Archived Sections, Lutherans in the Twin Cities

China Service Ventures embodies a Christian witness and builds trusting relationships

When David Wangaard and Susan Tjornejoh decided it might be fun for their
daughter Ingrid to have a foreign exchange student spend a school year with
them, they didn’t realize how quickly it would affect their lives. Originally
thinking they would host a European student looking for an American
experience, they were surprised when AFS called back suggesting a young
woman from China.
After some consideration, they said yes, and, according to Wangaard,
assistant to the bishop in the Minneapolis Area Synod of the ELCA, they had a
great year hosting someone from a culture they previously knew very little
about.
And when the young woman returned to China, her family insisted that her
host family come to China to visit. At the same time Tjornehoj met Steve Ray,
the director of China Service Ventures (CSV), at Luther Seminary in St. Paul.
Ray offered to coordinate their trip to China. Several months later they
departed, visiting China just months before the Olympic Games.
China Service Ventures is a nonprofit founded in honor of Cora Martinson, a
Lutheran missionary who had lived her life in service to the people of China.
Martinson had started schools and built churches, often in very rural parts of
the country.
China Service Ventures fosters relationships between people in China and
Christians from North America. CSV assists church groups traveling to China
for service work. Having developed significant connections with government
agencies and officials, CSV can open doors for person-to-person connection.
CSV operates primarily in Henan province, a poor, rural area in central China.
Nearly 100 million people live in an area only slightly bigger than Minnesota.
“The poverty in some places reminded me of slums in East Africa,” Wangaard
reflected. “But I was surprised how much the government wants to work with
CSV, because of its commitment to the poor, specifically around education.”
CSV brings volunteers for a month or longer to teach English to people
hungry to learn the language. “The volunteers are well cared for,” Wangaard
said, “and they get an orientation on China” by the staff of CSV.
“It’s great because Steve has a great relationship with government officials,
both local and beyond,” Wangaard added, “because he does a great job of
asking, ‘How can we help?’”
Wangaard recounted that people in other places knew of CSV’s work, and
would say things like “that’s where the Christians are. Christians are the ones
that will help out without asking for anything in return.” CSV has built quite a
reputation.
Two local Lutheran congregations recently traveled to China through CSV.
Edina Community Luth- eran Church (ECLC, ELCA), Edina, Minnesota, sent a
youth group for a service project just weeks before the Olympics began. As
part of their project, the American youth met counterparts from China.
“They all know English,” Emily Ness of Minneapolis, one of the young people
from ECLC, was surprised to find out. “And they were interested in learning
about us; we should take more time to get to know other cultures,” her friend
Maria Finsness of Edina added.
At the same time, a youth group from Risen Christ Lutheran Church (LCMS),
Stillwater, Minnesota, was in the same area. “In fact, we were on the same
flight over,” said the Rev. Stephen Wiesenauer. “I was called to Risen Christ
right out of seminary to reach a scattered Chinese community of in the Twin
Cities,” he explained. An estimated 25,000 Chinese people live in this area.
“A trip to China seemed like a good way for people to catch a vision of this
ministry,” Wiesenauer said. “At first there was concern about the service
project,” he explained. “But we built relationships.”
“Our t-shirts said ‘One World, One Hope,’ and played off the Olympic theme
‘One World, One Dream’,” Wiesenauer explained. “We were able to explain
about our hope in Christ.”