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A Visit to Feng County Church, Originally Founded by American Mennonites

A Visit to Feng County Church, Originally Founded by American Mennonites

Feng County Church Feng County Church (Provided by Jonah)
ByCCD contributor: Jonah August 21, 2019
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On August 10, 2019, I went on a trip by train to visit the church in Feng County, Baoji, west of Shaanxi Province.

The church sits beside the beautiful local Phoenix Lake. Walking along the view corridor near the lake, I saw a red cross on the roof of Feng County Church. I entered the gate of the church and saw Elder Yang Xiaojing, who lives inside the church. 

Elder Yang shared the story of how Christianity was introduced into the county in 1945. The founder, Rev. Henry Cornelius Bartel, in his 60s, and his wife Nellie Schmidt Bartel, both Polish Americans, were sent by an American Mennonite mission to China. They had evangelized in Shandong for years prior to preaching in Feng County.

Perhaps owing to the guidance of the Holy Spirit or years of evangelism in China, they eventually fell in love with the country and acquired Chinese citizenship. Regarding China as their second home, they changed their English names into "Bao Zhili" and "Bao Neili", and also gave their four sons (including a stillborn son) and two daughters Chinese names. Older generation local believers said when the Bartels left the county for the United States, their talking and wearing styles had been "sinicized", added Elder Yang.

During their missionary years in the county, they purchased an 18 mu (2.9 acres) piece of land and built 44 rooms in Shuangshipu. A church was built and named "Gospel Church". According to the church's historical data, there were 40-plus believers when the church was in its golden age. Strategically putting Shuangshipu Church in the county as a center, they radially expanded the mission fields to the nearby counties and built churches there, mainly funded by their American mission. A six-year elementary church school was also established in Shuangshipu where about 100 local children studied. On April 8, 1946, Nellie Schmidt Bartel died and was buried in the courtyard of Shuangshipu Church.

In 1950, shortly after the establishment of the PRC, Rev. Henry Cornelius Bartel and his children returned to the United States via Canada with the help of the local Baishuijie Church. Since then, the church was open on and off until it was forced to be closed in 1959. After China implemented the policy of religious freedom in 1983, Christianity in the county resumed services and gatherings on February 22, 1987. In December 1988, the committee of Feng County Three-Self Patriotic Movement was launched. Elder Yang serves as its chairman to this day.

In the Christmas of 1994, a newly constructed church was put into use on a land of 1.8 mu (about 0.3 mu), with a government grant of 100,000 yuan. One year later, it was identified as dilapidated due to the sinking of the foundation that resulted in wall cracks and an uneven roof. It was demolished in 2002 and replaced with a new two-story building with an area of 400 square meters (0.09 acres). During 2014 to 2016, the church renovated the main hall, built four more bungalows, and improved the safety conditions.

Elder Yang also told me that before the tombstone of Nellie Schmidt Bartel was put up in April 2006, in 1990, Paul Henry Bartel (also known as Bao Zhongjie) visited the county church that his father had previously pastored and met with surviving believers of that generation. He sent 400 dollars to the church in 1991. In 2011, the second granddaughter of Rev. Henry Cornelius Bartel, named Bao Shumei, in her 80s,  led 10-strong family members to honor their grandmother by sweeping her grave at the county church. Two years later, the eldest and third eldest granddaughters also visited late Mrs. Bartel at the cemetery.

Every year, the county church holds a commemoration activity to mark the female missionary on her birthday and death anniversary.

- Translated by Karen Luo

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