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2009-01-29 09:30:00
Consulate Guangzhou
Cable title:  

Preaching and Practicing -- Fujian Churches

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DE RUEHGZ #0051/01 0290930
R 290930Z JAN 09
						C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 04 GUANGZHOU 000051 



E.O. 12958: DECL 01/30/2034

SUBJECT: Preaching and Practicing -- Fujian Churches
Expand Role to Fill Social Service Gaps

(U) Classified by Consul General Robert Goldberg for
reasons: 1.4 (b) and (d).




E.O. 12958: DECL 01/30/2034

SUBJECT: Preaching and Practicing -- Fujian Churches
Expand Role to Fill Social Service Gaps

(U) Classified by Consul General Robert Goldberg for
reasons: 1.4 (b) and (d).

1. (C) SUMMARY: Officially registered churches in Fujian
Province are growing steadily, with a demographic shift
toward younger, urban, educated and more affluent members.
In the wake of the economic downturn and gaps left in the
government's social safety net, many churches are launching
social programs, including dozens of elder care homes,
education programs for children and youth, and programs for
deaf gang members. The government is permitting more
foreign organizations and churches to direct funds and
volunteers towards social welfare efforts like the 2008
Sichuan earthquake relief. Church leaders attribute an
improving relationship with government officials, and
positive media coverage, in part to the visibility of these
social welfare efforts. They view their mission broadly as
serving society while helping to "raise moral standards" in
China in the midst of great social change.

Growing in Number and Visibility

2. (C) Christianity is increasingly viewed as a positive
force in society, especially as churches expand services to
the poor in the slowing economy, according to leaders among
the officially registered protestant church in Fujian.
Fujian already has a sizeable Christian population, with
4,000 congregations and 850,000 total members in the
government-registered church, ranking sixth among provinces
in China, according to Rev. James Yang, head of the Fujian
Christian Council based in Fuzhou. Many of the new members
are students or university educated professionals,
particularly in urban Fuzhou and Xiamen. Rev. Timothy Hao,
pastor of the historic Trinity Church in Xiamen, confirmed
this trend, and estimated there were 50,000 Christians in
Xiamen alone, with five new churches in the booming
suburban areas, plus a church that targets young members
near Xiamen University.

3. (C) This trend is consistent with urban church growth
across much of China, according to Fuzhou businessman and
church elder, Zheng Tianyi. Fuzhou
churches are becoming
younger with more educated people. These people typically
"don't already have a religion" and therefore are
increasingly open to Christianity, which according to
church leaders is now viewed by many people as having
historic roots in China. Zheng added that many new members
are business leaders and, therefore, have "higher social
positions" in the community. This demographic group
networks in influential circles, and with greater numbers
of people, naturally expanding interest in the work of the

Filling the Gap -- Social Services to the Elderly
-------------- ---

4. (C) Rapid church growth in part stems from a growing
desire by many young and educated Chinese to make a
difference in society by caring more for the poor,
according to Yang and Zheng. As churches launch social
ministries to fill gaps not covered by government funding,
they attract more urban professionals. But this is not a
new phenomenon. "Fujian churches have a long history of
social activism," starting with the early foreign mission
schools, hospitals, and youth organizations such as the
YMCA in the late 1800s, explained Yang. He sees the church
rediscovering its history in China and gaining an infusion
of youth and energy in the process.

5. (C) The recent trend started in 1998, when churches
gained more freedom to expand activities beyond traditional
Sunday worship services. Fujian churches have focused
their greatest social efforts on elder care, having built
dozens of new retirement homes financed and managed by
congregations. Yang explained that there is an acute need
for elder care all across China, largely because of the
migration of so many younger workers to other provinces,
leaving elderly parents alone and sometimes destitute. In
Fujian, most congregations now have some involvement in

GUANGZHOU 00000051 002 OF 004

supporting an elder care facility.

6. (C) A pastor of a 600-member congregation in a poorer
rural community outside of Xiamen sees this trend extending
far beyond the wealthier urban congregations and described
her own church's work as multifaceted. Their main focus is
on retirement care, with plans to expand their current
facility to a 500-resident home, built with member
donations on government-provided land. But she said
churches need creative approaches, and her church has
started a profit-generating kindergarten, which not only
serves the community but also generates fees to underwrite
the expenses of the retirement home.

7. (C) Dr. Peter Yue, Professor at the Fujian Theological
Seminary, said that seminaries are changing too by
preparing pastors for a much broader role in the community.
His course on "Social Activism and Responsibility" teaches
future pastors how to launch social ministries and mobilize
volunteers. "We feel we are doing a much better job at
charitable work" (compared with government run programs),
said Yue when pressed on the point. For instance, in
retirement homes "our volunteers care for the elderly like
they are our own parents," a highly-prized value in Chinese
culture. Many of the regular volunteers in these homes are
themselves retirees, an abundant resource since China's
mandatory retirement age is set at 55. Yue noted with
obvious pride that out of 13 church-run retirement homes in
the Fuzhou area, two had qualified as national pilot
projects, a prestigious recognition from the national
government and seen as encouragement to the churches to
expand further into this role.

Younger Volunteers -- a Focus on Youth and Children
-------------- --------------

8. (C) Zheng, the 40 year old business leader, also noted
a major shift in the overall demographic of volunteers and
donors. In the past charitable workers and donors were the
"old Christians" from long-time Christian families, but
today they come from "the whole spectrum." Much of the
funding today comes from younger and more educated members
and leaders. To this group, supporting needs of children
and youth, and education "is a priority," and Zheng, with a
long list of investment companies on his business card,
reflects this trend. Zheng started a foundation to raise
scholarship funds for university and seminary students, not
only to strengthen the church "but also society as a
whole." Rev. Yang acknowledged some healthy friction
exists in many congregations between the older, traditional
members and the younger, upstart entrepreneurial leaders
eager to see change.

