourth year students in their class. They sit in
pairs behind their desks; the texts piled high in front. Pastoral care and
counseling is our focus for the next five days.
Al and Ron begin with the metaphors of shepherd and gardener to describe
pastoral care. The context of pastoral care, they suggest, is Jesus
announcement that the Reign of God is present. What does that have to do with
pastoral care? It shapes the content of our pastoral care and it is our hope,
we say. What Jesus says about the Reign of God is a vision of a new culture, a
new society governed by justice, peace and mercy. Pastoral care and counseling
is assisting the church to reflect the Reign of God.
students break up into small groups led by our Chinese-speaking team members.
The conversation is lively. A female pastor says
that she likes the metaphor of the pastor as gardener, a farmer. But below the
surface she worries about whether they will be heard as young pastors. Some
feel they have little to say as women. At the end of the group session, having
had a chance to share her worries, she is relieved and comforted. Someone else
asks: “If the Reign of God includes the poor and the marginalized, why is there
such stratification in the church?”
care, the students tell us, raises a host of personal emotional and ethical
concerns. A deaconess in the church is having her third child in violation of
the one-child policy. Pastor Zhang asks how he is to address this ethical
problem. One member worried about finances. How will he find work to support
him while pastoring a congregation? “Will I wear out?” he asks. “Am I really
ready to pastor a congregation?” another wondered. “So much sacrifice is
expected of pastors and their children are expected to be perfect.”
the topic for the students at the seminary is trauma and learning to respond to
trauma. Esther, Justine and Amy are on deck.
The presenters share a case where a church member had considered suicide
after discovering he had Alzheimer’s and now lay dying in the hospital after an
unsuccessful attempt. The pastor was called in to help make the decision
whether to attempt surgery or to allow him to die. One of our leaders, Justine,
Practically in unison my group wanted to keep the dying
man alive. One of the members said she would read scripture to the man or
explain the loss the family will feel if he passes away. One of the students
said she would offer the family whatever they needed to keep their grandfather
alive. As we continued to explore the students were able to unfold their fear,
possible guilt, and sadness if he were to die.
They also feared that they might have this experience as pastor. We
began to explore the tension between fixing the problem immediately and sitting
in the gray area, recognizing that all the options will result in negative
and Esther address the topic of pastoral care for those who have experienced
loss and suffering. Nathan talks about the Psalms of lament as a
biblical-theological basis for empathy in pastoral care. Here is what happened in Nathan’s
“One girl shared a case, asking us how she
can enter into another the heart of a discouraged person and help. I said: It seems like of all the people in
need in this case, you have a particular burden to help this man? ” “Yes,
because.....[long story]... but he does not want to open up....how should we
enter in and help?” I responded: “You
mentioned in the passing that you had a personal journey similar to this young
man whom you want to help, how did you get through your own journey?... Did
anyone helped you?...” She opened up and
eventually cried as she share about her relationship with her parents.... I
empathized....” At the end, Ron Hammer said to the girl who asked the question,
“You asked about how to empathize, it just happened in this interaction....”
In the afternoon we
travel to MianYang, a city north of Chengdu near the earthquake site. Here one
of our grads, Sing-Kiat Ting, and a Fuller visiting scholar, Wang Xuefu have
been nurturing some 30 lay leaders in basic counseling skills they can use to
assist earthquake survivors. The pastor of one of the MianYang churches, Rev.
Ma Jin, leads us up five flights of stairs to the top of steeple where the
counseling center is located. With volunteer counselors present we talk about
the counseling center, client problems they address and training they have
received. But the conversation goes deeper when Ron asks Pastor Ma about the
most difficult situation he has ever counseled. It is a story of the
psychological consequences of the earthquake on a volunteer worker. We are
impressed with his gentle spirit, psychological sensitivity and patience. Then
Al shares one of his most difficult cases and that is followed by volunteers
sharing their frustrating situations. The counselors share some of the same
tendencies we find in beginning counselors in the US: wanting to give the
client a quick fix, being directive, or moralizing.
is the topic to be discussed today by Elizabeth. All of the group members
think the topic is right for them since they have had no lecture on this topic
before. Right after the class one of the female pastors reports to the seminary
president what she gained from the lecture. One student who is suffering
burnout this semester says that the group sharing itself gave her a chance to
speak out and she felt much relieved afterwards. She says she has learned that
burnout is not a wrong thing but a thing needs to be dealt with.
