We knock. Open!” Three times the pastor, Li Zhi, spoke these words. Three times those gathered responded with the same words, each time shouting louder in their Lisu language. With this, the doors to the rebuilt Liming Wujihou Gospel Church were opened and the dedication celebrations began.
Liming, a mountain village in the north of Lijiang in northern Yunnan province, China, is a dedicated tourist spot. Towering red rock cliffs envelop the relatively quiet village. It’s home to many of Yunnan’s Lisu ethnic minority people — communities that theELCA has been engaged with for dozens of years.
An earthquake in 1996 brought ELCA disaster assistance to the area. Since then ELCAgrants have been used for community development. Better breeds of goats and the planting of walnut trees have improved income levels, assuring that many people will stay on the land rather than migrate to cities (see February 2013 issue). Computers in an elementary school have improved children’s abilities to compete when they enter high school, away from home and in larger towns.
While these projects continue with ELCA support and an awareness in these communities toward the potential for a better living, attention is also shifting to direct church engagement.
Christianity was introduced among the Lisu early in the 20th century. Missionaries helped the people create a written Lisu alphabet. Small churches now dot the countryside, often in places not readily accessible.
The Wujihou church is located well beyond Liming, nestled up the valley on a winding mountain road. The original building was crumbling from age and poor construction. As the ELCA expanded its accompaniment with the Lisu Christian community, the people appealed for assistance in rebuilding. ELCA Global Mission agreed to help but asked that the community, which is concerned with retaining its culture, plan a building that reflected elements of its heritage.
At first the people didn’t know what to expect. “Since Christianity came from the West, people always associate the church with a Western style,” said He Wenqin, director of the Lisu Cultural Center. “There had been no effort or thought to build churches in a style consistent with Lisu tradition. We are grateful that the ELCAleaders asked that the building reflect the style and tradition of Lisu people’s dwelling. This is what we have wanted, but [it] never was realized in the past.”
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© 2014 Augsburg Fortress, Publishers