The articles in this issue chronicle the development of a movement that has emerged concurrently in China and in the West during the past decade. The movement was sparked by a conviction–rooted in historical reality–that thousands of the Chinese students going abroad would one day return and exert a profound influence upon the future development of their homeland. One need only look as far as Sun Yatsen, Deng Xiaoping, or John Sung for examples of this in China's past. (For many other stories of Christian Chinese who returned to China and left a lasting impact, see the Salt and Light series, reviewed in this issue.) This conviction was tempered by the growing realization, which Kam and Bo discuss in their article, that, although not a few Chinese students had been professing faith in Christ during their time abroad, those who did return were not seen as following through on that commitment.
Meanwhile, as the numbers of those going back to China grew, more stories emerged that shed light on the many difficulties that returnee believers were facing. The challenges Shirley Zhao and Lydia Song share in this issue are typical of the obstacles facing those who seek to live as faithful and vibrant Christ followers after returning. As both their stories testify, these obstacles are not insurmountable, but they point up the need both for intentional preparation before returning and for the encouragement provided by a sympathetic community of believers back in China.
As more attention has been given to the role of returnees, both historical and contemporary, to the unique cultural distinctives that color Chinese scholars' responses to the gospel, and to returnee concerns such as reentry and reverse culture shock, this movement of returnee ministry has taken shape. Through the hard work and perseverance of many whose writing is featured in this issue, along with countless others, including the believing returnees themselves who are providing leadership in China's emerging urban churches while struggling to live out an authentic faith in an often hostile environment, new networks and resources are being developed both for returnees and those who seek to serve them.
Just as China's long history is filled with accounts of those who went abroad and later returned to leave a lasting mark upon their homeland, so the next chapter in China's development is being written by a new generation of returnees. Whether serving alongside those who are still abroad or encouraging those who have returned, ministry to the haigui is a vital task in the furthering of God's unfolding purposes in and for China.
Brent Fulton is the founder of ChinaSource. Prior to assuming his current position, he served from 1995 to 2000 as the managing director of the Institute for Chinese Studies at Wheaton College. From 1987 to 1995 he served as founding US director of China Ministries International, and from 1985 to... View Full Bio