As one of the member speaks about his sadness about
being excluded by his church and is holding the tension right now, another
student begins to share about an intense conflict at his church to the point
where the church split. Because of this split, his father, who is a minister, was
asked to leave the church and the church actually built a physical wall between
the church and his house. He speaks about the sadness he feels every time when
he returns home but at the same time, the great love and care he experiences
from other congregants. This specific student starts encouraging the previous
student to explore a method of effective for self-care. The males in the group
start to care for each other through questions, reaching out their hands, and
with firm eye contact.
Perhaps being a pastor
is difficult anywhere in the world but it is especially difficult for Chinese
pastors. Rarely do they have a day off. They are to be available 24/7. So we
role-played a pastor whose wife is pregnant and about to give birth. She calls
him to help her get to the hospital. He agrees but just as is about to leave, a
parishioner calls about an emergency with her son. The pastor reluctantly
agrees to meet with the mother and leave his wife to find her own way to the
As the story unfolds before the students, there was a
collective gasp when the pastor did not side with his wife. Elizabeth had
described earlier the developmental stages of a family and starting a family
deserves careful attention. What would be the long-term consequences for this
family of giving more priority to the church?
Ron explained how over time pastors in the West too are caught in this
double bind. He proposes that it is important for the church to ponder how to
keep the pastor’s family healthy.
6-7 Earthquake Caregivers’ Retreat:
Fuller has developed a relationship with Huaxi hospital
that has overseen the psychological assistance to earthquake survivors. We had heard about their volunteers who
worked sacrificially (and hardly paid for their work) with parents and children
in a state of shock and confusion.
So we sponsor a two day retreat at CuiYue Hotel for the
volunteers. With sculpted lakes, winding paths, ponds filled with fish, it is a
peaceful setting. The bus ride is long
but the beds were soft. In the morning mist covers the lake and greens. We meet
briefly in the lobby to greet each
other, break into mixed groups and spend the next two hours walking the
grounds, getting to know each other. Li Na is a third year psychiatry students
who regularly travels to the outlying towns to give care. She tells us that now,
a year after the earthquake, mothers are giving birth having lost their only
child. However, many are stillborn and those that live suffer from hyper
arousal having been carried by an anxious mother for nine months.
After a meal together, we gather for our first official
meeting. We open with games an American audience might find corny but produce
gales of laughter in our friends – and us. Al leads the group in a demonstration
intended to create reflection on the nature of community, the network of
invisible ties that bind people together. Some groups are asked to create a
tableau of a healthy community and others of a broken community. There is much
excitement as they collaborate. One sick community had an authoritarian leader
standing on a chair peering down at us. To one side two people were ready to do
battle with raised fists. On the other side a daughter stretches out to her
distant mother for help. Another group mimes a healthy community eating
together, playing cards and dancing. We pondered the effect of earthquakes on
once healthy communities: death, distance, conflict, power mongering, sadness….
Al shares the story of his parents whose communities too
were destroyed during the Bolshevik revolution in the Ukraine, how they fled to
the West and were supported there as they established new communities. Perhaps
the role of the caregiver to those traumatized by disaster is to recreate a web
of relationships that nurtures life.
The evening is filled with stories by Long Meng. China
has a long history of barefoot doctors who traversed China caring for medical
needs but Meng is a modern barefoot doctor of the soul. After the earthquake he
moved to the disaster scene on his own and lived out of a tent for a year. He
built a connection with traumatized families by playing with their
children. When he knew which families were in need and who trusted him, he
brought food. He is not a trained therapist in responding to trauma but
intuitively he helped created create community and health. Love, he said, is
what is needed.
The final day begins with games and much laughter. We
played games and talked about self-care. Caregivers shared freely their
pain. We sang “Edelweiss” and “Amazing
Grace” while they sang love songs and folk songs. We taught them the Jewish
dance Hagilah and they taught us Ti Chi!
