Yesterday, while going through pictures to post of our neighborhood pets, I came across a few photos from the Chengdu Theological Seminary which I visited last September. I had a short feature in a past newsletter about the seminary, but no visuals to accompany it. So I thought I’d re-introduce the seminary to you with pictures to boot.
I also haven’t been the only one interested in doing a story about the seminary. The NPR (National Public Radio) “All Things Considered” staff were here doing their Chengdu Diary series in the city when the earthquake struck. Their light pieces were originally to be life in the city and surrounding areas, but that changed with the May 12 earthquake to visits into the disaster zone areas. By coincidence, they happened to be in the seminary itself, sitting with Rev. Mao in his 4th floor office, when the shaking began. They immediately ran down the stairs and gathered outside on the street.
Later, I heard they returned to finish their piece.
Here is my personal experience with Rev. Mao and the Chengdu Theological Seminary.
The Chengdu Theological Seminary
Pastor Liao at the Luzhou Protestant Church encouraged me to visit the Chengdu Theological Seminary where she received her religious education. This was one of my first missions when I came to the city to study Chinese last September. After a few phone calls, I was able to speak to the president and arrange a Tuesday afternoon visit. In a short 15-minute taxi ride across town, I arrived down a narrow sidestreet to both the Chengdu Enguang Protestant church and the seminary, which rests next to it. I entered the building and quickly proceeded up the stairwell where I had been told the president’s office was located.
Sure enough, the seminary’s 78-year-old president, Rev. Mao Yang San, was waiting anxiously for me in his office on the 4th floor. He greeted me with such warmth that it was hard not to feel right at home in his presence.
Rev. Mao is a tall, silver-haired gentleman with a spiritual flare about him that makes everyone instantly love him. His knowledge of the seminary and its history proved to be quite interesting. And his English language ability made it easy for us to communicate.
The seminary opened in 1984 with the fervent Christian prayers from Christians in 3 provinces (Yunnan, Hunan and Sichuan). Churches were in great need of pastors but due to the Cultural Revolution, when all religious activities ended for 10 years, there were none. It wasn’t until 1992, however, that a seminary building was erected and Rev. Mao selected as the president. Before that, the school was being held in the church which proved quite uncomfortable. Sometimes, students were sleeping in back rooms and in the sanctuary balcony because there was no place to house them.
Now, however, with money from the Amity Foundation (a Christian-founded Chinese NGO) and other Chinese churches, they now can study under much better conditions.
At present, there are 79 seminarian students (all ages) in the 4-year program, 42 men and 37 women with 36 of the students being minority people from the Miao and Yi tribes. Costs for the entire year are 2,500 yuan ($312.50) which includes tuition, book fees, housing and food. Classes begin after morning worship (8:00 – 8:30) and end in the late afternoon around 5 p.m.
As for the building itself, a lovely chapel-assembly hall is located on the 7th floor. The male and female dorm rooms are on the 6th and 5th floors and have 5-6 students in a room. The administration offices are on the 4th floor and classrooms are spread throughout the 3rd and 2nd floors. There is a small dining room area and a single room kitchen on the 1st floor where a staff of three prepare all the meals.
According to Rev. Mao, there are 10 teachers who give the courses required of seminary students, such as Bible interpretation, Biblical history, worship theology, and Greek, to name a few. All students are also required to study English, which is a major component in any higher education institution in China.
When Rev. Mao led me along the hallways, students were having their English lessons, taught by Christian Chinese teachers in the area. I addressed the senior class and was very touched by these adults and their commitment to their studies, the Chinese church and the Lord. It was a moving experience to hear them chorus, “God bless you!” as I left their classroom to complete the tour.
My introduction to the seminary gave me a better understanding of the great challenges the Chinese church faces in educating clergy. There just aren’t enough graduates to fill all the vacancies throughout both rural and bigger city church congregations.
These dedicated seminarians and their teachers are truly an inspiration to those of us who are of the Christian faith. I wish them many blessings as they continue on their journey toward becoming strong, faithful leaders of the Chinese Protestant Church.
Tomorrow’s reports will be of Little Flower’s recuperation from her hospital stay and other news from the city.
From Chengdu, until another day, wishing you all a “Ping An!” (Peace)