Friday, May 29, 2009

INTRODUCING personal China journal

As the years roll on and on and on, I am glad to still be alive. Even if it is out here on the West Texas plains. There is much to be thankful for. So in this exciting place just a hundred miles from my birthplace, I am laying out our journey since Jody and got off the coastal steamer in Taiwan in the Year of Our Lord, 1957.

To date, five chapters or episodes have been posted. They are on my other web site. The site can be found by clicking on the China map at right or here:

It is not meant to be biography or anything other than just the memories from my journals and notes. It is a most privileged life and one with more blessings and "learnin' times" than one person should ever have. It gives insights into the Taiwan Baptist Mission and Convention from its start in 1951 through 1966 when we moved from Kaohsiung, Taiwan, to Hong Kong. It has low points and great moments. Remember, it is all from my point of view. So take an aspirin or open a cold one and wander with us on a journey no one knows better than I do. My plan is to stay as near the truth as possible. Parts may read like a novel, but most of it just good old missionary work (and some stuff not so "missionary"). As time and life permit, the story will continue from out of the West about the East of the-not-so-distant past.


"All the downtrodden can do is go on hoping. After every disappointment they must find fresh reason for hope." This word of wisdom came from Alexander Solzhenitsyn, the Soviet dissident who, before and after World War II, fought for the simple right of being human. Many have suffered as he did, but few have been able to write it as powerfully as Solzhenitsyn did in book after book.

Philip Yancy wrote: "Sometimes hope seems irrational and pointless. It must have seemed so to inmates in concentration camps. Yet, as Solzhenitsyn insists ... people without reasonable hope must still find a source for hope; like bread, it sustains life."

Hope has kept many a prisoner of war alive. People almost destroyed by pain, cope with it in hope. In hope of better medicine, hope given by loved ones and caring caregivers. And as Jurgen Moltmann said, "God weeps with us so that we may one day laugh with him."

None of us have a corner on physical, mental or emotional pain. Think about General George Washington and his troops in the cold winter at Valley Forge. They had none of the "comforts" of today's soldiers. They had no penicillin. They had no wonder drugs. How about John Bunyan, who wrote his best work (Pilgrim's Progress) in prison. Or the poet Donne writing in a plague quarantine room.

"Reproach has broken my heart. I am full of heaviness" (Psalm 69:21). As the psalmist poured out his heart, he discovers that there is one who cares. He is not alone. Hope begins to be born in his inner-most being.

Every day of life is a battle. Some have it harder than others. Some retreat into the old "life's not fair" syndrome. Some blame anything or anyone, even God. Don't go there. That is the deceiving broad road that leads to you-know-where. The one sure way to lose the battles of life is JUST QUIT SEEKING HOPE. Keep reaching for it.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

China Churches Response to Last Year's Earthquake

The earthquake that struck China's Sichuan province a year ago (the land of four rivers and famous for Pandas), shattered thousands of lives, and is still a very open wound in the minds and hearts of many survivors. One year after the devastating tremor, it is estimated that 90,000 people are dead or missing.

Earthquake reconstruction has been going on almost around the clock in an attempt to provide housing and jobs for those most affected. A government official reports more than one million rural homes have been completed, and half that many are under construction.

Sichuan (old spelling: Szechuan) was home to the eighth century poet Li Bai. He loved the great mountain ranges (Sichuan sits just east of Tibet) and he was inspired by them. One of his poems has a line: "Sichuan roads are more difficult to travel than the road to heaven." (The original is better.)

Hugely overlooked and unreported were the stories of Christian churches and their responses to the disaster. In the town of Mianzhu, just north of the provincial capital of Chengdu, the old Protestant church there lost its roof and the loose and falling facade, made worship there impossible.

Pastor Gu Yumei, a woman in her late twenties was finishing up her studies at the Nanjing Theological Seminary when the earthquake struck. She immediately went back to Sichuan to take care of her congregation. (Sichuan sits just east of Tibet.)

The shock of the tragedy put the whole countryside into a time of uncertainty and hardship. For some months worshippers met under a tarpaulin next to the church. In China, rural citizens do not own land; it is owned collectively and administered by the state. Making opportunities for corruption paramount.

The contributions to the churches of the area came from China churches all over the country. The Amity Foundation, a non-government organization, and churches around the world contributed to the rebuilding efforts. One of the buildings is used as a church now that seats 1,000 people at a time.

The Mianzhu church congregation has grown fivefold. By last December, the people attending the Sunday services had grown from 180 to 1,000. The church has helped with medical service to those in need. A small clinic was put up on the church grounds.

Only those who have been through such a trauma have any idea of the psychological counseling needed. Warm clothes and quilts are for everybody, thanks to Amity's help. Counseling by Pastor Gu and other Christians is primarily for the believers. Thereby they are not accused of proselytizing.

