In 1989, Sir Run Run Shaw Hospital in Hangzhou, China was founded on the condition that Seventh-day Adventists manage the hospital. It's benefactor and namesake requested Adventist oversight after his mother was treated at an Adventist hospital in the Far East. Since the hospital's founding, Loma Linda University Medical Center has provided funds and personnel in partnership with Chinese agencies. In addition to requesting visits and training by medical personnel, the hospital asked for a language instructor to teach English to hospital personnel, from doctors to pharmacists to clerks, allowing them to pursue further studies abroad in English. Damaris Matthews has accepted that invitation to teach English, and will provide first hand accounts of the Adventist Church in China during her time at Sir Run Run Shaw.
This is Matthews' first report. -Ed
Since arriving in China I have been attending Se Cheng Tang, the Seventh-day Adventist Church in central Hangzhou. However, this past weekend I had a chance to visit Mei Li Zhou, an Adventist congregation located in a newer suburb of Hangzhou. What an unexpected, but enjoyable contrast between the two!
The Se Cheng building is nearly 90 years old, so has seen a lot of history. It is, in fact, older than the People’s Republic of China, which was created when the Communist Party rose to power in 1949, and for those who worship there, serves as a towering testament to the preserving, sheltering power of God. The structure is massive with dark woods and interior. It reminds me of a mid 20th century theater with a raised stage across the far end and red velvet curtains permanently tied back. The most fascinating feature for me is the back hallway full of bikes (both electric and pedal) that the congregants ride to church.
We all know, though, that the church is the people. About 100 faithful members attend each week. And I really emphasize faithful, as it took true devotion to profess Christ in years past. Today the government seems to have a measure of tolerance for Christians, at least in this area. Se Cheng is listed in guidebooks as the oldest church in Hangzhou. While kindly welcoming and friendly, the membership at Se Cheng is an aging one. My guess is that the average age is around 45-50. The congregation seems to consist of the very old and the very young (about five kids under the age of six brought by their grandmothers). This age factor is very worrisome to the membership and at least a couple of them have become quite evangelistic, passing out leaflets and DVDs, hoping to draw newcomers to the message.
Service at Se Cheng begins with the teaching of the Sabbath School Lesson from the Quarterly translated into Chinese and printed at the Hong Kong Division Office. I miss the interaction between teacher and class. The teachers are well informed and generally prepared with PowerPoint slides to enhance their words, but there is no participation, no question and answer. The leader speaks from the platform without invitation for comment. It is like getting the first sermon of the day. At the conclusion of this part, the choir comes on the platform and sings three or four numbers--hymns from the translated Adventist Hymnal. This is more like our “Songs of Praise” as the expectation is that the audience will sings along with the choir, with music projected on the screen. Some tunes I recognize, and sing along in English.
After the choir, Pastor Wu mounts the stage. He is a fully ordained minister who studied at the Adventist seminary in the Philippines. He speaks at least three languages quite well: his native Chinese, Tagalog and English, in which he and I conversed for a while. Pastor Wu’s aged parents are also in attendance each week, as well as a younger brother. The pastor has a strong interest in attracting younger members and is casting about for the best way to stir up interest.
The congregation seems to genuinely care about each other, hold long conversations and sharing food when service ends. They, too, would like to strengthen the fellowship. Each Friday a group of ladies gather to make buns. After each Sabbath service, everyone receives two marvelous steamed buns dotted with raisins, dates and nuts to enjoy along with whatever else they bring from home. (The sermon is always at least an hour long, so sustenance before the return journey helps!) Sometimes the choir practices after church, but generally everyone assists in packing up Bibles and hymnals because another congregation shares the building on Sundays.
Last weekend, I went to Mei Li Zhou, a suburban church in an outlying area of Hangzhou, for Sabbath services. The approach to the entrance is a series of ascending of steps. Symbolic, I thought, of approaching Mt. Zion. The building is a new-ish, oversized A-frame in warm wood tones with an architectural ell of several rooms to the right for the children’s divisions.
Because of the heavy traffic from the center of Hangzhou to the suburbs, the 11:00 service was already in process when we arrived. The pastor’s sermon focused on Matthew 16:18 and building up the church. He illustrated with a story of a dying little girl who donated fifty-seven cents, which grew into the fund that eventually built Temple Church/University/Hospital in Texas. He brought out the significance for China in that Deng Xiao Ping visited Temple University (supposedly after hearing the fifty-seven cents story) and received an honorary doctorate from that university.
The more lasting impression on me was the fervor of the worshippers. Here, I saw many young families. Teens and younger children seemed to have their worship space in the annex, but enough of them were also seated in the main sanctuary. The 300-some congregants expressed enthusiasm in worship with hearty “amens” and lifting of hands during singing and prayers. Following his sermon, the pastor called for testimony time and several people eagerly went forward to the microphones. However, the wise pastor smoothly kept testimony time short by breaking into song after the third or fourth speaker and immediately thereafter giving the benediction.
After morning service, the members proceeded to the fellowship hall for dinner and would reconvene around 3:00 for the afternoon service.
In both churches the members are dedicated, love each other and show a willingness to serve. Se Cheng is time honored, grounded and solid; it’s members would not dream of going anywhere else. Mei Li Zhou, however, is brimming with vibrancy and looks ahead to a growing fellowship.
Damaris Matthews (pictured above) writes from Sir Run Run Shaw Hospital in Hangzhou, China, where she is an English language instructor.