He grew up in Indianapolis, and she in small-town Greene, Iowa. It wasn’t until their work in China on behalf of Global Ministries –– the combined ministry of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and the United Church of Christ –– that Tom and Lynnea Morse met each other. Between them, they taught English to about 1,500 combined students in their five years in various parts of that vast country.
Tom, 26, and Lynnea, 27, started teaching in the rural part of south China, not far from the Vietnam border, before working north to Chengdu and eventually to Nanjing, along the eastern coast near Shanghai, for their final two years.
The Morses worked through the Amity Foundation partnership with Global Ministries. The couple visited the UCC headquarters in Cleveland on July 26 and spoke about their missionary work.
Located in Nanjing, Amity assists with rural development, such as education, agricultural and financial, as well as environmental and healthcare improvements. Though China has the second-largest economy in the world, its gross domestic product per capita is ranked 88th in the world. More than 200 million people live on less than $2 per day.
In China, even the number of Christians in the country, somewhere between 40 and 130 million, is disputed for political reasons. The Chinese government says the number is closer to 30 million –– counting only officially sanctioned churches –– and Chinese Christian organizations claim a total more than four times that amount.
Churches play key roles in Chinese society, the Morses said, with AIDS awareness programs, housing development improvements and hospice care. In some instances, churches in the countryside have as many members –– up to 5,000 in some congregations –– as churches in Beijing and Shanghai.
Tom said English is required in primary schools, but most rural schools lack trained teachers. Because English is a subject on the country’s college entrance exam, those students from rural areas who don’t score well on that portion of the test aren’t admitted to college, thus growing a rift between urban and rural education. Tom and Lynnea taught mostly college-level students, who would return to their villages to teach English at those schools in hopes of closing the divide between the urban and rural education.
In his final two years, Tom worked with doctors at Drum Tower Hospital, teaching medical English and doctor-patient relationships to classes, and translating medical literature. “It’s been one of the more enjoyable parts of my time in China,” he said.
Lynnea’s parents visited Hong Kong and her sister worked with Amity in North Central Asia. “I heard so much about it that it felt like a second home and the next natural step for me after college,” she said. Tom said he was interested in Chinese culture in high school and studied the language as an undergraduate student at Indiana University.
The couple hopes to continue missionary work with Global Ministries in the Pacific region after completing a master’s program in Norway.