Twenty Years of China Partnership: The Early Years

Editor’s note: China Partnership was founded twenty years ago by a group of churches who came together to work alongside one another for the sake of the gospel in China. Jay Kyle, who led China Partnership through its early years, tells that story here.


China Partnership: Why was China Partnership started? What was your vision?

Jay Kyle: In 2000, my family and I were living in Mexico City. Some of our friends were pastoring large U.S. churches that were changing their paradigms for mission work. I felt a good strategy would be to invite them to a different type of partnership with Mission to the World, the missions arm of the Presbyterian Church in America. The partnership would not have a managing partner; rather, each church would have a vote at the table. It would be an equal partnership, made up of equal partners.

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“When the churches gathered in 2000 to discuss forming a missions partnership, the question was asked, ‘What country should we focus on together?’ Mac Sells said in a strong, emphatic voice: ‘China!’…That was it; we moved forward! What a day!

Let me step back and talk about this journey from our family’s perspective. My wife, Maureen, and I were interested in helping the church in China. Growing up in Miami, Florida, Maureen’s church and family was continually praying for the spread of the gospel in China. For me, this went back to my days as a high school student in Manila, Philippines. I was involved with a group of students who set up a weekly radio program at the Far East Broadcasting Company to reach students in China. We spent hours praying for the church in China. Because of these experiences, Maureen and I continued to pray for the spread of the gospel in China. 

As I considered the partnership of U.S. churches, I spoke about China with Mac Sells, a good friend who served as missions director at Cedar Springs Presbyterian Church in Knoxville, Tennessee. Mac had a real heart for China, since his grandparents had served as Presbyterian missionaries there. While his grandparents were missionaries, my grandfather had served as a medic on a U.S. Navy gunboat going up and down the Yangtze River. Every founding church of China Partnership (and also those churches who joined later) had their own story of how God led them to get involved with the church in China. When the churches gathered in 2000 to discuss forming a missions partnership, the question was asked, “What country should we focus on together?” Mac Sells said in a strong, emphatic voice: “China!” I will never forget Mac “throwing down the gauntlet.” That was it; we moved forward! What a day!


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At this time, Paul Taylor had just become the International Director for Asia with Mission to the World. For the next several, formative years, Paul was both a colleague and advocate to help China Partnership obtain our missional goals. We are indebted to his service.

In 2001 we invited Carol Hamrin and Brent Fulton of China Source to give us counsel as to how we could best serve the church in China. Carol said she had woken in the middle of the night and the Lord brought three key thoughts to her mind. She counseled us to focus on: 1) large cities; 2) Chinese intellectuals (i.e. university graduates); and 3) to partner with other mission organizations and not go it alone. We decided to do just that. This encapsulated our mission and vision to serve the church in China.

In the first several years, we recruited workers from the United States to go work with organizations doing work in China. Eventually, we helped train church planters in China using a team of Chinese church planters led by Orlando Chinese pastor Ben Chen. What a team! Since each of them had started churches, they made great trainers for new church planters. Ben’s team held quarterly church-planting training in four large Chinese cities for many years. They, their families, and churches sacrificed to do this. They all did great work. Eventually this led the Partnership to bring seventeen Chinese leaders to New York City to attend a month-long church planting intensive.

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“Hundreds of leaders have been trained in biblical, gospel-centered values for new and established churches.

In 2012, I formally turned over the directorship of China Partnership to Chinese leadership. Since 2003 I had been interviewing different leaders to direct the partnership. At that time, China Partnership was led by a steering committee of U.S. church leaders and a leader from Mission to the World. Like me, the committee also desired a Chinese leader. Beginning around 2008, the Chinese leader who eventually became the director [he is unnamed here for security purposes] informally guided me in decisions I made in China. For years I did not actually meet him! When I eventually met him, I had a good feeling that he was God’s man to lead China Partnership. But he and his wife had to come to this conclusion themselves. We are so thankful that the Lord led them to lead China Partnership!

CP: How have you seen CP grow over the last 20 years?

Jay Kyle: In the first years, the partnership churches sent short- and long-term workers to live in China. We sent short-term summer teams to China, and our U.S. churches were involved in reaching out to Chinese university students in their cities. Our efforts to serve the church in China were not flashy, but we sought to be faithful to go where the Lord was leading. 

Since 2012, under the leadership of our new director and his team, the work greatly expanded. The gospel-centered ministry of China Partnership was directed by leaders in Mainland China, not by the China Partnership staff and board in the U.S. Hundreds of leaders have been trained in biblical, gospel-centered values for new and established churches.

CP: Tell me your hopes for the future of CP.

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“It has been my personal privilege, and that of my American church partners, to serve in some small way alongside our Chinese brothers and sisters. We thank God for all he has done, is doing, and will do in and through his Church in China.

Jay Kyle: My hopes for China Partnership lie in the present leaders of the ministry in the U.S. and in China. Their theological vision and mission are to go wide and deep with the gospel. My prayers and hopes follow their vision. They are striving to strengthen the main leadership in China by going deep with the gospel. They also want to help the church in China expand their ministry reach into many more cities. God is using the suffering church in China as his fuel to mature the Chinese church and expand its global reach and influence.

It has been my personal privilege, and that of my American church partners, to serve in some small way alongside our Chinese brothers and sisters. We thank God for all he has done, is doing, and will do in and through his Church in China. We are in prayer for China Partnership’s leadership as their team serves partners in China. 

I am very grateful for the American church partners and co-workers that have been involved in China Partnership. There were the early founders, and there are so many that I cannot name them all throughout the last twenty years. I ask their forgiveness for not listing their names; the Lord knows of their service and sacrifice. In doing this interview I am only their representative.


Jay was founding executive director of China Partnership and currently serves on CP’s board. He has been the Vice-President of Asia Pacific & Latin America for Redeemer City to City in New York, after serving in Mexico City for thirty-two years with Mission to the World. He is married to Maureen, and has three children and nine grandchildren.

Would you join us in celebrating 20 years of supporting the church in China by giving an anniversary gift today?

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LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT IN CHINA

With rising pressure and persecution in China, there are two challenges imperative for church leaders. The first challenge is for current leaders to love Christ above all else, and not to stray into legalism or love of the world. The second challenge is to raise up the next generation of leaders, who will humbly model Jesus even if current leaders are arrested.

WILL YOU JOIN US IN PRAYING FOR LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT IN CHINA? PRAY FOR:

  1. Current leaders to grow in their daily walks with Christ
  2. Current leaders to shepherd and raise up new leaders
  3. New leaders who love Christ and will model him to the world
  4. New leaders to love and care for the church

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