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ISM in Reverse in China?

Things are going backwards? Not at all! More and more international students are flocking to China – 489,200 in 2017.[1] (Contrast the decline in the US[2] and the UK.[3])

So what is “ISM in reverse?”

We know of “ministry to international students.” But what if international students themselves were the ones sharing with their fellow students, many from unreached cultures? This is “ISM in reverse” – international students doing this ministry to reach the nations.

Meet “Sam,” an American international student in China. He’s doing a two-year master’s in international business under a full Chinese government scholarship at a top-ranked university.

Sam, how are you being a gospel representative while studying in China?

A lot has to do with my friends and classmates and my program. I’ve gotten to know them over the 9-10 months we’ve spent together, loving them, becoming friends, and through that having good conversations.

What opportunities have you had?

In the last few months we’ve started a small group Bible study in between two classes. We’re looking at the life of Jesus and his teachings.

Wow! How did that start?

After getting to know many of our classmates and having several gospel-centered conversations, a Christian classmate and I started praying about inviting our friends to join a study of the life of this Jesus who we were always talking about. Many have come at least once; some every week with a desire to learn.

One friend, when first invited said, “I’m not interested in the Bible.” She hung around the edge of the conversation. She didn’t want to sit down, didn’t want to hold the book but she wanted to read a little bit. She ended up asking the most questions! Last week just before we met together she came over with the book in hand and said, “I have lots of questions, let’s get started!”

So, do you explain it all to them?

No. One of my classmates took the book of Luke home with her to read. She didn’t understand why the respected Centurion in Luke 7, who had done so much for the people, felt so unworthy of having Jesus come to him. But another non-Christian classmate explained to her, “None of us are worthy when it compares to Jesus, he is God and that is the reason why we are not worthy for him to come to our house.” It was amazing for me to see a non-Christian teaching a non-Christian the Bible and me just there along for the ride!

How has your connection with the international fellowship helped or encouraged you?

It’s been a great encouragement to be supported by a local international church here that has a desire to reach out to international students in this place. The many training opportunities have been great too. I’ve enjoyed the weekly mentorship, being able to discuss what’s going on in the study, what’s going on with my classmates, how to respond to questions. All of those things have supported and enabled me to share so much with those friends.

It sounds like it’s your job or ministry to reach international students in China.

It’s not my job, not something I’m paid to do.

So, why did you come to China?

I had done ministry to international students through my local church back in the US. I really enjoyed it while I was working and decided that a good next step in my career would be to do a master’s degree. But I was also looking for intentional opportunities to do that in a place where people needed to hear the gospel. I received a full scholarship to come and do that in China. All my expenses are paid to go to school here and I use that time and school context as an opportunity to share with those around me.

That sounds amazing! How could others be part of sharing like this?

It’s really been organic in developing honest and authentic relationships with people I’m going to school with, with people I live with, with friends from different contexts. That is something anyone could do. Coming from whatever country to study here, there are really great opportunities to learn and good programs, but also to meet people from all over the world. My classmates are from 20 different countries, my dorm has students from many places where the gospel is not known. China is an accessible place and it’s fun!

So, who should come to study in China?

If you know of ministry-minded students—or if you are one—why not do further study in China? Here there are great opportunities, lots of scholarships and great schools. But more importantly, the nations have come here.

Any final words, Sam?

There are people from every tribe, tongue and country here, and it’s really an exciting place to be. I think it’s very accessible and a great opportunity.

In the US, for every ISM worker there are approximately 1,000 international students. My estimate is that in China, there are about 25,000 international students for every ISM worker. And recently we’ve seen a dramatic decrease in freedoms in China. Are international students like Sam, who are passionate for Christ and passionate for the lost, the real “engine” of this ministry?

My conversation with Sam crystallized what I’d suspected was going on: ISM in reverse – ministry by international students.

As Sam spoke, his love for his classmates was unmistakable. Here was a Christian international student, with a full scholarship, doing a solid master’s degree at a world-ranked university, sharing the gospel and reading God’s word with students from all over the globe. Could that be you?

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Phil Jones

Phil Jones (pseudonym) and his wife have worked amongst international students including in China for over six years. Their passion is to see international students fall in love with Jesus Christ. Phil also serves as a Lausanne WIN (Worldwide ISM Network) Global Catalyst. To contact Phil, email Full Bio

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