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Interview: Erik Burklin, President of China Partner

China Partner president shares experience about working in China.
( [email protected] ) Feb 21, 2005 02:13 PM EST

In an interview held last Thursday, China Partner president Erik Burklin shared about his experience in working in China. Burklin’s father, Werner, started the China Partner in 1991 in the interests for serving the churches in China.

The philosophy of China Partner, the younger Burklin emphasized, is to be in harmony even with the local government in serving the needs of the church in China. Currently, China Partner has worked with many local registered-churches associated with the China Christian Council (CCC) and the Three-Self Patriotic Movement for Protestant Churches in China (TSPM).

However, Erik Burklin pointed out that China Partner does take interests in helping even those associated with the unregistered-church so that they too would have access to proper theological and biblical resources.

Werner Burklin was born and raised in China. At age 18, he left with Erik's grandparents for Germany after the Communist takeover of China in 1949. Erik's German grandparents had worked in the Jiangxi Province as missionaries with the China Inland Mission prior to the departure.

After the country opened its doors in the 1980s, Werner leaped at the chance to revive evangelistic growth in China. Since then, both father and son continue working with schools associated with the registered and unregistered churches in the interest of providing China with a new generation of well-trained theologians and pastors to serve the needs of the people of China.

Will you give a brief historical background on China Partner?

China Partner got started from humble beginnings. I think from a desire of my dad’s to do something more in China after the government allowed for foreigners to once again travel to that great country. And this was in the early 80s. In fact, his very first trip back to China was in 1981 during which he did not meet one Christian.

Later on he took a second trip, and was able to meet his parent’s former cook who had found the Lord in the meantime and now was a pastor of a ‘home church.’ So my father was very encouraged to meet with him again. From there he met some other believers, and very quickly it became apparent after several more trips in the early 80s that the greatest need of the hour for the Chinese church was training.

In fact, my father was in charge of a leadership conference. It was really a conference for itinerate evangelists, traveling evangelists in Amsterdam. The first of this conference, which was sponsored by Dr. Billy Graham, was held in 1983. And the second one was held in 1986. Both times my father had been asked by Dr. Bill Graham to be the executive director. In the meantime, my father had been traveling into China on a regular basis. And so he thought the perfect opportunity for Chinese pastors to get training would be for them to come to Amsterdam for the conference. However, [at] that time, it was very difficult for pastors to receive visas and passports. So the head of the China Christian Council decided that this would not be the best time to send pastors to Amsterdam.

Of course, my father was very disappointed knowing that China is the largest country [in regards to population] in the world, and this was the opportunity for believers to get some further training for the purpose of the advancement of the gospel once they returned from the conference. So my father thought, “Well if they cannot leave their countries to get training, maybe I can go to their country and give them training.” And so, this was exactly what they did.

In 1991, he brought together a small team of pastors and para-church leaders and conducted his first, what he called a pastoral training seminar in Nanjing, at the Nanjing Theological Seminary. And after that seminar, for ten days, they had a banquet with the head of the China Christian Council. He responded to my dad, I have not heard one negative thing of what you’ve did, and what you’ve said, please come back and do this all over China.

That was the first indication for my father that something more needed to be done. And as a result of that invitation, my father incorporated the ministry to call it China Partner. Since 1991, we have traveled to China, visited 16 different venues in different cities, and have conducted 41 of these pastoral training seminars in those venues.

As a result of those training seminars, we have so far trained over three thousand future pastors and emerging Christian leaders. In addition to that, we find it very important for these young people who are being trained in the gospel to also receive good theological study books.

Since 1991, we have shipped in over 30,000 theological books that are legally shipped in from Hong Kong. We work together with several publishing houses there and we’re glad to see that all these books have safely arrived and usually we hand them out to the students after we’re done with our seminar.

So that’s how we got started, and so therefore our whole mission is to serve the whole church in China so that they can fulfill the great commission. So that is our commission.

We are not a missionary agency, or a sending agency I would say. Meaning that we train missionaries to go to China to preach the gospel there. But we’re more of a service organization to the indigenous Chinese church, helping them to whatever needs they have in order to become more effective ministers of the gospel. We equip emerging Christian leaders to become better ministers, and that is our mission.

Will you briefly describe what are the current activities China Partner is involved in with the Jiangxi Provincial Bible School?

Our current ministry activities with the Jiangxi Provincial Bible School in Nanchang, China, are very exciting. The reason why we have a relationship with that school is because my grandparents used to be missionaries with CIM in the Jiangxi Province for 25 years. As a result of that, many believers still remember my grandparents and my father, who was born in China.

