Dr. Bill and Deborah Bryan recently travelled to China to teach for B.H. Carroll. Their hosts provided gracious hospitality throughout their stay. Dr. Bryan and one of their hosts quickly realized that they had been in at least two classes together during seminary in the early 1990s. They were excited to reconnect and to work together in ministry almost twenty-five years later.
There is a twelve hour time change from West Virginia to China. During their day-and-a-half adjustment time, the Bryans, accompanied by their hosts, enjoyed local attractions and food. The Bryans report that the hotel accommodations were good, and the breakfast buffet, which included both Asian and western items, was very good. While they had never had veggie pizza, salad, and corn-on-the-cob as breakfast items before, they also enjoyed many traditional western food items as well.
While visiting one of the local temples, it seemed strange to see folks literally bowing before idols. In the west most of our idols (e.g., money, power, fame) are less tangible but equally worshiped. Though China is traditionally a Buddhist country, recent history has meant that most people do not have strong religious traditions or feelings. Especially among the younger generation, those in their thirties and younger, there is a vacuum of belief. Most people have some basic idea of what Christianity is but they may not know exactly what Christians believe or that there is a Christian church in their area.
God is working mightily in China, which has the fastest growing Christian church in the world. There will soon be more Christians in this region than in any other region of the world. However, there is still much planting and harvesting to be done.
Dr. Bryan taught in one of Carroll’s Teaching Churches in this region. The church, which started less than ten years ago with thirty persons, now has an average Sunday attendance of about 500 people in two services. The church currently has only one full-time minister, who is also a student in the Carroll program. So, many of the ministerial roles in this church are filled by lay leaders. The church has a large number of university students and young professionals, members with advanced degrees, families, and believing couples. The church has a strong emphasis on small group study with adult Sunday school classes and home meeting groups. Recently, the church opened a second meeting location.
Another church in the region has three full-time pastors, all of whom are studying in the Carroll program. They also have a preacher and two elders who serve an urban area of several hundred thousand people. Their average weekly attendance is around 1,000. They are also responsible for more than forty churches and meeting points in the area around their city. Their leaders travel frequently to the outlying churches as well as preach and serve in the city. Their church is a typical rural area church in that there are many elderly members and many with limited education. This church was started in the early 1900s; closed during the late 1960s; and reopened in the late 1980s.
For those serving in these churches, opportunities for graduate theological education are extremely limited. They must relocate to another part of China or go abroad to further their theological education. The courses Carroll provides are the only way for them to continue studying while still serving in their churches. Due to the fast growth of the churches there is a shortage of trained leaders. Allowing the 22 pastors and lay leaders in the program to receive high quality theological study without leaving their churches is an important contribution of the Carroll program. The program participants are grateful for this opportunity to advance their education and become better equipped for ministry.
Dr. Bryan’s Old Testament I course was held at night, since some of the students had career jobs during the day. The 22 students included lay leaders, preachers, and pastors. The students were highly motivated and interested in this Bible course. One of the students served as Dr. Bryan’s translator and did a wonderful job. The students eagerly engaged the material. This was their first graduate level Old Testament Bible course. So, they were excited to study the biblical text in-depth.
Dr. Bryan also offered six hours of non-credit lectures on the Books of Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi. There were about twenty students in attendance each day. There was not enough time in the schedule to offer this study for credit, but the students enthusiastically received these lectures and left wanting more. They truly want to study, understand, and proclaim God’s word.
On Sunday the Bryans worshiped at the Teaching Church. Dr. Bryan led an English-speaking Sunday school class in a study of “Mountains and Valleys of Change” from 1 Kings 18-19.
The Bryans are grateful for this opportunity to teach in China. They were blessed by the experience and look forward to continuing service abroad with Carroll as the Lord opens the way.