The Amity Foundation (Ai-De in Chinese, meaning "love and virtue") was established in 1985 is an independent Chinese voluntary organization. It was created on the initiative of Chinese Christians to be a social service ministry promoting education, health, and rural development in the under developed areas of China. (I was fortunate enough to be present when Amity was founded. Since that time Amity has also published Christian books and over 80 million Bibles. Once they sold Bibles in a Nanjing bookstore they were sold out in one morning. Most distribution is through churches.)

Qiu Zhonghui, the secretary general of the Amity Foundation, has been awarded the honor of "National Outstanding Charity Worker" by the General Assembly of Charities in Beijing, an arm of the Ministry of Civil Affairs.

Jamil Anderlini and Du Juan, reporters for the Financial Times, report that many survivors have genuine gratitude towards the state for providing them with the basics. The growth in church attendance has expressed the heart-felt needs of the people in this time of distress.

Many would not talk about the fact that school buildings were hit hardest. Many homes still stand next to the schools, giving speculation as to the schools being shoddily built.

For those who might be interested in this non-governmental ministry write to: The Amity Foundation headquarters: 71, Hankou Road, Nanjing, 210008, China. Or E-mail: for more insight into some of the social and positive things going on in China today. In addition to helping with national emergencies, the Foundation sent aid to Burma during the recent floods.

As I was finishing this column, my wife reminded me that for the Chinese people mountains are often likened to the firmness and constancy that mankind strives for. In 1984 my wife Jody was in Sichuan. She was as much impressed with the massive mountains as much as the spirit of the churches.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Peace Comes With Forgiveness

The People's Republic of China, the communist government of China, founded in 1949, was a world away from where it is today. The people had been through 13 years fighting off the Japanese and a four-year civil war with the Nationalist Party (Guomindang) of President Chiang Kai-shek. They were tired, beaten and hungry. They were looking with hope for better days.

Mao Zedong and his peasant armies seemed to fill the bill. His armies did not rape and steal from the peasants as had Chiang's army. They went from town to town, victory to victory singing. Singing the praises of the people, the peasants, the poor, forgotten ones who had become fodder for war.

Religious organizations were not troubled at first. Christians were a small minority and with all their money and missionaries gone were not a problem to the new regime.

Gradually in the late 1950s some churches were closed and when the Great Cultural Revolution broke out under the auspices of Chairman Mao's wife, all churches, missionary schools and hospitals, were raided and closed. Some, like the Grace Church (formerly Baptist) of Shanghai, became a printing factory. The Shanghai Muen Church (formerly Methodist) became a public school. The Community Church (Anglican) was used for local opera groups to practice.

The Cultural Revolution was not cultural nor revolutionary. It was great only in the death and destruction meted out to those thought to be Mao's enemies. It was a political stunt that got out of hand. Even the army could not contain the young Red Guards (hongwiebing, ages 8-30) that scrounged the cities and country destroying religious and foreign objects right and left.

This turmoil lasted for just over ten years, from 1966-76. The same time the United States was fighting a loosing war in Vietnam, and American youth were on a binge that made little sense – drugs, communes, free love, Woodstock.

Pastors, church workers and most families were split up and put to work in factories. Some told me of those days when they wondered if they would ever be allowed to go to church again. The unlearned and uneducated forced medical doctors to clean toilets. It was debasing to anyone who had any contacts with former missionaries or foreigners.

Many great writers and intellectuals died. Even the sitting president of the country, Liu Shaoqi, was left to die in a hospital. And Deng Xiaoping, who later led the country, was banished with his wife to the countryside. Deng's oldest son was thrown from a balcony and remained a cripple the rest of his life.

Mao was dying in 1976. Premier Zhou Enlai had died that January. Zhou was one of the men who kept Mao from being as bad as he could have been. Mao's wife and her cohorts, "the Gang of Four," were arrested and the reign of terror began to subside.

Churches began to be reopened in 1979. They petitioned the government to restore their property. It took time, but little by little they were given back. Grace Church had a huge bill as they cleaned the ink and smoke from the former tenant, a printing factory. Like all the others, the members paid for the repairs and rejoiced at being once again able to worship God in the sanctuary. More Roman Catholic priest suffered due to their ties to a foreign government, the Vatican in Rome. That is still a sticky problem for Catholics in China.

Now almost 45 years have passed since the Chinese people went through years of turmoil that almost killed the country. Provinces wanted to separate, leading thinkers had fled, schools shut down for years, a hopelessness engulfed them.

One day in 1981 a young man walked through the gates of the Jinling Theological Seminary in the heart of Nanjing. The school had just re-opened. He told the gateman, "Please, I must see someone here." The gatekeeper looked at him. He looked like thousands of others on the streets of the city. White shirt, blue cotton pants, well-worn sandals.

From the front steps professor Chen Zemin (the Dean) emerged and waved for the boy to come on in. It was evident the young man had been there before – but not under such circumstances. He stood before the white-haired professor, blurted out his name, fumbled with his hands that could not find anything to do. He begged the teacher's pardon for the intrusion.