8-9 Pastor’s retreat in MianZhu
Our next two days will be spent with pastors in MianZhu,
a city that lost 12,000 people as a result of the earthquake. The ghost city of
Han Wan is nearby Our hotel is the only
hotel in thecity where foreigners can live. The entrance is impressive, the
service efficient and then, to our surprise, it is a hotel damaged by the
earthquake. In our rooms cracks line the walls. Concrete beams are exposed. We
have a small experience of what the earthquake means for them.
We are here to learn from pastors who have ministered to
the earthquake survivors. We bring our injuries as well but their wounds are
We begin the day with sharing scripture
that is significant to us. Back and forth between the Chinese and American
pastors. Then we shift to songs we love. They sang an indigenous Christian hymn
and we sing “How great thou art” and “Jesus loves me.”
We break up into groups.
With poster board in hand they draw a picture that represented stories the
group shared. To our surprise the pastor
of the MianZhu church had invited members of her congregation to attend if they
wished – forty came! So each group had ten or so additional persons listening
in. In one group, immediately after the introductions, one of the parishioners
stood and sang a song she had composed, weeping as she did so. Then she sang
the story of how she had come to faith after the earthquake.
Elizabeth begins the afternoon with the story of losing
her child and the troublesome reactions of the church to her loss. Then we break
up into groups again and in one group the pastor shares how he had been
publicly criticized by an elder and how deeply it had hurt him. Elders were
right. How can one honor them and disagree?
Today a young woman minister shares her
story in a group how she and her husband struggled to find help for delivering
her baby around the time of the earthquake.
Her original due date was 5/13, one day after the earthquake. At that time everything was in chaos. She told us whichever hospital they went to,
all they got was the same answer: “There is no room for you here.” In the end she found a temporary hospital
that was made out of a tent, in which there were only five beds but they were
all occupied by earthquake survivors.
Again, “There is no room for you here.” As she is sharing this she is in
tears, and she says it made her think how desperate it must have been for Mary
and Joseph. After some begging, the
hospital staff finally pulled out an empty bed that was supposed to be for the
police and let her have her delivery there.
Al follows this with exercises on the nature of
community and then asks how the church can be a community. He tells how the
church had been a community for him growing up and is still. Ron shared about
the death of his daughter and how telling and retelling the story brought
healing. The afternoon closes with pastors sharing how the church has met their
Excerpts from Team Reflections:
Reflections by Rev. Amy Arnold, Fuller graduate and hospital
name is Amy Arnold and I was one of the fortunate pastors who traveled with the
Fuller China Team. The generosity of the
donors helped change me. Their kindness
is impacting the Chinese churches, pastors, seminary students and communities
in immeasurable ways.
humbled by my recent experiences there.
matter what troubles I have ever experienced in my own life or in ministry,
having an in depth conversation with a village pastor who works 80 hours a week
with little amenities away from her family and is paid by eggs and handmade
gifts from congregants who have little material possessions, shifts the
paradigm in my mind as to what true “troubles” are. This same pastor has 21 children orphaned in
the streets as a result of the earthquake and is doing her best to have her
congregation care for each of them. For
this pastor, however, she does not see all of these issues as a burden but rather
as opportunities to love.
me to share a few of my journal entries written during the trip:
“As the first set of our speakers gave their presentation to
the 4th year students, I sat in the back of the classroom taking
everything in….the whir of the fans above gasping a collective lament ...the
cups of hot tea steeping on most students’ desks….the sense of wonder and
mystery exuding from the student’s faces…. What did I ever do to deserve this
privilege of being here in China?
Nothing! I came because God wanted
me to be a part of this complex, talented, passionate, and jet lagged
group. Why, exactly? I am willing to allow each day to unfold and
expose the mystery. Whatever my ultimate
purpose is in being a participant on this trip, I do know that getting to hear
a seminary student say she was the first person in her village to ever go to
seminary and the consequences of this for her will be part of the final
“Today was a day when I got to sit in the back
of the classroom and listen to another team present a lecture on Loss and
Suffering which was a relevant follow-up to the topic of Trauma. Our small group (3rd year) once
again engaged the lecture with openness.
