China's church services: standing room only

How much of the work of American and other Christian missionaries survives in China today? As China, moving away from the fanaticism and turmoil of the cultural revolution, pursues its three-year-old policy of economic modernization and renewed contacts with the West, here is the testimony of one missionary-educated Chinese citizen, a retired journalist living in Peking who recently revisited his birthplace, Shanghai.m

Owing to the poverty of my parents' family, I was sent to a missionary school , with tuition favorably reduced, when I was 16 years old. My school was named the Middle School No. 2 of Soochow University, situated at Quiansan Road, Shanghai, and owned by the Methodist Mission.

Besides Chinese teachers, I and about two score of my classmates were taught by serveral American teachers. Mrs. A.P. Parker taught us Shakespeare, Mr. Brinkley taught us English, and Charles W. Rankin taught us American history and ancient history. Dr. A. P. PArker was once the principal of Soochow University. He not only was fluent in the Shanghai dialect but also had talent in writing Chinese. During the Sino-Japanese war, he wrote many articles in Chinese, analyzing why China suffered defeat and faithfully advising the Chinese people and their government to improve and reconstruct China.

There were so many missionary schools, colleges, and universities, opened in Shanghai, Peking, Tientsin, Hankow, Canton -- nearly everywhere in China. There were so many hospitals opened and managed by Americans in so many big Chinese cities. How can the people of China forget such valuable service in education and medical aid so sincerely offered by the American missionaries at a time when they were so cruelly oppressed by tyrannical emperors, high officials, and uncivilized warlords within, so mercilessly aggressed against by gunboats and military invasions by foreign powers without?

These American missionaries and other good people were the real cornerstone of the everlasting good friendship, so strongly built, between the two great peoples of China and the United States of America. Their work influenced every Chinese, directly and indirectly, no matter what his or her belief, dogma or ideological thougt. That was why the naval blockade by American ships off the China coast in the 1950s and 1960s was so useless and powerless. That was why the door of real good friendship between these two great peoples was so easily opened when Kissinger knocked at it in 1971, that was why President Nixon walked through this door into such a warm welcome in 1972, that was why diplomatic relations between the USA and China could be normalized at the end of 1978 and the beginning of 1979.

We are not allies, but we are really far more than allies. We are not brothers, but we are always in closer brotherhood than real brothers. It is not at all strategy of the so- called balance of military force that unites us.

With thoughts such as these, I recently returned for a visit from Peking to my birthplace Shanghai, where my son, daughter-in- law, and granddaughter live in a modern apartment in the southern part of the city.

My son's apartment occupies 29 square meters in two rooms, plus kitchen and watercloset. The monthly rent is 6.54 yuan (a little more than $4), with water about one yuan (66) and light less than two yuan ($1.33) a month. the low prices and low living costs enable the ordinary Chinese citizen to live happily, not only with the two ends meeting but with some money saved besides. My son and daughter-in-law's monthly wages add up to only 120 yuan ($80), but this small sum not only is sufficient to pay for food, clothing, rent, water and light, but allows them to save enough to buy a radio, a sewing machine, modern furniture, and even a TV.

On Sunday, with piousness and zeal, my wife and I set out to visit Moore Memorial Church at the corner of Hankow and Tibet roads. I must confess I was worried what kind of service I would find, what state the church would be in. I knew the church had been only recently reopened after having been closed for over 20 years. Many of my fellow church members are dead, and those that remain are full of white hairs on their heads. As for the younger generation, I thought, most of them must be atheists, believing neither God nor Buddha. I expected only a few elderly worshippers, scattered lonelily in seats here and there in the vast church hall.

What surprise! My wife and I arrived by bus and trolley at the church 10 minutes before 9, expecting that that would be quite early enough. But, on the contrary, a service was already going on, and a hugh crowd of people had overflowed into the church yard, the corridors, into every corner and space they could occupy. Only a few of them were old. Who could imagine there would be so many middle-aged and young worshippers among them? They were like waves pushing against each other. We didn't know what to do, and finally turned to one of the ushers, Mr. Loh Yoong-kong. This is what he told us:

Since September last year, three Christian churches have resumed Sunday services and other religious activities. Moore Memorial Church was opened Sept. 2, 1979, and has had to hold three services each Sunday in order to accomodate the 5,000 people who crowd in. The first service is from 6:30 to 7:30; The second from 8:30 to 9:30, the third from 10:30 to 11:30. The denominational boundaries of olden times have all been abolished. So much new blood, so unexpectedly joining in, has given the old church an atmosphere full of new life.

We had to wait for the 10:30 service. All the seats in the hall were occupied, and many who came a little late had to stand along the wall. The sermon was on Moses leading the children of Israel out of Egypt. Have faith in the Lord, the pastor said to every listener, for He is omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient. Sweet and mild, how gladly must the voices of the congregation singing hymns have been heard in high heaven!

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