Rev. Dr. Ray Miles - Trip to China

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Pre-Trip Training

Rev. Ray Miles, Regional Minister of Georgia and his wife Rev. Wendy Miles visited China.  They left Macon Georgia on March 13, 2008 and returned on March 30.  The trip was sponsored by Global Ministries which is the joint ministry of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) Division of Overseas Ministries and United Church of Christ Wider Church Ministries.  Members of the group include a delegation of Regional Ministers, their spouses and a member of the Global Ministries Board who is also chair of the subgroup who oversees East Asia ministries.  Though the Region was not financially committed, the Regional Board gave Dr. Miles the time for this trip as part of his ministry.  Ray's goal was to learn about the church in China and what can benefit the church in Georgia.

After leaving Macon, Ray and Wendy spent one day in Detroit where they engaged in Ministry and Mission Interpretation training so they can better share the story of the trip when they get back.


Report 2

The first night of the trip to China is one where we are tired from a long day and looking forward to another one tomorrow as we make the flight to Shanghai.

Tonight we met the others on the trip: Disciples Regional Ministers and spouses, Richard and Emily Guentert from Upper Midwest Region; Ken and Susan Moore from Nebraska; Danny and Nina Stewart from Mid America Region; Wendy and I from Georgia, and Tom and Carol Brooks who are on the Global Ministries board. Our leaders will be Xiaoling Zhu and Maria Cruzado from Global Ministries staff.

During orientation we thought about Philippians 1:3-11 in terms of the partnership, link or sharing we have with other Christians. We heard that Global Ministries works to be a Critical Presence which means we are walking alongside other Christians in their walk of faith. Different from older methodologies of mission we are not imparting wisdom as much as we are receiving and sharing our journey.

As Wendy and I walk through this next couple of weeks with Christians in China, my goal is to learn what can help us, our congregations in Georgia, grow in our walk and become faithful as we transform to be what God calls us to be.

Pray for us for strength and especially for insightful vision that we might see what God has for us to learn. We will share with you as we can during this trip. God bless you.


Report 3 - More Than A Welcome Mat

This was a long day of traveling; Detroit to Shanghai but I did discover one thing. I was amazed at how much English I found on signs in Tokyo and Shanghai. In both places directional signs were in the native language but also in a couple of other languages including English. As we drove from the airport, we encountered sign after sign, street signs and billboards which had English on them. I could always find someone who had at least a better than basic knowledge of English to help me when I had questions. It seemed as if the people were really trying to make us feel welcome and at home.

I wonder about our congregations. At a time when our country seems intent on making those from other places feel unwelcome, especially with the attitude that foreigners must learn English and do it right away. Do our churches extend the same impression of unwelcomness? I’ve been overseas three times now and each time I have been impressed by the way others go out of their way to make me feel welcome. Can we say the same of our congregations or do we force others to become like us before they feel like they belong. Do our Spanish speaking, Chinese speaking, Korean speaking and Creole speaking congregations find a welcoming atmosphere or do they have to work hard to feel included?

This is the kinds of learning I hope we can grow from as a trip overseas. Tomorrow and the next day we are in Shanghai – the second largest city in the world, with nearly 18 million people.


Report 4 - Worship In A Strange Language And Culture Is Still Worship.

A busy day again but I believe I could start every report that way.  This morning started with worship on Palm Sunday at Grace Church in Shanghai.  There were close to 1000 in the sanctuary and the service was video cast to Sunday School rooms filled with people.  We sang songs which we recognized and sang in an English Chinese parallel hymnal.  The service was translated for us on headsets and we felt like we were in a place where the Spirit really was.  The church is involved in many innovative and helpful ministries to members and the community so that the government has recognized them and given them official status.  By their ministries they have become respected.

The rest of the day was spent eating and doing a few tourist type things.  We had wonderful food and saw history as well as how modern a city Shanghai really is.  If not for the Chinese signs you would think you were in any major metropolis in the world.  It is a great day and a wonderful experience.

We heard of the tornados in Georgia and pray that no one from any of our congregations have been affected.  God’s blessing this Holy Week.  As the pastor this morning said meditate this week on Jesus, his words, actions and life as you prepare for Easter.


Report 5 – A Day With The Church In Nanjing China.

Today we discovered that one of the issues of the church we face is also an issue for the church in China. Development of leaders who are theologically trained is the key to the future for the church in China. We also are working to upgrade and find ways to train both lay and clergy to lead the church into new times. We visited the Jiangsu Bible School and visited with them about heir programs to train clergy of the equivalent of licensed ministers and their lay leadership training programs. Ray presented a gift to them from our delegation and received on behalf of the church a gift to commemorate the occasion.

In the afternoon we visited the Nanjing Union Theological Seminary which is the highest theological training institution for the church in China. We not only visited with faculty and students but met with our missionaries who are serving on the faculty there, Michael and Doreen McFarlane. We were able to visit with them and see some more of our DMF dollars at work.

This evening was an amazing visit with the Amity Foundation which is doing unbelievable work to assist the poor and needy in China. It is too big to discuss here but we will tell more about those ministries when we get home. Suffice to say we were very impressed by their programs and ministries as part of the church.

The other thing which has amazed us and impressed us is that there is only one protestant church in China. There are no denominations so they are able to be the Christians in China. It kind of reminded us of the way Christians were referred to in the New Testament.

Tomorrow one of the activities is to visit the Printing Plant which has printed more than 50 million Bibles here in China.


