By Tyler Roebuck
Ruoxia Li and Eric Miller, Church of the Brethren members who are living in Pinding, China, spoke about their work at the Global Mission and Service Dinner and related insight sessions at Annual Conference this summer.
The dinner, led by Jay Whittmeyer, executive director of Global Mission and Service, also featured representatives from various Brethren missions and denominations located across the world, and included guests from Brazil, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Nigeria, Vietnam, and the Lybrook Ministries in the Navajo region of New Mexico.
Li and Miller’s work in China is centered around providing hospice care, and educating about what hospice care provides. The notion of hospice care is foreign to the Chinese culture. “People either go home to die or stay in the hospital receiving more treatment than necessary,” Miller said.
Hospitals in China are mostly part of a government-run network, and are only partially subsidized. Even with this subsidization and personal insurance, individuals still must pay between 15 and 20 percent of the costs.
Li and Miller chose this unique work in Pinding intentionally, basing it at the site of previous Brethren mission work in China. When the Church of the Brethren first sent missionaries to China in 1908, they landed in Pinding, in Shanxi Province, and established a hospital and church to serve the local population there. The original name of the hospital translates in English into “Friendship Hospital,” and the same word was used as a moniker for the Church of the Brethren in China. Li, a native of China near Pinding, became exposed to the Church of the Brethren in her adult life, and after meeting her husband (Miller) she joined the church.
Their ministry has posed several challenges that they hope, with time and patience, to overcome. There is little knowledge of hospice in China, and deep cultural opposition to the concept. The Chinese people who do become aware of hospice may reject it because of its Western origin. Additionally, many Chinese do not wish to deal with death in their homes.
Other challenges surround the costs involved. Many of the couple’s patients are living in poverty, and hospice care is not covered by insurance. The care is simply too expensive for some people living in Pinding and the surrounding area. There also is no cultural norm to pay for social services or psychological help, which presents Li and Miller with both a cultural and financial hurdle. The Chinese government, while neither openly hostile nor supportive, can interfere with the couple’s work, based on a cultural suspicion of Christianity and Westerners.
With all these significant challenges, what have Li and Miller been able to share? They have been able to deliver care to thousands of patients, they have visited the homes of their patients along with hospital staff, and they have celebrated milestones such as birthdays with their patients.
“It’s a very small start in a very large country,” Miller said.
— Tyler Roebuck is a student at Manchester University in North Manchester, Ind., and served this summer as a Ministry Summer Service intern with Church of the Brethren communications.