9. (C) The Sichuan earthquake in 2008 was a major turning
point in overall attitude of the Fujian church toward
outreach, and an unexpected catalyst toward more
aggressively expanding social services, especially with
younger volunteers and donors. After the earthquake,
congregations in Fuzhou responded quickly with direct
donations of construction materials for rebuilding efforts,
all distributed through the Sichuan Christian Council. Yang
pointed out that churches "wanted to continue benefiting
children in Sichuan at the most basic levels," and now
continue funding school uniforms and paying school fees for
poor Sichuan children. He said that because of their
network through the registered churches and the Christian
Council in Sichuan, they can do this "more effectively."
He didn't elaborate but Yang may have been contrasting
their efforts to those of the underground churches, which
lack such networks.

Reaching Out to the Deaf Community

10. (C) Beyond work with the elderly and youth, the church
in Fujian has an unusual outreach program for the deaf.
Started in 2004 by a handful of volunteers in Xiamen
cooperating with churches in Zhejiang Province, the program
now employs several staff members. Their goal is to keep
deaf and mute persons, often social outcasts in China

GUANGZHOU 00000051 003 OF 004

consigned to low paying, low status jobs, from joining
criminal gangs for survival and ultimately "to spread the
love of God among the 33 million deaf and mute people in
China." Two deaf staff members told us through translated
sign language that the program "rescued" them from
organized gangs that required them to steal up to RMB 500
(about USD 75) per day or face beatings from gang leaders.
The organization gives employment guidance, and assists
with housing and other basic needs. Staff members said 300
deaf persons in Fujian are now part of their own mini-
congregation, many of whom are former gang members. They
noted that the local Public Security Bureau was extremely
supportive, even though the organization had difficulty
registering officially.

Greater Foreign Funding and Participation

11. (C) Fujian churches are cautious about receiving funds
from foreign sources, which is consistent with the Three
Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM) principle of self-support
for registered churches. But in recent months, especially
following the earthquake, business leaders such as Zheng
are more aggressively soliciting funds from businesses and
churches abroad. Over the past few years the government
has, according to Zheng, relaxed its policy to allow
foreign-source donations, so long as the gifts are given
without conditions.

12. (C) Foreign donations can be sizeable. Donors in
Singapore recently gave the Fujian church RMB 6.5 million
(USD 950,000) toward scholarships and children's school
fees, as well as other support. However, the routing of
funds still includes a government link. Foreign donors
deposit funds in a government account, and churches in turn
distribute the funds to the needy as they see fit. But
Rev. Yang called this trend a "very good signal that
perhaps in the future this can be done directly" without
government involvement. Yang was visibly heartened by the
increasing level of trust and growing global network of
relationships with churches overseas. These relationships
encourage and build credibility, which Yang anticipates
could also lead to more funding. (Note: The Amity
Foundation is the official charitable arm of the national
China Christian Council and regularly receives funds from
overseas donors. However, church leaders in Fujian say
their charitable work and goals are not connected to larger
Amity projects. Their only real contact with Amity is for
the purchase of Bibles and Christian literature printed
legally in China. End note.)

13. (C) Not all foreign aid is financial. Fujian churches
also host overseas volunteer groups, mainly to provide
informal English classes but also for more specialized
services, such as assisting in medical clinics. The pastor
of the rural congregation outside of Xiamen said that
several volunteer medical groups from churches in the
United States had volunteered for 2-3 weeks at a time in
their church-run clinic, providing free services to
migrants and the poor. She expects these visits to
continue and even expand.

Gaining Favor with Local Officials and Media

14. (C) Church leaders are clear that their motives for
service are an outgrowth of their religious faith. But
they all acknowledged that social service programs heighten
the credibility of the church overall in the eyes of
government officials and felt their relationship with
Fujian officials was steadily improving as a result. At
the very outset of our meeting, Rev. Yang, as the top
church official in Fujian, emphasized that Fujian churches
are established and operate in full compliance with
government policy. He said there was a constructive
relationship between Fujian churches and local government
and party officials, and even cited his membership in the
Fuzhou People's Political Consultative Conference as a
critical "bridge" that helps Fujian government leaders
understand and accept the goals of the church.

GUANGZHOU 00000051 004 OF 004

15. (C) Yang also invited to our meeting a reporter from an
official newspaper in Fuzhou that publishes a regular
column on religious organizations, and was careful to
praise the policy of religious freedom in China. But Yang
complained that in the not-distant past the church's work
seemed "invisible" to officials and especially the media.
In the last few years, media reports have been more
frequent and more positive, which Yang feels reinforces the
image of the church as an important contributor to the
larger community. As an example, television media recently
covered a large blood drive at a local church, and a
newspaper covered the church's program assisting 100
children whose parents are incarcerated, and who receive no
government support. Yang somewhat effusively spoke of the
"trust" relationship with the government, but then
qualified this by saying the church would always "do first
what the Bible teaches and what God calls them to do."

Not Aimed at Evangelizing

16. (C) Church leaders state that their motives are not to
evangelize, nor do their social services exclude non-
Christians. But, as Rev. Yang points out, the church's
programs do not hide their beliefs or faith-based
motivations. For example, retirement homes will usually
host regular Christian worship services, to which all are
invited. Yang said that many of the residents eventually
embrace Christian faith, but there is "no pressure." Rev.
Yang emphasized that apart from all the social programs,
"raising the moral standards as China is changing is the
major role of religion in our society." He sees this as a
goal the government not only accepts, but also encourages.