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Southern Baptists affirm multi-track approach in China

RICHMOND, Va. (BP)–The Southern Baptist International Mission Board has affirmed its commitment to a multi-channel approach to service and ministry in China in lieu of an exclusive approach as requested by the China Christian Council.
“Southern Baptists love the people of China, and the International Mission Board wants to facilitate Christians responding to requests for teachers, consultants and other personnel through any open opportunity to do so,” said IMB President Jerry Rankin.
Rankin expressed regret that China’s officially recognized Protestant church council, known as the China Christian Council, is unhappy about its relationship with the board over the multi-track approach.
Han Wenzao, head of the China Christian Council, which is affiliated with the World Council of Churches, charged that the International Mission Board is “secretly” sending “church workers from abroad … to carry out missionary work in China” without consulting the council. He leveled the accusation in an open letter to “friends of the church in China,” dated Nov. 3 and posted on the Internet home page of Amity News Service, the council’s communication arm.
The mission board’s China strategy and policy have been in place for a decade and haven’t changed recently, said Don Kammerdiener, IMB executive vice president. Kammerdiener was the board’s interim president between the terms of former President Keith Parks and Rankin. The current multi-track approach (of working with the official CCC as well as through other channels) was instituted under Parks’ leadership.
“Through the years we struggled with this (multi-track approach) with the China Christian Council,” Parks told Robert Dilday of the Virginia Baptist Religious Herald newspaper. “I tried to make concessions (to the CCC), but we never were able to (work it out).”
Avery Willis, the board’s senior vice president for overseas operations, said, “All personnel (in China) sponsored by the IMB are serving legally, with the full knowledge and approval of entities of the Chinese government. We feel it is appropriate to encourage and even sponsor Christians to fill positions open to Americans.”
In recent years the IMB has worked through various channels with the China Christian Council, its Amity Foundation service agency, the official Chinese Protestant Three-Self Patriotic Movement and many other Chinese institutions. Eight career Southern Baptist workers currently serve in assignments channeled through the council or the Amity Foundation.
Since the early days of renewing foreign contacts with China in the 1980s, Southern Baptists have developed contacts and working relationships with a wide range of public Chinese institutions, including not only the official Christian bodies but secular universities, colleges, hospitals, businesses and social service agencies as well as local and provincial government officials.
“We look forward to a continuing dialogue with the China Christian Council and officials of the Amity Foundation to clarify some of the misunderstanding and perceptions which have been communicated publicly,” Rankin said.
“We have many years of involvement with the church in China and desire to see the Chinese Christian church grow and prosper to the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
The U.S. State Department estimates that, in 1994, 469,800 U.S. citizens visited China. IMB leaders estimate approximately 25,000 were Southern Baptists. Under Chinese government restrictions, none could go as missionaries, but many share their faith as a natural part of their lifestyles, whether they were in China as tourists, on business or on IMB assignments.
But Han claimed the IMB-CCC relationship has “gotten into difficulty” recently.
“We … are disappointed that the IMB of the Southern Baptist Convention has, without consulting us, adopted a ‘two-track approach’ vis-a-vis China,” Han stated in his letter. “(W)hile not giving up its ‘partnership’ with the (council) as the ‘open’ track, it will try to give major attention to a clandestine track, through which church workers from abroad are secretly sent to China to carry out ‘missionary’ work as dictated by the IMB. These persons do not intend to make their identities or their relationship to the IMB known, either to the (CCC) or to the Chinese government. We cannot see how this can be justified on Christian terms.”
Han said the council “will not cooperate in their deception” or partner with any other organization attempting “secret infiltration” of China. The official Chinese church body, he added, remains willing to work with Southern Baptist “individuals, organizations and churches who are prepared to work openly and aboveboard.”
Rankin reiterated that IMB workers and other Southern Baptists in China are working openly and aboveboard.
“There has been no change or recent development in what we are doing as implied by the publicized letter. While we do not work exclusively with the CCC, we have been grateful for the opportunity to provide personnel and resources for ministries and projects through the Amity Foundation. We would not consider other things we are doing as secretive, deceptive or clandestine, simply because it is not channeled through the China Christian Council.
“For a number of years we have had so many requests from Chinese universities and other institutions that we haven’t been able to fill them all,” Rankin said.
Thousands of Southern Baptists have served from a few weeks to several years as teachers, technologists, social workers, business experts and in other capacities in service to China and its people. Hundreds have gone to China through International Mission Board-related channels. Many more have gone through individual contracts with Chinese institutions or other secular and religious service agencies. When asked, they openly share their faith with Chinese people as they practice in their areas of expertise.
Parks, now global missions coordinator for the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, said after he moved to that organization “we made a trip to Nanjing to meet with Bishop Ting (of the CCC) and put the cards on the table and explained what we wanted to do. Earlier the CCC said they couldn’t work with the minorities (unreached people groups) because they didn’t have enough money, but on this trip they said they could publish Bibles but had no money for hymnals or to send people to work with them, so we talked about ways to work among them.
“We are also providing help to the Amity Foundation (a part of the CCC). All we are doing is aboveboard, so I don’t think this will affect us at all,” Parks said.
A CBF group visited with China Christian Council officials regarding relationships and work just a week prior to the CCC letter criticizing the IMB and expressing disagreement with the strategy that had been in place for years.

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  • Louis Moore