Today they were asked to speak about their own losses and grief and one
student in particular impacted me. Her
story was that she was born as the second daughter into her family;
consequently, her patriarchal grandmother beat her mother and severely
neglected her (student) in her first week of life to the point of causing
permanent vocal cord damage. She admits
she cannot forgive her grandmother. She
was emotional and fought back tears as she spoke. As my translator told this story to me and I
looked into this beautiful young woman’s eyes, I cried for her. I told her I was glad she was here. All of the passion I have for women’s rights
and being counted as equal in the eyes of God rose up within me. I felt defensiveness and sadness for the
unwanted female children all over China....”
a need for follow-up care and intentional relationship building with the
churches of China. I sense a thirst from
the students, volunteers, congregants, and pastors I met to know more….about
God, about theology, about suffering, about themselves. This thirst is universal. I pray for our continued ability to bless the
beautiful country of China.
Reflections by The Rev. Charles J. T. Svendsen, D.Min. Wilshire Presbyterian Church
I traveled to China at the kind invitation of Dr. Al Dueck
of Fuller Theological Seminary. We met
with pastors who are serving churches and meeting places near the area of the
disastrous earthquake of May 12, 2008. The purpose of our conversations was not
to impart information but to listen and dialogue with these pastors. We were clear that we were not coming to
China as “experts” or with “answers.” We
were there to listen and share our perspectives on ministry, particularly the
pastoral skills related to the post-trauma process.
observations were that these pastors were for the most part young. Some were in their 30’s. They carried enormous responsibilities. Many were serving as solo pastor of churches
in the 1000’s and “meeting places” in the 100’s. These pastors were working 50-60 hours a week
with no breaks or vacations. As we broke
into small groups, my group shared their daunting professional and personal
lives. On Wednesday, when we shared the
pain in our lives, two pastors spoke emotionally about their families and the
strain of ministry. One pastor shared
her son’s sickness in the past year and how she felt she had little time to
attend to him. Another pastor spoke
saying that his son did not want to grow up to be a pastor because he saw his
father’s long hours away from home.
Interestingly and sadly, another pastor said he did not feel our group
was a “safe place” to share. With the
polity of the church system being by “pastoral appointment” he felt sharing
personal pain would come back to hurt him someday. We prayed as a group for each pastor after
they shared. Elizabeth served as my
most moving experience of the trip for me was to walk through the ruins of Han
Wan where 10,000 lost their lives, many of whom are still buried there. The mass grave up on the hill overlooking the
city is the final resting place of 7,000-8,000 dead.
pastor was most appreciative of our visit.
At the conclusion, they expressed their gratitude in such a heartfelt
way. Dr. Dueck presented them with
gifts to be used in pastoral care for themselves. He asked that they email him to share how
they used their gifts for their personal pastoral care. We also gave gifts to the host church. A special gift was given to the host pastor
who is putting together a picture book on the positive work of her church after
trip was well worth the time and expense.
I would like to thank those who made our visit possible. We are grateful. The pastors in China have been blessed and
given tools to help themselves and their ministries. Thank you for the opportunity to be of such
as if you’ll live forever, live as if you’ll die today. “ James Dean’s quote on
the ephemeral nature of life is strikingly accurate and true to the heart. For
every person, life is constantly shifting; it’s fleeting character leaves no
room for hesitation, reluctance, or regrets. And with the recent tragedies
evident throughout the world, I have grasped one concept to mind: life is
short, and in those brief moments of our life that we can make a difference and
fulfill our responsibilities under God, we must make the most of it. Faltering
is not an option with something as a precious as the life we have been blessed
with. Thus, we must above all else realize our calling and cement our place in
this world by doing something meaningful...even in the smallest sense.
my recent trip to Sichuan, while the local community ministers and relief
workers aided the disaster situation, I took up the duty to counsel the
“counselors” of the victims. Essentially, our team worked in unison with the
helpers of the victims, and basically guided them with what knowledge we have.
Most importantly, we built a connection between the people there and our people
here, which by doing so allowed a pathway of communication for future
situations. If anything, the assistance that we offered for those local pastors
and relief workers were vital for the working relationship that we established.
