Sunday, May 29, 2011

CAVA

My first days in China have been spent seeing aspects of the work of CAVA—the China ActionLove Volunteer Association (ActionLove” is not really one word in our language or Chinese, but it was crafted this way to emphasize the need to show love in our deeds).  CAVA was the vision of Huang Lei, whom we know as “Job.”  A house church pastor, Job had a vision to help house churches to work together to respond to humanitarian crises.  CAVA was created a few months into 2008 out of this vision.  No one could know that the need and opportunity for such a ministry would come so soon or be so great. 

The tragedy of the Sichuan earthquake on May 12, 2008 became the impetus to mobilize house church Christians from 12 provinces to respond to the emergency.  CAVA created teams that came to the center of devastation.  By May 19, three teams were working on the ground within days of the quake to help rescue and relief efforts, bringing aid, and later working in resettlement camps with refugees.  They then turned to seeking longer term solutions to help people rebuild their lives and address their deepest needs.

Community centers, where people could gather and find resources to address local needs and concerns became CAVA’s strategy.  13 centers have been created along with a kindergarten.

On Saturday, May 28, we visited the kindergarten.  Sixty children of the village of Pengzhou attend, and Belinda, the Taiwanese director, leads an educational program that is in the process of being licensed by the government.  Various other community activities are hosted at the site.  We had lunch there with Job and others, and heard of the plans to use kindergartens as a possible platform to respond to a need the government has acknowledged and is struggling to meet. 

While there, we participated in a worship time for all of the CAVA volunteers from the various centers.  What a privilege to be with so many who have given months or years of their lives to serve in this region.  Most of the volunteers come from house churches in China, although others have responded from Taiwan, Singapore, Hong Kong, and Malaysia.    I didn’t know the words of the worship songs, and my translator had trouble keeping me up with what Job said as he spoke, but the passion and commitment of the people serving was palpable. 

I  couldn’t help but think of growing up hearing stories of China—both of missionary days before the Communists came to power in 1949, and of the “Bamboo curtain” that had cut China off from the world and, we thought, the gospel.  But as Paul wrote, the gospel is not bound.  We now know the church continued underground for decades.  What is so encouraging about the current situation is the new-found boldness and openness of Christians from the house churches, encouraged in large part by the positive reception to their ministry in Sichuan.

Today (Sunday), we traveled to Feilong, another village that was rebuilt after the earthquake.  A farming region, Feilong was transformed as the government built large housing blocks and moved the farmers into new homes in the middle of the fields that they farm.  The Feilong Community Center was built and staffed as a result of generosity expressed by GBC at Harvest time.  It was amazing to drive into the village and come to the corner that our center occupies.  The director, Zhang Ying, and his wife Tian Hui, greeted us and a group of young girls performed a dance routine as a welcome.  They showed us around the center, and explained the opportunities and challenges they face.  Like many rural villages, Feilong has lost most of its young people and young adults.  Out of the thousand or so people living around the center, less than 20 were in the 15-35 year old range.  There are children and older people, often grandparents raising grandchildren while the children’s parents have gone off to bigger cities to find work.  In seeking to make contact with the community, the center offers programs for children, a lending library, and visits families as needs are discovered.  Two of the young girls who welcomed us were sisters whose father is gone and whose mother has leprosy.  The staff heard about this through the girls, and have been able to help support this mother and her daughters through the generosity of GBC.  It was an incredible blessing to look around the center at its furnishings, equipment, and staff, and be able to praise God that we had the opportunity to provide this.

A more pressing challenge is different points of view between levels of government over the center’s freedom to continue.  The county government has said that the community centers must close (there are eight in the county).  However, the local government wants the center to continue, and has even donated a TV and some books to the library.  This is an important matter for prayer—that the hearts of the officials would be turned to allow Feilong and the other centers in the county to continue their ministry.

Wang Hui, our driver for the day and, more importantly, the supervisor for Feilong and two other centers, encouraged us to pray earnestly this next month for the work to continue.  He also said that our visit reminded him that he and his co-workers are not alone, but that believers elsewhere are standing with them.  That is the message we hoped to carry, and the one that he and others seemed to need.  He remarked how it blessed him that we would “suffer for Jesus” in coming to see their work, but I gently corrected him, telling him that seeing what God is doing in and through them is not suffering, but makes our lives rich.  There is nothing so humbling as seeing someone who has (in his case) left his home for three years, lived apart from family and friends in an area destroyed by earthquake, who thinks you are suffering when you fly over, stay in nice hotels, visit, and then go home.

Pray for the people of Sichuan, one of the least reached areas of China.  Pray for Job, the leader of CAVA.  Pray for Wang Hui, Zhang Ying and Tian Hui, the supervisor and directors of the Feilong Center.  Pray that the light that has been brought to Sichuan through these and other brothers and sisters in response to the earthquake would shine in the hearts of the people.