The Rev. Mark S. Hanson, presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), will visit China near the end of the month, according to an announcement Wednesday.
Hanson was invited by the Rev. Gao Feng, president of the China Christian Council (CCC), which represents Protestant Christians in China who worship in state-registered churches.
"Our desire in undertaking this journey is to deepen and extend the relationship and ministry collaboration between the ELCA and the CCC," stated Hanson in this week's the announcement. "The growth of ELCA engagement in China reflects the respect offered by the leaders of the Christian community in China for the way the ELCA engages in missional collaboration."
Although there are no Lutheran churches in China, the ELCA says it has developed deep, mission-focused relationships with Christian councils and Protestant expressions in the country.
And while the ELCA relates as a whole to the CCC, the church body’s specific engagement in China has been with the Sichuan Council of Churches (SCC), particularly with the SCC's Luzhou Christian Church.
For the past five years the ELCA has "accompanied the Luzhou church in ways that holds up a holistic way of doing ministry," remarked the Rev. Y. Franklin Ishida, director of ELCA Global Mission’s Asia-Pacific continental desk. This, the ELCA reports, has included health care, community development, ministry among people living with disabilities, leadership training, education and evangelism.
In the past two years, ministry efforts between the ELCA and China's Christian councils has also come to include disaster response, particularly for the earthquakes that struck Sichuan in 2008 and Yushu in China's Qinghai Province in 2010.
"Our church enjoys a good relationship with the CCC that has led to collaboration in several programs serving the Chinese population in Mainland China," commented the Rev. Rafael Malpica Padilla, executive director of ELCA Global Mission, who will travel with Hanson to China.
During the Aug. 28-Sept. 5 visit, Hanson, Gao and other CCC leaders plant to consider avenues for mutual ministry, particularly in theological education and social ministry, according to the ELCA News Service. Malpica Padilla said the ELCA group will also visit sustainable development programs and check out the relief and rehabilitation work being conducted in response to the 2008 earthquake in Sichuan.
The magnitude-7.9 earthquake in Sichuan, which killed nearly 90,000 people, left about 4.8 million people homeless, though some reports claimed the number to be as high as 11 million. Since then, the Chinese government and relief groups have been working to rebuild areas ravaged by the earthquake.
According to Ishida, responding to the 2008 earthquake in Sichuan has been a major focus for the church in Sichuan. Because of the positive response, the Chinese government has come to recognize the role of church in society, he added.
It is estimated that more than 12,000 church buildings are open for public worship in China, and some 25,000 groups of Protestant Christians meet in private homes. The CCC, was founded in 1980 as an umbrella organization for all Protestant churches in China, coordinates theological education and publishes Bibles, hymn books and other Christian literature.
Ishida said Hanson's visit to China is an "occasion to express more fully our accompaniment and demonstrate our commitment to working together."
With 4.5 million members, the ELCA is the largest Lutheran church body in the United States.