Chen came down the steps and invited the young man to come in out of the sun. The boy looked at Chen and asked, "But, can you forgive me?"

The boy sat with his head in his hands as he tried to explain what burdened him. Fifteen years earlier, he had been one of the Red Guards that broke into the seminary and vandalized it. He helped throw library books from the second floor and making them into a huge bond fire.

He wanted to say more, but could only ask if he could be forgiven for such a crime. Chen let him pour out his heart. It was not a pleasant memory for either of them. Chen remembered the day the Red Guards came on the campus, set up headquarters and gave the school 48 hours to clear out. Faculty worked into the night to save as many books as they could cart away. Then the time was cut to 24 hours. Books and papers were destroyed. The place was no longer a place of peace and learning, but a base for misled youth to do carry on their "nation-cleansing." It was happening all over China.

Dean Chen Zemin offered him a cup of tea. "Yes," he said to the lad, "Those were days when wrong became right, and right became wrong. Nothing made sense." Being forgiven is a blessing and relief, the same as it is for those doing the forgiving. If you life is out of whack somewhere, peace begins with forgiveness.


Thursday, May 7, 2009


Last month, April 8 to be exact, I wote here about the murder of Herman Liu in Shanghai by the Japanese in 1938. He was president of the Hujiang Daxue (Shanghai University) begun by American Baptists, north and south in 1908. Betty Marcontell found the story via Goggle and added to the story. Her great uncle was one of the men who helped raise money for the project. She was able to visit the now state school and the building named for her ancestor, the Breaker Hall, recently (above photo Betty at entrance of Breaker Hall). She also shared a photo of the bust of Herman Liu that now stands on the campus. ()

Since all my documents and papers on Shanghai University had been sent to Dr. H. Stephen Gardner, economics professor at Baylor University, I put Betty in touch with him. He and others have been working closely with the Shanghai school and want to preserve the history.

So, thanks to Goggle, history keeps being brought together in the 21st century. We must not lose sight of the labors of those of the 19th and 20th centuries in China.


Church-goers and torture

Get ready for a shock. It was to me to learn that 54 percent of regular church attenders, said that the use of torture is okay when used to gain important information from terrorists. This is last week's Pew forum finding. Weekly church-goers thought torture was justified "Often," (16%); "Sometimes," (38%); "Rarely," (19%), and 25% said torture is "never" justified.

After a few second thoughts, this news was not so shocking. If you read some of the e-mails I get every time I mention torture in a column you would understand. I receive far more letters trying to justify torture than those who see the danger. I have no way of knowing if the "fans" of mine go to church or not. But I do know individuals (from three different Protestant denominational churches) who go along with Jack
Bauer of the fictional Fox Network television series, "24".

One anonymous e-mailer responded that if Towery was a Christian, then he/she did not want to be a Christian. So it does not take a rocket scientist to presume that a majority of West Texans do not see the harm in torture. Actually they believe it works as former V.P Dick Cheney claims. I feel like I'm beating a dead horse to remind us that torture has no place in the American mosaic. It has given America the worst black eye since slavery. It not only harms the one tortured, but works on the one doing the torture. Ask some of them. More and more men who tortured individuals are coming out in the open to say they know it is wrong now. They can't sleep at night knowing how they treated another human being.

Arthur Schlesinger said, "No position taken has done more damage to the American reputation in the world - ever." Though the British tortured enemy captives during the American Revolution, General George Washington would not do it, thereby distinguishing this country by its humanity.

Torture brings Americans down to the level of the people who torture. It is not only immoral, but illegal. Just read how those who got the ball rolling for torture are now trying to cover their tracks. Such actions are a violation of international law and the law of the United States of America and the U.S. Military Field Manual. Take note that the God these church-goers worship said, "A new commandment I give you: love God and love your neighbor as yourself."

As Chuck Warnock, of Roanoke, Virginia, wrote, the story gets worse. Another survey of people who seldom or never attend church services are more humane in ethics and Christian grace than those who do! Only 42% of these seldom or never church goers believe torture is justified "often" or "sometimes."

You have probably heard of the legendary story of Coach Vince Lombardi who, after his team lost a game, came into the locker room and told the players they were going back to basics. Then Lombardi held up a pigskin, and said, "Gentlemen, this is a football."

This might be just what is needed in San Angelo and Tom Green County churches this Sunday morning. We preachers need to hold up the New Testament and introduce it to the congregation. "This is a New Testament and in it is the life, death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ --- the One whose name we have taken." We, who take that name are not to repay evil for evil. He plainly states, with no if, ands or buts, "Love your enemies."

Don't be fearful of looking "soft" on the enemy, think what you look like to a holy and righteous God.

Non-torture has worked throughout history, WHEN IT HAS BEEN TRIED. The Apostle Paul said Christians were free to do all things, but not everything was expedient, or necessary.