For the first time in nearly 40 years, Christians outside of China are being openly encouraged to send funds, material, and personnel to contribute to the modernization and social welfare of China.

China’s newly formed Amity Foundation is preparing to receive and distribute money and personnel from churches and church-related organizations overseas. The new openness surfaced in December when Bishop Ding Guangxun, president of the China Christian Council, welcomed gifts and personnel from Christians outside China. He stipulated, however, that overseas gifts could not impinge on Chinese national sovereignty, noting that they should not be seen as a “return to the past missionary era.”

Following Ding’s statement, the China Christian Council formed the Amity Foundation to promote health, education, and social service projects in China. Although some money for the foundation is expected to come from Chinese Christians, one of the foundation’s primary responsibilities is to receive funds and personnel from abroad.

In March, it was announced that the Amity Foundation and the United Bible Societies had reached an understanding that could lead to the establishment of a modern printing facility in China under the foundation’s ownership and control. The plant would give priority to the printing of Bibles, New Testaments, and Christian literature. However, it also would be used for printing other materials to be determined by the foundation. Funds for the multimillion dollar project would be arranged by the United Bible Societies in consultation with the foundation.

The Amity Foundation also has arranged to receive 10 to 20 teachers sponsored by church-related institutions in Germany and North America. Three North American teachers will be sponsored by the China Education Exchange, an inter-Mennonite organization that has sponsored exchanges of teachers, agriculturalists, nurses, and doctors working primarily with institutions in China or provincial governments.

Additional teachers from North America will be sponsored by the National Council of Churches. “Some teachers will be ordained pastors,” said Philip Wickeri, the Amity Foundation’s overseas coordinator. “At least two will be a Maryknoll father and a nun.”

Wickeri, who is on loan to the Amity Foundation from the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), said all of the teachers will work in the Nanjing area. The foundation will encourage them to be involved in the local Chinese Christian community, he said. The teachers will be supported by block grants given to the Amity Foundation by the sponsoring organizations in the West. The foundation also hopes to receive money from overseas Christians for the direct support of selected Chinese social service institutions.

All 17 members of the foundation’s board of directors are Chinese citizens. Fourteen are Christian leaders, and the others are members of Chinese social service organizations. The board, headed by Bishop Ding, is organized independently of the China Christian Council and the Three-Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM), China’s officially recognized church.

Two cardinal principles of the TSPM are self-support and noninterference from groups outside China. Wickeri said the foundation’s encouragement of overseas assistance does not violate those principles.

“The foundation is a social welfare organization,” he said. “It is not a church organization, and contributions will not go toward the work of evangelism and church building.”

China’s open invitation asking overseas Christians to contribute to the country’s modernization is new. But Christian organizations have been sending teachers, medical personnel, and other professionals to China for more than five years. Wickeri said the Amity Foundation is unique because it is the only group set up by Chinese Christians to coordinate outside funds and personnel.

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One observer said China’s economic climate may have affected the decision to form the new foundation. “The Amity Foundation is established under the influence of the government’s urban economic reform, which encourages private groups to go into business or develop joint business ventures,” said Jonathan Chao, director of the Chinese Church Research Center in Hong Kong. By encouraging foreign groups to contribute money for social welfare, he said, much-needed foreign currency is entering China.

Bishop Ding has said that the China Christian Council should be informed of all efforts of overseas Christians to relate to non-Christian enterprises. That requirement “may indicate a desire to have greater control over such activities,” cautioned David Adeney, China Program coordinator for Overseas Missionary Fellowship. Adeney rejoiced, however, in the increased opportunities for Christians to “reveal the presence of Christ through serving the people of China.”

Another China authority, Ralph Covell, academic dean at Denver Conservative Baptist Seminary, rejected the idea that the Amity Foundation or the China Christian Council would control Christian-generated funds and personnel entering China. Instead, he said the foundation provides “an opportunity to relate to the church in China in a non-paternalistic fashion.

“I think it will create a feeling within China that Christian people around the world are interested in helping China,” Covell added, saying such favorable recognition would benefit all Chinese Christians.

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