A History of Calvin Connections to China
By Phil Holtrop '55

Marie and Diane - click to view full photo album
Most North Americans have heard of the phenomenal development of China in the last twenty years. They have heard that no country in the history of the world has developed as rapidly in such a short time. And some Americans are worried. Given the fact that China was a communist stronghold a few years back, and that communism was the sworn enemy of the West, and that China has now close to one-fourth of the people in the world-what can they do but worry? The larger Calvin College community, however, is not shaking in its boots. It has seized some golden-and God-given-opportunities to establish relations with China , and is now eagerly looking forward to the future.

Much of what has happened in these last decades should assuage our deepest concerns. Every day we read of China 's shift to a market economy, of new freedoms for the Chinese, and of increasing contacts between China and the West in society, schools, and even churches. Of course there are many remaining problems, but after being closed off from the developed world for such a long time many Chinese are now eager to look to the West. Their government wants increasing relationships-or new "bridges." Within academic circles in China , there is a surging interest in anything that might have led to the economic progress of especially America -including religion, and more particularly Christianity. In every sphere of culture the Chinese are asking, What can China learn from the West to help its own development?

But let us back up a bit. Some Calvin College alumni, of course, were uniquely equipped to understand China even in the hard years from 1949 to the late 1970s-as well as in the 1920s, -30s, and the earlier 1940s. They left a legacy for other Calvin alumni and students to follow. The first CRC missionaries were Calvin graduates-John De Korne ('14), Lee Huizenga ('06), and Harry Dykstra (Prep '15, BA'27). They all went to China in 1920 and served with their wives at Rugao in Jiangsu province. Wilhelmina Kalsbeek (later BA, '52) joined the group in 1922, followed by Al ('20) and Dora Smit, and Sam Dykstra ('16), with his wife, in 1924. Albert Selles ('22) and Jacob Kamps ('25), with their wives, and Lillian Bode, took up their work at Rugao in 1926. Magdalena Koets and Grace Pels (later Holtrop, Prep '18, BA'34) served on the Rugao field in the 1930s.

The Second World War interrupted this mission activity in the first half of the 1940s. Lee Huizenga died in a Japanese prison camp a month before the end of the conflict, but the Smit and Selles families returned to China in 1946, along with Mss. Koets, Bode, and Kalsbeek. They were joined by Peter ('36) and Thelma De Jong, by Everett ('42) and Rozena Van Reken ('40), and by Henry and Eunice (Smit) Bruinooge (both '44). Ed ('45) and Fran Van Baak ('46), and Betty Heerema ('45), went to Rugao in 1948, just before they were evacuated because of the communist takeover. Al Smit was the last CR missionary to leave in 1951-and the CRC then shifted its focus to Taiwan . That was the end of mission activity in China , as well as of significant contacts with the Mainland for some thirty years. Meanwhile, the CR interests in China continued-as well as a small group of China experts, who had experienced China firsthand in their younger lives. They told their stories to a wider group of listeners.

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