With the trust and encouragement that we displayed, I felt a satisfying
fulfillment, because even though what I had contributed was nothing
extraordinarily significant, it still affected and healed others. And that,
above all else, truly meant something meaningful in my life.
training sessions with the local seminary students also furthered my passion
for mentoring and teaching upcoming seminarians. Little did I anticipate the
eager seminarians who overwhelmed me with their fervent desire to learn and
grow not only spiritually, but as a person as well. Their ravenous appetite for
knowledge in various discussions was a reconfirmation of my own desire to teach
and convey what I have experienced unto them. In fact, it was rather an honor
to partake in this ministry to foster such young and adamant seminarians. So
much so, that it can be justly deemed as a mutual learning experience.
my experiences at Sichuan aiding in the disaster relief and teaching seminary
students, I realized God’s calling for me to mentor others. Therefore, graced with the will and
knowledge that the Lord has given me, I wish to share what I can before my time
on this earth has ended. Since each second and breath we take is worth an
infinite value, we most definitely should not hesitate in fulfilling our
calling. After all, life is precious. We can’t wait until it is too late to
begin truly cherishing our time here. Thus, I embrace my calling and hope that
even my most minor contribution can affect and help someone in this world.
by Esther Liu:
I am in my third
year as a Fuller doctoral student focusing on Pastoral Theology. I come from
Beijing, China, and Chengdu is my father’s hometown. This is my second
experience on a Fuller China trip and it has brought me another time of being
empowered to serve my people in China.
First of all, as
we taught in Sichuan seminary for a week, I was surprised at the enthusiastic
attitude of the students to learning and their openness in the small group
discussion. In part I think this was
evoked by the culturally sensitive lectures by the Fuller team. From what they
shared in groups I noticed that the senior students were overwhelmed by the
massive work in ministry waiting for them in future without being aware enough
of their need of self care. Traditionally speaking, good Chinese pastors are
not supposed to take care of themselves but sacrifice their lives for the
However, many ministers experience chaos in
their own lives. Therefore, even though self-care was still a new concept to
most students, their response to our presentation on how to avoid pastoral
burnout was enthusiastic.
My experience with
the doctors and volunteers from Huaxi Hospital was unforgettable. On the one
hand, as a Chinese, I felt guilty that I could not participate in the relief
work as I should have. On the other
hand, I felt a strong burden to study harder so that I can do my best in
translating what I have learned in Fuller into a comprehensible language for
our Chinese context. While I was in Sichuan, the news reported that 15% Chinese
population have different levels of psychological pathology. There is a great
need for bridging Western strengths and Chinese practice in this field. I pray
that I can contribute my best to the needy after my graduation.
During the last
two days of my trip we gathered with Sichuan pastors, which brought me rich
blessings. I was deeply moved by their faithfulness to God and their sacrifice
to their congregations. I found that the presentation on community from the
Fuller team affirmed and encouraged their pastoral practice in church. The
presentation on self-care opened their eyes and deepened their thoughts on how
to take care of their congregations and themselves particularly at an emotional
level which has been neglected in their past ministry. I believe, with the
cultivation of their indigenous resources and the wisdom learned from the
Western church, Chinese pastors and their ministries would be greatly improved
in meeting the contemporary challenge. I also believe that such teaching trips
will nurture Fuller scholars and deepen Fuller’s ministry in China.
I am so honored to
be part of this trip which provided me a precious opportunity to learn from
both sides—Fuller team and Chinese colleagues—in a comparative way. Undoubtedly, it will greatly enhance my
future service in China. I appreciate deeply everyone who has made this event
Reflections by Ron Hammer, Pastoral Counselor, Fuller
doctoral graduate from the School of Theology
grateful for the terrific opportunity to engage with the marvelous people of
the Sichuan province of China. The province is a beautiful place, rich in
history and culture, but the people have become endeared to me in some very
special ways. Their commitment to serving others, living out their faith
journeys intently and purposely humbled me and challenged me in my own faith
journey. Seeing the unrelenting demands the earthquake brought to that region
and the response of pastors, congregations and relief workers has brought me
conformation of the miraculous abilities of everyday people.
remember one story of a young pastor describing how every single family in her
congregation lost someone close in the earthquake. The stories of death among
children were the most wrenching for her and her congregation. She was thirty
and had seen the size of her congregation triple in the year and a half since
the earthquake. People are drawn to the faithfulness of these pastors and their
congregations. They see something different in the way they serve and respond
to the crisis. I felt privileged to weep with her, provide her pastoral care
and in some way model for her a listening presence. While these pastors have an
incredible capacity to provide physical care and biblical responses to these
situations, they are overwhelmed by the grief, trauma and ongoing post trauma.
