Last month, Guizhou province in south-west China became the home of a new bible school, opening to serve the isolated ethnic minorities that reside in the landlocked, mountainous area.
Two thousand people gathered. Many came from remote villages in China, but the opening also brought local dignitaries that included the head of the government's provincial bureau of religious affairs as well as Buddhist and Muslim leaders.
Church Mission Society (CMS) Director for Asia Chye Ann Soh who led the fundraising efforts by the project's European partners said the building was strategically placed in the center of Guizhou, which will give a "boost to the community."
"You cannot describe it until you see their faces," he said for those who were "impressed" by the size of the school. "This is building for the future."
Church Mission Society, a UK based mission organization founded in 1799, said that the grand opening was a result of four years of raising funds to negotiating with China for the approval of the new building.
Chye Ann Soh said, "Guizhou is one of the poorest and most neglected areas in China—commercially, socially, and spiritually. The people on their own would never have had the chance to build something like this."
One of the European partners, Churches Together in Britain and Ireland (CTBI), an ecumenical body of churches, also attended the opening. The delegation represented churches and mission agencies in Britain, Ireland, and Germany.
This is "an area of great need," Director of CTBI's China Forum Caroline Fielder said. For instance, "The Church is growing in China at a phenomenal rate, particularly in rural areas," she added.
However, other groups such as "cults and heresies" are also spreading, that's why there is a "need for sound biblical teaching," she said.
The Bible school will serve Chinese Christians residing in remote rural churches, while also serving the diverse ethnic minorities that take up about 40 percent of the population, training them to become future leaders of the rural congregations.
After the opening, the delegation from CTBI visited churches throughout Guizhou, meeting with graduates who are serving in the Guizhou Bible School as preachers, pastors and evangelists, Sunday School teachers and music leaders.
They visited the China Christian Council headquarters in Shanghai and met with Bishop Jin Luxian of Shanghai and Rev. Dr. Cao Shengjie, president of the CCC.
According to CTBI, Bishop of Birkenhead David Urquhart said upon returning from China, "The Church in China offers real signs of hope and faith in a society that is being transformed rapidly."
He concluded that he was given a "unique time of sharing between churches" and said that they were able to learn "from each other."
Similarly, CTBI's Fielder said, "It was a privilege to share in the opening celebrations with our Chinese brothers and sisters in Christ.”
The vision to establish the school came from Pastor Rao Tao Tang's Guizhou Bible Class, which provided training in biblical literacy, church ministry, leadership skills, and education in theological and pastoral studies. Working in China's poorest province as a doctor, Pastor Tang used what he earned and supported missions.
His priority was to educate the rural people with a theological foundation. CMS said that he has successfully trained over 300 men and women for the past ten years, and many of his students have gone on to higher academic studies, while others were equipped to minister to their villages.