Nanjing is a city of colleges and universities. I am told there are far more students here than in most cities. There are four large campuses within a few miles of the seminary. Here are some impressions I have of one non-Christian student I met from another campus. I will keep his identify a secret. He is a twenty-five year-old graduate student in the field of sciences. I have visited with him several times as he is one of the few non-Christians I have gotten to know here. He is a model student and for such he was approached by the Communist party to become a member. He had no reason not to and did. To do so he had to avow atheism. In reality he thinks there probably is a god, but his sense of who that god might be is eclectic. His parents were Buddhists. He has met several Christians and likes most he has met, but he finds my preoccupation with Christianity counter cultural. I have told him about the growth of the church in China (he has even come to church with me for the first time) but he regards the impressive numbers of Christians I cite as inconsequential given the large population of China. In school he was taught there was no God and I sense this is a baseline from which he thinks about the world. A Christian friend tells me that the age group of Chinese who are a bit older than him are difficult to reach.
There can be anything from an indifference towards Christianity to disdain for it. Only among one person, though, among hundreds who have overheard me and other Christians (on the subway mostly) talk openly with each other about our faith, have I sensed this disdain. Most people know a little English and many seem interested to engage in conversation, both to practice English and to get a sense of what I'm like as a westerner. People here seem generally happy, reasonably well off, and grateful for the higher standard of living they enjoy and for the much greater freedoms they enjoy than the previous generation experienced.
Now that I have been here almost three months I have noticed something about myself that I am having to resist. I am talking more in English than before. When I ask myself why, I think it is a psychological reaction to not knowing the language that everyone else can speak with ease. It is as though my brain has tried to learn Chinese, found it hard, and then reverted to English in the hope that other people might have the same language as me after all. Or maybe I think that I have been here long enough to be understood and thus somehow believe I'm speaking Chinese or that they understand English by now. It's embarrassing to come across as assuming others know English in China! I have to catch myself and remember to use the few chinese words and phrases I know and to keep working at engaging people with the reminder that their language works here and mine doesn't, except when people are courteous enough to use it for my benefit or their practice. Either way I'm grateful.
I found out the other day that the government paid for most of this new, large seminary campus. It is part of a government initiative to update places of theological education for the national church across the country. How ironic that a government with a philosophy that is atheistic is providing more funding for state-church seminaries than Britain is for Church of England schools or than Canada is for churches and church related institutions. (It no doubt helps that this government is not in debt; au contraire! ) I'm told that one of the reasons for a high level of cooperation between state and church is a long-standing pillar in the Chinese church named Bishop K. H. Ting who died last week in his nineties. He was well respected by many government officials who found him to be irenic, wise, and extremely thoughtful. He was by far the most influential Christian leader in China over the past fifty years. He was president of this seminary for several decades and was until his death "honorary president." His death received attention across the nation. His funeral will be well attended by state officials with no Christian commitment as well as by thousands of Christians, including church leaders from across Southeast Asia and beyond. Pray for the Chinese church as it seeks direction in the wake of the passing of its most influential leader for over a half century.
The photo is at night in a key historic area of Enhui province, the ancient town of Sanhe (Three Rivers). The town has lovely bridges, rivers and a magnificent (and very expensive) Buddhist temple.