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Chinese look to churches to help with the elderly

15 November 2013

By Hazel Southam

BIBLE SOCIETY/ Clare Kendall

Changed: Chen Tian Xi, a 57-year-old green­grocer, is one of many in China who have experienced the social care provided by the Church. He was among 4.8 million left homeless by the Sichuan earth­quake in 2008. He joined several hundred refugees who were seeking sanctuary in a church in Yanting. There, church­goers who had also lost their homes pro­vided meals and a safe place to sleep. Mr Chen stayed for a month. "I realised then that Christians are very loving," he said. "I was moved by what they did for me. Chris­tianity looked better than other reli­gions to me. Besides, they weren't just saying good things, they were doing things, too." A year after the earthquake, Mr Chen became a Christian. "My greatest reward is to have become a Christian," he says. "My life is com­pletely changed now"

Changed: Chen Tian Xi, a 57-year-old green­grocer, is one of many in China who have experienced the social care provided by the Church. He was among...

THE government of China has called on Churches to play a significant part in caring for the country's growing elderly population. At a conference about the place of Christianity in China, which was held in Shanghai last month, government officials admitted that they needed the help of faith groups to cope with an increasingly ageing population.

China has the world's second-largest economy, after the United States, and the world's largest population: more than 1.3 billion.

The Chinese Academy of Social Sciences suggests that, by 2040, nearly 20 per cent of the rural population of China will be aged over 65. A government official, Wang Xinhau, described this as "a big challenge for the authorities, and for the Church. The government welcomes the support of the Church. We lack the resources to meet the needs that we face; so we need religious organisations in order to do so."

Traditionally, younger relatives care for the elderly in China. But, as more people now migrate to the cities for work, they often leave their children and elderly parents in their home villages, sometimes for years.

A leading Chinese cleric, the Revd Xu Xiaohong, said that the Church "has to think about how it changes to meet the needs of society. Preachers in their churches should be encouraging their congregations to care not just about personal salvation, but also about meeting social needs."

A guest speaker at the conference, which was sponsored by the Bible Society, James Featherby, who chairs the Church of England's Ethical Investment Advisory Group, said that care needed to go beyond the Church and into Chinese business practice.

"If the purpose of business is to contribute to society and to your community, good things flow from that," he said. "But if your primary purpose is to make money, then a whole series of behaviours flow from that." Business practice in China, he said, needed "to change, as it does in the UK".

The international programme manager for the Bible Society, David Smith, said: "I think the whole story of the Bible shows us how to care for the least, the last, and the lost. Christians should be at the forefront of that provision."

He was hopeful that this would soon be the case in China.

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