The need for pastoral care training was repeatedly declared as perhaps their
most immediate need. I think we provided a beginning of that for them. How it
goes across cultures I’m too naïve to understand, but the connection with this
pastor and others like her let me know that it would an invaluable process to
I was really touched by our time with the relief workers who
volunteer their time to provide some level of psychosocial care for these
displaced grief-stricken victims. I think the most amazing part for me was
their enjoyment of each other as one of their means of coping with the endless
task. Most had been volunteering two times per week to make the two-hour
journey to the earthquake site. They had seen and shared the horror of the
earthquake. In that intense environment, they had developed a close social
network. They loved playing games together. They had found a way to allow some
joy in the midst of the tragedy.
seminars and facilitating small group discussions at Chengdu Seminary challenged
me the most. They commented on the discussion format as a new format for them.
They really responded well to something other than the primarily rote education
they normally had. I felt the most positive about opening a new way of learning
together for them. Getting them to talk below the surface required a lot from
me, especially across the translation.
so grateful to have spent this two weeks with a team of people, caring for each
other and intent on our work. We worked very hard, but enjoyably hard. I loved
the teamwork, the people who made up our team. I really liked getting to know
Al better, working with you was very comfortable. You have earned a presence
there that showed your love for these people. They really feel loved by you and
that brings that obligatory honor that reflects their deep love for you. I
don’t think I’ll ever match that love for the culture, the people, for China. I
hope to go again, and we’ll see if I grow. I certainly had some encounters and
met some people with whom I hope the relationships continue. I so thank you for
allowing me to come along and for your affirmation of my place in this mission.
Reflections by Justine Yu:
graduated from Fuller in 2006 with an MS in Marriage and Family Therapy. I have
been working in a community mental health setting since graduation. It has
always been my hope to be able to participate in one of the China trips with
Fuller and was glad to have this opportunity.
Being a bi-cultural person with Chinese background, I was
confronted with my own reaction to Chinese people such as the possible effects
of a hierarchical system and my wonder at the depth of authenticity in the
ministers I met in China. But throughout this experience I have been deeply
blessed by my exchange with my teammates and the Chinese pastors. These are few
of my thoughts as I look back.
of our hopes was for Sichuan seminary students to have a glimpse of pastoral
care through a small group experience. It was fascinating to observe how my
teammate Amy responded with the sensitivity of the Holy Spirit as she coped
with being unable to understand what the students were saying. She was able to
offer right suggestion at the right moment. For example, as we discussed the
expectation of the church for the seminary student to be good at preaching,
some of the students stated that their gifting such as caring for others or
leading in worship was actually considered by the church and the seminary
students as a hindrance to becoming a better pastor. The Chinese church defines
a good pastor as someone who can preach a good sermon. My teammate, Amy, was
sensitive in asking “Well, I would like to hear from all of you. What do you
see as some of your gifting?” This question stimulated the students to share
their testimony and their strong sense of responsibility to their family and
villages as the first persons to attend seminary.
western society, good self-care is the ability to take some days of vacation to
travel, to watch a movie, or to pay for a nice massage. During our retreat with
the earthquake volunteers, Dr. Yang, one of the leaders from West China
Hospital shared that in collective societies “to experience care is to be able
to take care of everyone and let no one get left behind.” The Chinese
volunteers spoke about how they felt cared for as they helped rebuild the sense
of community for the earthquake victims by assisting them to regain their
community rituals. In turn the earthquake victims also showed care to the
volunteers by inviting them into their community. We were able to see the
nourishment of relationships during the last day of the retreat when the
volunteers celebrated through song and dance. Working as a counselor, we often
speak about individual needs and our ability to differentiate from community to
obtain real self-care. The trip challenged my understanding of self-care in
terms of community participation.
trip also began my own journey to greater integration of my cultural heritage.