Out of that, has grown a very warm working relationship with the key China Christian council leadership in that province. Several years back we met Rev. Lin Feng, who is now the principle of the Jiangxi Provincial Bible School. Already he had a vision to build a school in Nanchang, and called my father to ask us help him with the development of the establishment of the school. What has happened since then has been years and years of regular meetings, that have led to also to first being able to raise significant amount of funds to help with the construction project of this new Bible school.

In addition to helping with their construction costs, we’ve also sent in thousands of theological study books to the students who attend Jiangxi Bible School, and also is being used for their library.

Every year, we visit Jiangxi Bible School. Last year we attended the dedication ceremony of their brand new facilities, and it was such a joy to be able to see these believers to be overjoyed by this completed project.

Currently the Jiangxi Bible School trains about 60 students. The capacity of that school has actually room for 160. Most of the students that attend that Bible school come from the poor rural area of the Jiangxi Province. Most have not received even a high school graduation degree. The education is very barebones and very basic. In addition to that kind of help to that kind of school, China Partner has sent a short-term teaching team to that school since 1993, I believe. We have had the privilege of training these young emerging leaders and future pastors in the area of evangelistic preaching and biblical leadership and also pastoral care.

We were teaching biblical leadership and pastoral care. Last time we were able to teach on the principle of discipleship. That is in the nutshell a little bit of our involvement with the Jiangxi Bible School.

As an aside, what is the name of your grandfather?

My grandfather is Gustave Burklin. He is from Germany.

So your grandfather was a German missionary?

Yes, both of my grandparents, in fact. So my grandparents were German. My dad moved back to Germany after the Communist party took over the country in 1949, and that was where I was born and raised. And now, I live in the United States. My grandparents were both from Germany.

What are some plans for China Partner?

Basically we are getting ready to do another two pastoral training seminars in early June of this year. We are doing a second trip in October, as far as our Christian literature distribution program concerned we are raising some major funds so that we can be ready to purchase further books in Hong Kong and get them shipped in time where we are going to be there in June and October.

What I am read excited is that this Christian Literature Program is done in conjunction with China Christian Communication Limited in Hong Kong. They have produced a series of books that include commentaries and practical devotionals.

We [also] added a life application Bible. All these books, by the way, are in simplified-text (jianti). The life application Bible, or life study Bible, is a very good tool and we add it to the pastoral series. We try to have one set of these books available for each individual who come to our pastoral training seminars.

These are mini-libraries for these students that once they graduate from their schools, they can take those books with them and use them as their initial library to help them prepare sermons, and practical tools for the ministries they are involved in.

What are some of the challenges China Partner faces, and what are some things you would want believers in the United States to pray for?

The challenge of course is the fact that we are working in China. And as you well know, there are some restrictions that the country has set out on how religious activity can be performed in their country. This includes how foreigners are to behave when they are visiting China.

So the prayer request would be that the Christians would continue to pray for wisdom for our staff, that when we travel in China and when we deal with these brothers and sisters in Christ in China that we would not do anything to jeopardize their situation or compromise the sovereignty of the state.

I personally believe in doing everything openly and legally. So far, we have never had any problems with government officials. In fact, we have warm relationships with “SARA,” which stands for the State Administration for Religious Activity, many of whom we have had the privilege of sharing Christ with. When I meet with these individuals, just as my father has done, I have always been amazed on how open and how willing they are to listen to us.

Which tells me, in essence, they are not really scared of Christianity or our religion. They are actually very warm towards us in what we are trying to accomplish and what how we are trying to help the churches in China.

I think the challenge is always what to do and not what to do in China. You want to be sensitive to the sovereignty of their country especially as guests. It is very important that you don’t do things that are illegal and so that always a challenge. This would be a good prayer request for people to pray for us for.

Our second prayer request and challenge would be that the church in China is growing so fast that they cannot keep up with the additional need for the pastor to be trained. And, so my prayer would not only be to accelerate the construction for more schools, but also [to] accelerate in the training of future professors and teachers that would be teaching these young students in these venues. Right now there is a tremendous lack in good professors in China.

And also, there is a lack of biblical, theological study books that are actually written by Chinese Christian scholars. And that takes time as you well know. So it is not good enough to just translate a good commentary from English into Chinese and hand it out to those libraries.

But I think it would be best for Chinese Christian scholars to delve into these textual criticism issues and interpretation issues…and then compile [them] into a book that can be used as a commentary and study book for Chinese Christians as they grow.

So that is a tremendous need in China right now. I believe what is exciting for us is that our seminaries in the West can collaborate and partner with the seminaries and Bible schools in China to help them accomplish this in the best way. But, that would be a major prayer request I would like Christians to pray for the theological training to expand all across China, not only in the registered churches but also in the unregistered churches, or ‘house churches.’

Also I would like others to pray for new books and commentaries [that] would be written by scholars, and that more and more teachers and professors would be educated and used for future training and seminaries in China.