Beginning in 1916, The Salvation Army had a vibrant ministry in China for many years—large enough that it was divided into two territories. It withdrew from the mainland in 1949, but thirty years ago, it was invited to come alongside other relief agencies. As a result of Chinese requirements, the Army worked under the umbrella of other relief agencies until January 2017, when the Army was recognized in its own right by being officially registered. Over the last 30 years, the Army has actively worked on behalf of the Chinese people through disaster relief and preparedness, social services, HIV/AIDS training, education projects, child sponsorship, income generation projects, as well as cooperation with the China Christian Council.
Lt. Colonel Ian Swan, Officer Commanding for the Hong Kong and Macau Command, has noted, “We are able to work in China because of the gracious invitations of the government and our partners. They invite; we sign a memorandum of understanding. Before we were registered, we worked this way for nearly 30 years. We’re now setting the table for the next 30 years. While that may sound like a long time to map out our work, we need to remember that China has a history stretching back 4,000 years. The amount of time for our work is just a blip. We have to be patient and sensitive to the history and culture.”
Asked if there are any obstacles, Swan shared, “There is a problem with our name. The only army recognized in China is the People’s Liberation Army. On the other side of that, we regularly meet people who say, ‘I had a grandfather who was in The Salvation Army,’ or, ‘My aunt was a soldier in The Salvation Army.’ The government has been very understanding and helpful as we continue to serve there.”
Another issue will be the full turnover of Hong Kong in 2047. In 1996, when Hong Kong first reverted back to China, it acted as a bridge. However, with the growing prominence of other cities in China and reforms that have opened up the country to the rest of the world, Hong Kong faces a less prominent role. The Army will also have to adapt to the consequences of the full turnover. The expanding work of The Salvation Army within China is a key element to determine what may happen when Hong Kong is fully integrated.
Meanwhile, the Army’s effectiveness can be seen on the ground.
Li Yan is a Primary 5 student in Luoling Township Central Primary School. His father died before his birth, and when his mother remarried to someone from another province, Li Yan moved in with his 70-year-old grandmother. Finances were very tight, which forced his grandmother to choose between his school needs and other necessities. To help out, Li Yan picked mugwort leaves and dug dandelions to sell in the market. Then he became part of the Army’s child sponsorship program it ensured he would be able to continue with his education. Speaking about the Army’s help, Li Yan said, “It is my wish when I grow up, I will pass on the donor’s love and help more people in need.”
Lei Ding-san from Longchuan County, Dehong Prefecture, wrote to Army leaders about the impact of child sponsorship in his life. “Although the nation has provided the nine-year compulsory education under which tuition and miscellaneous fees are exempted, insurance and school uniforms are still required. We simply cannot afford any of these. This situation left me distressed, and I was worried my teachers and classmates would look down on me, for we were so poor. I really wanted to study in brightly lit classrooms, happily learning and growing up with other children. I wanted to study hard to get into university and change my life. I am grateful for the unconditional assistance from the Hong Kong Salvation Army.”
The Army’s microcredit program benefited Madam Yang from Niqiugou Village. She was among the first to receive a RMB 15,000 (approximately US $2,180) loan, so that she could raise pigs and grow organic vegetables—food sources that have a fast-growing demand within China. Her success boosted her annual family income from RMB 6,000 (US $872) to RMB 16,000 (US $2,325). With greenhouses now fully operating and the regular income secure, Madam Yang plans to open a new restaurant.
Currently, The Salvation Army cannot independently operate any spiritual outreach in China. The vitality of Christian ministry in the country is unmistakable. Working with the China Christian Council, the Army has been able to join in their worship services which are vibrant and growing. Lt. Colonel Swan notes, “There is a very active, passionate Christian expression in mainland China. I have gone into churches with over 5,000 people in attendance. One congregation in Guangzhou has over 11,000 people worshipping each Sunday in five services. We join with our brothers and sisters in Christ, and that has been very rewarding.”
What should we do in connection with China? Swan answers, “Pray for China. Pray for China. The Chinese culture is focused on relationship, but like many other places in the world, there is still loneliness. There are many elderly people that, because their children or grandchildren may have moved to the city, are very lonely. These and other needs will give the Army an opportunity to serve the population in the largest country in the world.”
Lt. Colonel Allen Satterlee is Editor–in–Chief & National Literary Secretary.