China (MNN) — On July 6, Dr. Werner Burklin, founder of China Partner, passed away.
Dr. Burklin was born in China and raised by missionaries. His parents served in China from 1925 to 1950. Werner attended a boarding school in Shanghai, then another school in Germany. It was this second experience that drew him back to Germany in 1949, where he became the regional director for Germany’s branch of Youth of Christ. Later, he became the director for all of Youth of Christ’s work in Europe.
In the 80s, Werner connected with the Billy Graham Association and worked directly with Graham to plan conferences in Amsterdam. It was this project that first sparked a new area of ministry for Werner: leadership training. The conferences he held with Billy Graham specifically focused on preparing and equipping effective Gospel teachers. It wasn’t just about preaching; it was about teaching others to preach, too.
But his eyes were always on China. When China opened its doors to foreign visitors in 1980, Werner immediately began planning a trip. Back in China, he had a chance to revisit some of the cities and regions where his parents conducted their work. According to his son Erik, the current President of China Partner, “That ignited a new love and a new desire to maybe do something more back in China – his birth country, he always called it.”
Initially, his plan was to preach in China. However, restrictions enforced by the Chinese government made most public preaching illegal. Plus, the more he connected with local believers, the more he realized there was a different need; the Church in China needed leaders.
In 1989, Werner Burklin founded China Partner. He ran the organization for 21 years, and in 2010, he stepped down as President, at which point the organization’s board asked his son Erik to take his place.
“There’s something very special when [local believers] understand that I am the third generation now continuing in this partnership ministry for the local church,” Erik says. “I think there’s something to be said when you share your story as a family… the minute you bring in family into the storyline, government leaders would right away smile and they would get actually quite excited and amazed at.”
That’s part of why China Partner has always emphasized partnership. Their ministry isn’t about circumventing laws, undercutting officials, or talking down to locals. It’s about collaboration.
Erik’s father “did not want to do anything illegal in China. He always said, ‘We’re a foreign organization, we’re their guests. We’re not there to run anything, to control anything… We’re always there to serve the Church in China.’ I will be forever grateful for him teaching me that and showing that firsthand.”
Even though Werner is now with Jesus, his legacy persists. China Partner continues to pursue Christlike compassion, equip locals for effective ministry, and live out the love of Jesus within the Chinese Church.
Pray for the Burklins and others touched by Werner’s life as they celebrate his story.
Header photo courtesy of China Partner.