There’s been a surprise casualty from China’s decades-long economic boom: marriage. One year after instituting sweeping economic reform in 1978, the divorce rate in China stood at just 2.5 percent. By 2006, however, it had risen to 39 percent.
Recognizing the crisis, the Christian Broadcasting Network’s Beijing office reached out to Regent’s School of Psychology & Counseling (SPC) and asked for help to strengthen marriages in China. Before any action could be taken, however, the university needed a way to finance their involvement.
“The John Templeton Foundation is the primary funder of cutting-edge religion scholarship in psychology and a number of other fields,” explains SPC dean Dr. William Hathaway. “It is the most competitive funder in that area. A grant of this size and scope is rarely achieved by scholars at Christian schools, since many Christian universities don’t have the infrastructure or research programs to support that world-class level of research projects that the Templeton Foundation requires.”
SPC professor Dr. Jennifer Ripley, assistant dean and counseling department chair Dr. Jim Sells, and Regent’s director of advancement for foundations Todd Nichols created and presented a 21-page grant proposal to the Templeton Foundation, which awarded the university $212,814 to train pastoral and mental health counselors in China. SPC also wants to create lasting Web-based and print resources that can impact Chinese churches and the communities they serve.
“The grant arrives in February, and we have just under three years to complete the project,” Ripley explains. “We will work with Chinese partners to write a marital counseling ministry curriculum, help them train pastors in the curriculum, and measure the effects of the learning among pastors and couples who go through the program.”
“I congratulate Dr. Ripley and Dr. Sells for receiving the first direct grant from the Templeton Foundation to Regent University,” Hathaway says. “They were selected for a highly competitive grant to fund training and research they are doing on marriage and counseling ministries in China. The grant will allow them to provide groundbreaking training of pastors and church leaders in China to help them engage in a professionally informed, shaped, and Christian approach to marriage issues.”
The Chinese church is just beginning to develop with more freedoms, and marriage problems are one of their primary areas of concern. Regent’s presence fulfills our mission, creates avenues for current students to be involved, opens opportunities for Chinese students to attend our university, and unites us with CBN as collaborators around a common mission.
While China is famous for its Great Wall, this grant will allow Regent and CBN to partner to break down walls that threaten Chinese marriages. A Regent student, who is a resident of Beijing, will serve as a graduate assistant and project coordinator on the ground, while a local pastor provides training to hundreds of church leaders across Eastern China.
“We will be working with pastors and lay leaders in helping them be better trained in couples counseling and in developing programs that strengthen marriage,” Sells adds. “The grant funding will support the team who will be doing the counselor training and for the development of the curriculum.
But the grant only serves as seed money to begin the project. Additional funds are needed to expand and extend its impact. “The grant will only pay for part of the salary for the Chinese pastor/trainer for 15 months,” Ripley points out. “We will need funds to support that pastor for the final year of the project to provide trainings. Also, the grant pays for Dr. Sells and me to travel to China once to provide training, but more funding would allow us to return a second time and provide advanced training to church leaders.”
“Creating a supportive presence in China for the Christian church is crucial to maximize their effectiveness,” Sells insists, “The Chinese church is just beginning to develop with more freedoms, and marriage problems are one of their primary areas of concern. Regent’s presence fulfills our mission, creates avenues for current students to be involved, opens opportunities for Chinese students to attend our university, and unites us with CBN as collaborators around a common mission.”
In addition to praising God for His faithfulness and provision, Hathaway adds: “By training Chinese ministry leaders and developing a marital counseling curriculum tailored for them, the grant promises to have exponential beneficial impact on Christian marriages far beyond the three-year period when the grant project will be completed. … This truly is Christian leadership to change the world.”
For more information about Regent University’s School of Psychology & Counseling or to support its outreach to China, visit regent.edu/spc or call 800.681.5906.
Acknowledgement: This publication was made possible through the support of a grant from the John Templeton Foundation. The opinions expressed in this publication are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the John Templeton Foundation.