Report 6 - Nanking

Our final couple of days in Nanking we discovered how important the work of Disciple missionaries was there. As we toured the Nanking Massacre Memorial we learned that 300,000 Chinese in Nanking had been killed by the Japanese during a six week period. At that time a couple of Disciple missionaries were part of a group of 29 foreigners who managed to save another 200,000 from being killed. It was humbling and also proud to be a Disciple in that heritage and to have the names and faces remembered in this Chinese memorial.

Then this morning we toured the Nanking Drum Tower hospital. This hospital was started in 1892 by a Disciple missionary from Canada. Today the hospital is modern with 1400 beds and a new wing being constructed which will make it a 3000 bed hospital. Then it will be the biggest hospital in China. A Disciple started that and the people are so grateful for that.

One other incredible thing was to visit the Amity Foundation Bible Printing Press. They have in the 20 years of existence produced over 43 million Bibles to help the Chinese Church reach out. Their new plant soon to be operational means they will be able to produce as many as 1 million Bibles a month for the Chinese market. This is all blessed and legal in the government’s eyes. In Fact the Bible has been make recommended reading on the Shanghai education district reading list.

Then in the evening for fun we went to Wal-Mart. Imagine a bunch of Americans wandering around in China in a Wal-Mart. Some things are incredibly global.

We continue to learn how special the church is in China today and in the history of this place. Long days and short nights mean I won’t write long tonight.

Blessings on this Maunday Thursday evening.


Report 7 - Easter

It’s been a hectic couple of days. We met the last remaining Disciple pastor in China. Since 1980 the Church in China has been without denominations. Rev. Pan was one who learned Disciples from the Missionaries which we sent and who was a strong leader of the church in China. We also met with more church leaders in the provincial bodies which work with the church.

The highlight though has had to be the worship service this Easter morning with the church in Chengdu. There in a simple church which was crammed to overflowing we heard the songs of Easter. Though we didn’t know the language we recognized and sang joyously, Christ the Lord is Risen today and Up from the Grave He Arose. The overwhelming thought was that this is really the church as much as we encounter in Georgia and that the church of Jesus really is one regardless of how many labels we try to put on them.

We’ve had a few tourist things also. We got to the Giant Panda research park and saw many of the famous national treasures of China munching on bamboo. Last night we saw a traditional Chinese variety show filled with magic, music, and traditional dance. It was great.

More than anything we are discovering that the Chinese people are gracious and anxious to help. The hospitality of the church here is overwhelming and we are so at home. This is a really surprising place.


Report 8 - Chinese Culture is Very Different.

Today was a day of experiencing the culture of China and recognizing their pride. We visited the Terra Cotta Warriors this morning. It was amazing. They were only discovered since 1979 yet the government and people have made them a National Treasure and really done a good job of displaying the ongoing archeological exhibit. Later today we visited the Wild Goose Pagoda which dates from the ancient times but is still being used as a Buddhist Temple. It is amazing to see and experience culture that is derived out of another religion than Christianity. Things there were beautiful.

Tonight we saw a great show of singing and dancing and music from the Tong Dynasty (right after Jesus). It was colorful, and wonderful to experience. Following that we had a dumpling dinner. Another cultural experience from this nation of wonderful hospitality and care. Wendy has been using a wheelchair much of the time and a white haired “foreigner” pushing a woman in a wheelchair is a great curiosity for the people here.

Tomorrow we meet with church leaders and seminarians to talk again about the state of the church in China. Then we fly to Beijing.


Report 9 - from Xi’an

Xi’an is a wonderful smaller city in China – only about 5 or 6 million people!! For us it has seemed the most historic of all the cities we visited. Ancient buildings and walls from dynasties hundreds of years ago are the core of the city. It also doesn’t seem as madly hectic as some of the earlier cities we have visited.

We are definitely being impressed by the need for leadership training for the church in China. We visited another seminary where they were working hard to meet the need with programs like our Institute for Ministry and with longer residential programs of training. The Bible School is trying to become a seminary but doesn’t have the library to do that. The Disciples and UCC have been helping with a three year grant of money to buy books for the library. Your DMF dollars at work.

We also yesterday toured the Forest of Stone tablets which is a collection of tablets engraved with the history and wisdom of China. One tablet outlines the first coming of Christianity to China in the 600’s AD. I had never imagined Christianity was historic in China.

Spring is just breaking here and we were surrounded by beautiful blossoms and fragrant trees. It is a wonderful time and God has created a wonderful world for us.


Report 10 - The Great Wall and other things

Today’s highlight was seeing the Great Wall of China. After hearing about it my whole life and never imagining I would see it Wendy and I actually walked on it. It was a wonderful time and a real highlight for us.

We also drove past Olympic venues as we left the city and saw where the Olympics are going to be held. That will be a magical time for the City. Beijing to me seems more western than any of the other cities we have seen. The streets are wider, and the sense of openness is greater. It’s not a bad city to be in.

We stopped at the seminary which is right across the river from the Olympic park and is the closest faith site to the Olympic park. Our leader Xiaoling Zhu gave a lecture last night on aspects of pastoral care for those who will be serving as volunteer pastoral care workers during the games.

Tomorrow will include a visit with the State Administration for Religious Affairs to discover their role in the development of the church in China. Also we will see the Forbidden City today. The trip is winding down and in one sense we are happy and another sad. Travelers among you will know the feeling.
 


Final Report

Today ended our trip to China with a celebration of our wedding anniversary. It has been a full and overpowering trip crammed with senses, images, and things we have learned. We will be anxious to share it with your congregation after we have a couple of weeks to put things together into a reasonable program. We have too many pictures to share with you in just a show. We fly out early tomorrow morning and will be in Macon (God willing) on Sunday evening.

Blessings

Ray and Wendy

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