Mr. Yin is the pastor at the Christianity Jiangsu Road Church.
He tells us that, though not in large scale, this church already has a history of over 60 years. It started in 1941 by some local Christians and changed its locations for three times from 1947 to 1999. During the period of Cultural Revolution (1966-1981) it was closed and occupied by the government for other uses. In 1999 it moved to the current location.
Mr. Yin was born in a small city in Jilin, a province in the northeastern part of China. He has been in Nanjing for 15 years and now has become a local here. He entered the Nanjing Union Seminary in 1996 and continued his graduate study to get his master’s degree in 2003. Asked why he came to such a faraway city to study theology, he explained that in China only the seminaries in Nanjing are recognized throughout the nation. According to him, seminaries in China can be classified into three levels, namely the national, provincial and municipal level. Comparatively, the nationwide seminaries enjoy more abundant teaching resources and more authoritative status.
Since priesthood is still a rare job in China, we are curious why he decided to study theology and chose it as his lifelong career. He tells us it was decided by his family and his experience of understanding Christianity. Because his parents are both pastors, he was exposed to religious culture at young age. During his teens, he felt that his life has been elevated by his belief and therefore he confirmed his willingness to believe in God. At the decisive crossroad of life where he had to choose his future career, he heard Jesus’ calling from inside and was determined to dedicate his life to God.
Last year, after being a preacher for six years, he was promoted to pastor. His main duties include preaching, giving services, dealing with the everyday affairs of the church, teaching religious knowledge to pastors of other churches and acting as the host of weddings and funerals. In the past, he says, some people taking part in the Christian funerals would mind abandoning the Chinese traditions like the burning of paper money. However, with more and more people beginning to respect the Christian rituals, these conflicts do not exist any longer.
Mr. Yin is also responsible for hosting the annual baptism ceremony. Usually, there is only one big open ceremony in July. For people with special needs, such as the elderly and the disabled, they go their homes for the baptism. Next to all these tasks, Mr. Yin acts as a consultant in the church. People come to him for various reasons. Some of them come to relieve their confusion in belief before deciding to become a Christian or convert to Christianity. Others come to solve their questions in reading and understanding the Bible. There are also people who come to ease their mental stresses caused by family, social relations or work. “It is estimated that in China 60% to 70% of the population have psychological problems to different extents,” he tells us, “so it is important for us to be their listeners and help them to live with love, hope and belief.
Talking of his family, the pastor shows a wide smile on his face. He got married in Nanjing and now has two daughters. The older is 7 years old, while the younger is a baby born in May 2012. They live a typical Christian life, praying before dinners and reading the bible before sleeping. “I am happy,” he says, “ to see my children grow in the blessing of the Lord.”
Mr. Yin is also excited to tell us about the development of Christianity in Nanjing. Twenty years ago, there were only 2,000 to 3,000 Christians in Nanjing, whereas the number has increased to 150,000 today. Most Christians here are protestant. He gives us two reasons to explain why the development of Christianity is going so fast in the past 20 years. The first is that everyone has a need for belief. In the Chinese society where dramatic reforms and changes are taking place, numerous values spring up. When exposed to the voices advocating individuality, profits, efficiency or any other values, many people gradually lose the sense of belonging. In such cases, they need a spiritual support, a voice that can firmly tell them what is the truth. The second reason is that the development towards a more liberal society in China allows for the existence of religions. In the Cultural Revolution period, religion was regarded as superstition and strictly forbidden. People had craving for belief, but where deprived of the right to exercise their belief. However, now the society begins to recognize religions and to respect people’s freedom of choosing a religion.
Mr. Yin denies the thought that the Chinese churches are simulating the traditional Western churches. Though Christianity originated from, and has had a two thousand years of history in, the Western countries, the values it has been advocating transcend the boundary of nations. The mission of Chinese churches is to practice and spread these values in the most acceptable and effective ways. He highlights that they do not rigidly exercise the rituals of Christianity, but focus on the essence. “We often play anthems with erhu and guzheng, build churches in Chinese traditional style and preach with Chinese examples, and so forth”, he says. “Chinese elements can be found almost everywhere in our churches; such as music, poems, books, rituals and buildings.”
In the end, Mr. Yin discusses with us the relationship between Chinese churches and the Chinese government. First, there is not an official organization that leads all the churches, nor a leader like a cardinal or a bishop. Churches of different types disperse all around the country, including some family-run ones and even illegal ones. Second, Chinese churches do not have to pay any tax to the government. Third, the attitude of Chinese government toward Christianity has changed from inhibition to respect and support. One example is that the Nanjing government is investing in building a large church which can accommodate 5000 people in a suburban area (near the Olympic Sports Center). According to Mr. Yin, churches need the support of the government, because the government is able to provide sufficient financial security to help them.