Have you heard about the extremely creative artwork displays at the annual International Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival in Harbin? I bet most of us have. But I bet not many of us are aware of the creativity in theological education in this capital city of the Heilongjiang Province
Heilongjiang Theological Seminary was founded as a provincial level Bible school in 1996, to train more pastors to satisfy the demand of unprecedented church growth in the ’90s within the province. It is the first seminary to offer the sacred music program that produces music ministers in China. The seminary believes in strengthening the faith with music and has been successful in producing music ministers who write Christian songs with contextualized theology.
The seminary is also the only theological institution that has a special education program to train and equip deaf preachers to serve their own community. According to 2011 statistics, there were about 28 million deaf people in China at that time, with 350,000 of them in Heilongjiang province. The city of Harbin has about 90,000 people who are considered deaf. Considering such great need, the Christians in Harbin began a fellowship group for the deaf community in 1998, and the Harbin Bible School, the city level school that later merged with the provincial school, eventually started the special education program to train evangelists for ministry to the deaf community. The church also published a series of books on Christian sign language to aid sign language interpreters.
Such an innovative approach to ministry, nevertheless, was not unusual in the history of the Christian church in Harbin.
Rev. Li Yulin lost sight in one eye while serving as a volunteer medic under YMCA during the Japanese invasion of Harbin in 1931. Despite his partial vision loss, he founded the North Manchuria Bible College in 1934 to train more preachers who would dedicate themselves to plant self-governing churches in northeast China. The overwhelming workload ultimately led to his total blindness.
After the founding of the People’s Republic of China, Rev. Li helped the government organize a school for the blind in Harbin. He even invented training equipment to help teach the blind in learning the Chinese Braille system. Rev. Li was recognized in 1956 by the education department of Harbin for his contribution, and the Heilongjiang Provincial People’s Political Consultative Conference conducted a memorial service for him when he passed away in 1965. Rev. Li has been the only person from the religious community to be accorded with such honor
To celebrate its 20th anniversary, the Heilongjiang Theological Seminary is again showing others its ability to innovate and be flexible. The seminary invited a group of Christian scholars to explore contextualization with them. However, due to some scholars’ scheduling conflicts, as I understand, the seminary postponed its celebration to this year. We are eager to learn with them and from them through their creative effort in presenting the unchanging gospel in an ever-changing social context. Stay tuned for our exploration of theological education in China. We will discuss its missiological implications and its contributions to the development of the global church.
Peter Lim is the Headington Assistant Professor of Global Leadership Development at Fuller's School of Intercultural Studies.