I hope to continue with this process as I believe this is where my call to
incarnation begins -- to live with people in suffering with pure intentions and
to experience the God’s kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.
I felt somewhat
unsure about what we were going to do on this trip. There were times I thought, “There are so
many needs in the churches and seminaries in China that we should and could
address,” while at other times I thought, “but perhaps they are the ones who
are ahead compared to those of us in the US.”
When we talked about the issue of pastoral burnout, we heard
that Chinese pastors worked seven days a week.
A pastor in MienYang said that the average ratio of pastor to members is
1:8000. Elderly senior pastors often
expect younger pastors to follow their example of faithfulness and churches
often require pastors to be “the servant of servants.” At the seminary the teaching of self-care and
boundary setting did not seem to exist so as to counter these overwhelming and
In our small group Ron Hammer and I asked the students what
their main source of burnout or spiritual demoralization would be as they
pastor. One young woman flat out talked
about the issue of age and leadership based on authority, saying emphatically
how frustrating it is to most of them. Many students in the beginning had try
to balance her view by responding, “I think it’s not that serious of a
problem.” However, as the conversation
went on, the group as a whole finally, though very reluctantly, admitted that
this was a problem for them. Did Ron and
I talk them into admitting that? Or was it because they were afraid to speak
ill of their superiors?
Although the Chinese pastors may seem to be “poor” to us,
there is a certain beauty and depth to their spiritually that sustains them in
the face of hardship and despair.
Sometimes I am not sure if pastors in the US would have their spirit and
faithfulness if they were to live and serve in China. Where do the Chinese pastors find strength to
press on? Jesus said, “Blessed are the
poor.” I wonder how that might apply to
them. I am not sure if we don’t hear reports about Chinese pastors quitting is
because no one has ever done a study on that, or because Chinese pastors have
never experienced how things can be different and are already so used to
suffering based on their tradition.
A very young woman told us that she liked to sing and dance in
order to lead others to worship, but the church is very poor and has not enough
resources for her to develop this form of ministry and specialize in it. She was told that she needs to give priority
to other tasks like preaching, teaching, and caring since she is one of the few
trained people to do so. Ron and I said,
“We think it’s wonderful that you have such special gifts from God. It must be frustrating that there are so many
obstacles limiting you to use that gift for God.” It seemed she felt understood, but then she
replied in a tone with not even a trace of compliant but deep appreciation,
that the church tried its best to support her even though they are very poor
Reflections by David
Choi, Third year doctoral student in clinical psychology
This is my third time to join the China trip organized by
Fuller Theological Seminary and I am grateful that I can have this opportunity
to be part of the team. As a Chinese coming from Hong Kong, I care about the
mental health of the Chinese people. The earthquake that happened on May 12
2008 hit people around Sichuan Province very hard. Many people lost their loved
ones and their belongings. Last year, I had the chance to visit West China
Hospital in Chengdu and heard from the medical staff about their relief work.
What I came to understand was that many experts and volunteers from different parts
of the China and even the world came and offered their assistance. However, the
help they provided was rather short term, ranging from a few weeks to a few
months. After a group of volunteers left, a new group of volunteers came. As a
result, the victims of the disaster had to re-tell their stories again and
again. Obviously this is not a desirable situation. Instead of getting the
benefit of relief, the victims were re-traumatized by the process.
my belief that helping victims cannot solely depend on skills or techniques. In
fact, loving relationships and connections may even be more important. That is
why our Fuller team reflected on how community can play a part in the disaster
recovery. We had the chance to meet with many volunteers working at different
parts of the affected areas. I was able to listen to their stories of how they
loved and cared for the earthquake victims. All of them had been serving
victims ever since the disaster occurred. They come to visit the victims
several times a week and are willing to serve them on a long-term basis. They
lived with the victims, listened to them and provided for their needs. With
love and care, those volunteers were able to establish relationships with the
victims. I was and am deeply touched by all their stories and I admire their
sacrificial and unconditional love. In the two-day retreat, we spent a
wonderful time with them. We had sharing and rest. We played games. We sang and
danced together. I believe that the retreat with the volunteers can at least
bring them the strong message that they are not alone and we can be a support.