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Going Home


Last week I had the opportunity to participate in a summit of local (Minnesota) Chinese-student-ministry leaders to discuss ways to help new Chinese believers prepare for returning to China.

Interestingly, a few days before our meeting Foreign Policy had published an article titled: “Leave China; Study in America; Find Jesus” in which it explored the growing number of Chinese students who are becoming Christians during their time in the United States. Pointing out the spiritual vacuum that exists in China, the writer noted that:

U.S. universities are the first places that hundreds of thousands of educated young Chinese are exposed to different religious ideas, and invited to consider them freely. Sensing an opportunity, on-campus Christian fellowships and churches have gone out of their collective way to help those fresh from China.

One speaker at our summit shared that as many as 80% of those who profess Christ while abroad do not continue walking in their faith upon their return. Probably more than anything, this highlights the need for those ministering to Chinese to be thinking much more intentionally about how to help prepare Chinese believers to live out their faith when they go home.

So, with the topic on my mind, I thought this would be a good time to highlight some of the resources that we have on Chinese “returnees” and returnee ministries.  

In December of 2011, we published a ChinaSource Quarterly dedicated to the issue of returnees. In the opening editorial "Haigui- Writing the Next Chapter," Brent Fulton writes:

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.

But why in the world are returnees called “sea turtles?” In their article, “Working with Sea Turtles,” I. Kam. and H. Bo gives us the answer:

What topic returns 47 million Chinese entries on Google search, more than half as much as the Olympic gold medalist Liu Xiang (known as the "king of hurdles" in China)? The answer, surprisingly, is "haigui," or "sea turtle." The popularity of the topic on the Internet, however, does not indicate a new concern for the environment or endangered species. Instead, haigui refers, in current Chinese slang, to overseas returnees, especially to the thousands of Chinese students who have completed studies overseas, gained some practical work experience, and are now returning home. The Chinese characters for "turtle" and "returnee" are different, but both sound the same "gui." With a little play on word, "haigui" was quickly accepted as the label for overseas returnees.

Leiton E. Chinn provides a helpful overview, including a very helpful list of resources in his article “International Student re-entry and Returnee Ministry: An Overview. “

In “Rebuilding the Walls,” Shirley Zhao gives us a first-hand account of here experience re-entering her home culture as a believer:

Since returning to my homeland, my life has been filled with all sorts of uncertainties. I faced a different culture, a different professional environment, a different set of values and traditions as well as a completely different religious environment. Thanks be to God for his help in times of need to overcome the reverse culture shock resulting from crossing time and space. He gave me comfort, rest and strength in the midst of ideology clashes. Thus, he enabled me to put my equipping in North America to very good use.

We also highlighted The Returnee Handbook, a resource published by Overseas Campus Ministries.

This handbook, available in both Chinese and English, is written for those Chinese Christians who are considering the possibility of returning to their homeland. It provides them with questions to be considered and the equipping required prior to their return to China. At the same time, this handbook is also intended as a reference for ministry organizations and church coworkers who care about the welfare of returnees.

Later this year, we’ll be returning to the topic; the 2016 autumn edition of the Quarterly will be taking a fresh look.

Stay tuned!

Joann Pittman

Joann Pittman

Joann Pittman is Vice President of Partnership and China Engagement and editor of ZGBriefs. Prior to joining ChinaSource, Joann spent 28 years working in China, as an English teacher, language student, program director, and cross-cultural trainer for organizations and businesses engaged in China. She has also taught Chinese at the University …View Full Bio


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