This is the first in a series of three blog posts based on an interview with “Tim,” an international student in China.
Hi Tim, can you tell us where you’re from and what course you’re studying in China? How long have you been here?
I’m from Zimbabwe and currently studying mechanical engineering. I have been in China for three years. I’m one of the half million international students who have come to China.
How does being a disciple of Christ effect the way you think about your international student friends, and what sort of conversations do you have with them?
When I think about my international friends, my heart desires to have them all know about Jesus. I think of them as one of the reasons I am in China.
I normally have all sorts of conversations with them; topics ranging from family to school. However, I try to move all of those conversations so that I can share the gospel or encourage other believers.
What joys and struggles have you found as you've engaged with fellow international students about the gospel?
So far the only issue is that it’s not easy to share the gospel more openly. However my greatest joy is that there are some students who are willing to do ministry here and also that some students disciple other students.
There are so many opportunities to share the gospel either in the canteen, during trips or some fun activities and festivals. Most of the international students are open to talking to other international students about their struggles and desires. I am only disappointed that not many of the Christian international students are willing to share their faith. However, sometimes we do struggle to understand each other fully due to the language barriers. [In part 2 Tim shares how he overcomes this language challenge.]
I thought you came to China to do an engineering degree?
In my home church they said “Go and share the gospel.” But to me it wasn’t really my goal. But when I came and I saw that most of my classmates are Buddhist or atheist or Muslim, it just struck my heart—there is so much need here to share the gospel. And from that time onwards, I desired to let them know the good news that we have. So, whenever I see an international student now, my heart burns for them. When I have friends who are trying to reach other students, it also encourages me that there is really a need. And there are so few people who are willing to do the same thing. But if I can, I think I can help in some way.
It seems there’s really a need. But aren’t there lots of people in China sharing the gospel with international students?
I don’t think there are so many people reaching international students. Most of the people are focused on sharing with the Chinese people because they believe the majority of Chinese don’t know about the Bible. They think “Oh, most foreigners know about the Bible or are already believers.” That’s simply not true. Most of the people that come here are not believers. So you see that there is a group of Christians who are focused on Chinese, and yet they leave the unbelieving international students hanging.
What should the international fellowships here be doing about international students in China?
International fellowships need to train more students to share the gospel. And they need to encourage international students to look at other international students who are unbelievers. Most foreigners are focused on Chinese. They don't see there's a need among international students. There is also a need there. Train and equip them to share. [In part 3 Tim shares how international fellowships can be more effective.]
What could the church in Zimbabwe do about international students in China?
Churches in Zimbabwe could encourage Christians in Zimbabwe to apply to come to China with the goal of sharing the gospel.
Do you know any students who’ve done that?
You’re disappointed that most international students aren’t willing to share their faith. But you’re in an international fellowship that’s full of Christian international students, so wouldn’t they all want to share their faith?
Well, when it comes to sharing their faith, people have different views. Some think it’s a gift that you need to have in order to share the gospel. Some are afraid, because in China there are a lot of laws against sharing your faith. Others don’t have tools to share, so they need to learn how to study a gospel compilation and how you include it when you are just talking about random stuff. Others find themselves in a situation where another international student asks them about the gospel and they don’t know how to share. But one thing I’ve found very concerning is that most of them think it’s a gift you need to have. Like the gift of evangelism.
It sounds like for you being clear about the gospel has shifted how you see other international students? Is that right?
Yeah. Because when I understood what the gospel really is, that’s when my view of other international students changed. When I talked with other international students and I realized that even those who know the gospel, that they’re not really clear about it, it also struck me that there is need here. If people understand the way that I did, they might also be changed and see others the way I see them.
Do you have any final words or comments about international students in China and the gospel?
Even though there are not that may students sharing, I feel like there is a movement. People are starting to be aware of the need here. People are starting to want to share the gospel here. But I think the number of those willing to share is still a very small number. So there is a need to encourage students to have a willing heart do that.
Phil Jones (pseudonym) and his wife have been working amongst international students for over twelve years, both in their home country and for three years in China. They are becoming aware of the opportunities to reach the nations who have come to China. To contact Phil, email firstname.lastname@example.org. View Full Bio
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