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Homecoming of faith
April 1, 2010
VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Pastor Jonathan Yin, recently ordained for ministry, called his encounter with Anabaptist theology more than a decade ago a “homecoming of faith.”
While pastoring in Beijing, a fellow Chinese pastor in Sichuan told Yin to “check out these Mennonites, I think you could get excited about what they are teaching.” Yin connected with Mennonite Church Canada Witness workers and was given the opportunity to study Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary (AMBS) in Elkhart, IN.
Pastor Yin says that many Chinese intellectuals see a disconnect between Christian faith and life, calling it a hypocritical religion with followers who ignore Jesus’ teachings.
Christianity and Western imperialism are still closely linked in the
minds of many Chinese. To correct a huge trade imbalance in the
1800s, Western gunboats forcibly opened Chinese ports to accept trade – and
the missionaries who at times actually rode in on those gunboats. Anabaptist
rejection of gunboat power presents a new and different view of Christian
faith that is attractive to Christians and non-Christians alike.
Modern theological emphasis in the Chinese church focuses on sacrifice,
atonement, and forgiveness, concepts borrowed from Western theology.
This approach does not resonate well in Chinese culture, where one monitors
his or her actions through the perspectives of others. A focus
on ethics and on the life of Jesus in Christian teaching is more in accord
with Chinese thinking.
Wang Ying, former International Volunteer Exchange Program (IVEP) volunteer
and founder of the non-governmental organization, Peace in China, said, “One
thing I and other young Christians I knew struggled with was how ‘Christian’ nations
could participate in wars, when we saw something so different in Jesus’ teachings. In
IVEP, I discovered believers from around the world, including those from
so-called Christian nations, who were trying to follow Jesus in the way
Jeanette Hanson with her husband Todd and two children are Mennonite Church Canada Witness workers in China since 1994. Presently in Vancouver on a North America ministry assignment, the Hanson family will return to China in the summer of 2010.
SIDEBAR: Heritage of faith
Jonathan Yin’s ordination into ministry symbolizes a strong personal calling to serve the church, a calling that also reflects his family history.
Yin’s great-grandfather was ordained for service as the first Chinese pastor in the Brethren Church. Years later, in the 1940s, Yin’s grandfather, Yin Jizeng, graduated from the influential Huabei Seminary, located in Shandong province.
Eventually Yin Jizeng left the Brethren Church to become an independent indigenous church leader in Beijing. When the churches were closed during the Chinese Cultural Revolution in the 1960s his ministry was temporarily derailed. Yin Jizeng was sent to a labour camp as a farm worker.
In 1972, the first church reopened in China. Although it was merely a showpiece available only to foreigners in Beijing, Yin Jizeng saw it as a chance to get back to the work he loved. Other churches eventually reopened too, and Yin Jizeng pastored at several of them before his retirement at the age of 85. He recently celebrated his 100th birthday.
Jonathan Yin reflects that his studies in Chinese seminary and his pastoral experience in Beijing did not prevent him from considering other possible professions. However, after furthering his education at Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary (AMBS) in Elkhart, IN., Yin says, “I knew I belonged to the church!” He paraphrases Paul from 1 Corinthians 9:15,16 saying, “Yet when I preach the gospel, I cannot boast, for I am compelled to preach. I am simply discharging the trust committed to me.”
Yin says that his studies at AMBS caused him to see “an Anabaptist vision of the church that really fit with Jesus’ teaching.” He feels drawn and committed to this teaching, and refers to himself an Anabaptist Mennonite pastor, even though none of the churches he works with have “Mennonite” written on their doors.
Jonathan Yin works in Beijing with Mennonite Partners in China, a partner
ministry of Mennonite Church Canada. He helps manage logistics
for the educational and cultural exchange program, and works with Chinese
partner churches within a growing Chinese congregational network, who
invited Yin to be ordained for service in China.
Yin says he has thought seriously about ordination in the years since he first graduated from seminary. “I feel a very strong call to follow God in church ministry, so this fits so well with that call on my life. It also feels like I am following in the footsteps of my grandfather.”
One of the Chinese pastors who led in the ordination shared that this was especially meaningful for him personally, because he was ordained in 1992 by Jonathan’s grandfather.