By Jennifer Harris
Culture and geography cannot separate the fellowship of believers.
Cynthia Holmes, attorney in Clayton and member of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of Missouri Coordinating Council, discovered the similarities between Baptists during a recent trip to China with a team of CBF women leaders.
During the two-week trip, the women traveled into Shanghai and then split into groups to see where CBF missionaries were working. “It was very interesting and inspiring to see what’s going on in China,” Holmes said.
While in Shanghai, Holmes had the opportunity to meet with Chinese women pastors. Holmes noticed that each of the people she was meeting had taken an English first name. “It’s more than a little embarrassing that they feel that necessity because they assume Westerners wouldn’t take the time to learn their Chinese names,” Holmes wrote in her Sept. 7 journal entry.
One of the women at the pastors’ meeting, Rejoice, asked for advice on dealing with parishioner’s problems, including divorce and family violence. “We realized how much alike we are, even living half a world apart,” Holmes wrote.
Later in the day, Holmes met with the Shanghai YWCA. She was thrilled to learn of the social programs the YWCA offered, comparing them to the “hands and feet of Jesus.” The director told them that “the YWCA helped everyone in need, while the churches would only help those willing to become members,” Holmes noted. “Whether or not that was true for all Chinese churches, it had certainly been her experience. It’s sad, but true, that many churches in the U.S. are too much like that — exclusive clubs that only relate to members like themselves.”
Holmes explained that CBF was not like the churches she had experienced, but that, like the YWCA “we seek to minister to all God’s children, especially the most needy and neglected.”
Holmes’ group traveled to Chengdu, in the Sichuan Province, to meet with Bill and Michelle Cayard. The Cayards have been serving as CBF personnel in China for three and a half years.
During a reception in Jefferson City, the Cayards shared that they always had a love for missions. After 20 years of marriage, they decided they weren’t getting any younger and called CBF about opportunities.
“I didn’t know we would fall in love with China when we first went,” Bill said. But he and Michelle both fell in love not only with China but with the Chinese people.
Bill pointed out Chengdu on a map, noting that China is in the shape of a chicken. Chengdu is located in the Sichuan Basin, surrounded by large mountains. Chengdu is the home of spicy red peppers – “and duck heads,” Holmes added.
Michelle said the first term, four years, of their stay in China is a language focus. She and Bill are in the process of learning Mandarin. Their tutor, Lisa, recently became a Christian and will soon be baptized. “She spends four hours working with me and four hours working with Michelle,” Bill said. Since their language text is the Bible, “Lisa receives eight hours of Bible study each week.”
The Cayards work with the churches in Chengdu, helping to meet their needs, which often includes help with meeting space. They are also involved with English classes and camps. According to Bill, the Chinese are interested in learning English from native speakers. One of their responsibilities with the camps is to provide volunteer teachers from the United States.
“We challenge you guys to bring a group,” Bill said. He added that curriculum is provided. The camps focus on vocabulary, then break into groups for conversation. They use the Bible and hymns to practice language with the students.
Holmes emphasized the hospitality of the people in Chengdu. When she was visiting Penzhou City Christian Church, a banner stretched across the road reading “Welcome Distinguished Guests of CBF” in both Chinese and English.
“Tears welled up in my eyes as we got out of the van, and the choir, about 20 strong, was lined up on both side of the path singing greetings and clapping as we entered,” Holmes wrote in her journal.
The church provided another reminder of the similarities between cultures as the congregation sang “Amazing Grace” in Chinese.
After the service, the group traveled to lunch with Richard Cai, director of Hua Mei, where the Cayards teach. At the restaurant, they were taken to a small room in the back, open on one side, revealing the courtyard. Cai took off his jacket, left the room and returned with pitchers of boiling water. “He used the water to wash the dishes he sat at each of our places in a gesture that can only be described as Christ-like,” Holmes wrote. “I felt like one of the disciples, that I should be washing Richard’s plate.”
That was the most special meal she had in China, Holmes said.
The Cayards have many plans for the future, including a pastors’ retreat for all of China, distance learning theological training and a new church in Chengdu. “The city of six million could really use a third church,” Bill said.
Bill and Michelle both say that they see God at work and continue to feel God’s calling in China. “I still can’t believe what we are doing is a job,” Bill said.
Holmes said that she gained a deeper respect for full-time missionaries. “We cannot lose sight of the fact that we need to keep funding those who are there building relationships,” she said.