Ministry in China is not exclusive to reaching local Chinese. As explored on ChinaSource (in both English and Chinese), a significant ministry need exists in China for work among international students studying in China. Late last year, a group of pastors and ministry workers met in Hong Kong to discuss the needs of international student ministry and how to best support these ministries. The article below shares more about this ministry need and testimonies to how international student ministry is bearing fruit in China.
Meeting on International Student Ministry in China
By Li Zhi. April 2019
For two days toward the end of 2018, thirty-some friends from multiple cities in China, Hong Kong, and abroad gathered together, and sought God’s guidance for international student ministry in China. These included pastors (some from mainland China), professors, workers in school ministries, friends from international fellowships, sending organizations, as well as international students. At the same time, the hosts in Hong Kong were also exploring how to help this flame of student ministry burn hotter and better under their current conditions, as well as how to best support co-workers of the ministry in the mainland.
An international student from eastern China describes the background of international student ministry in China:
Beginning in 2003, the number of international students in China has been continually increasing. Currently the number of international students in China falls behind only America and England, therefore international student ministry has become especially important.
Those who come to China for school come for different reasons. Some students come because of the renown of Chinese universities, as well as their low tuition fees, while other students come to China to escape the discrimination and instability in other prospective countries. China’s Belt and Road Initiative has also caused Middle Eastern and African studies to come to China through government scholarships. The demographic of international students in China is completely different than the students in America and England. Most of the international students in China come from developing countries and rely on meager scholarships to study in China.
International student ministry is just beginning in China, and has received the attention of international fellowships, local churches, Chinese returnees, and international students.
A pastor from eastern China spoke from Psalm 96 and Ephesians 2, about how the nations and all peoples will worship God.
Since regulations limiting the freedom of religious activities have come out one after another, there is news from all over the country about religious life being impacted. But in the end, we need to sing laments, and we need to continue to sing a new song to the LORD!
Psalm 96, Oh sing to the Lord a new song!
Renewing all things: vv. 1-3
“Day to day” spreading and praising God’s actions and the grace of salvation among “the nations” and “all peoples” is never an easy thing. But Jeremiah reminds us in his lamentations (Lamentations 3:23): “[God’s mercies] are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” May we be renewed together in this place.
Surpassing all things: vv.4-6
We firmly believe that God created all things out of nothing, and he surpasses all idols of emptiness; his wisdom and power surpass all powers who stand against the true God. Thus, when we face challenges in our environments, we continue to sing a new song with the Psalmist (Psalm 19:1): “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.”
Judging all things: vv.7-13
We must “tremble” before God, humbly presenting ourselves as living sacrifices. Whether we are nationals or international people, we must respect one another and listen to one another’s experience and advice, and so build from different perspectives a complementary rather than a mutually exclusive strategy. Let us sing a new song to the “I am coming soon” Lord who will judge the whole land, the whole world, and all peoples. “Come, Lord Jesus!” (Revelation 22:20) In our ministry of one heart and one walk, we wait for and urge the Lord to come again.
An international student from Africa shares his thoughts:
As an international student in China, I came to this gathering simply for the goal of sharing some of my experiences in China and meeting some new friends. But having attended this gathering, I realize now there is so much more. I see the love many Chinese pastors have for international students, even if these pastors might not be able to be too heavily involved in international student ministry for some reason. Most of the Chinese pastors present have interacted with international students, and some churches have welcomed some international students, but do not know how to serve them. Clearly, God has already expanded this ministry to local Chinese churches. One of the Chinese pastors has mentioned that the future of international student ministry in China should be carried on by local Chinese churches, instead of having foreign missionaries come to share the gospel with international students. Because China is not the home of foreign missionaries. Only the local church will always remain in China. The Chinese church can work together with some international students who are already serving in China, and so help even more international students.
A pastor from northern China shared some challenges faced by international student ministry in China:
Since the publication of the 2018 New Regulations on Religious Affairs, local churches already have difficulty preserving themselves. Many churches face being dispersed or closed down. Even if there are still churches that meet regularly, they would immediately receive greater scrutiny if foreigners of different ethnicities entered the church. Also, it is difficult to reach foreign students. Even if we knew that certain schools had many foreign students, we do not know how to begin communicating with them, or how to invite them into our churches. Because of linguistic and cultural differences, shepherding international students is also a challenge.
Another pastor from eastern China shared how his church receives international students:
The church started serving in some international student ministries because of connections one pastor made. In the early part of 2018, a missionary from central Asia introduced to us 10 international students, five of whom came to the city we were in. They needed some financial support, but more importantly, they needed pastoring and care in spiritual matters. We helped them contact people and make connections, and through the kindness of brother churches, we helped solve their financial needs. But these students still needed our church to pastor and care for their spiritual lives. We arranged for Chinese returnee staff and local university students to serve them. Because returnees have a background of studying abroad, they can understand the students’ situation of living in a foreign land, and be able to better empathize with them and see to their needs. Because the local students are a similar age to these international students, they share a common language. In addition, many students attend the same school as these international students, they are able to more easily care for them, not only because of proximity, but also emotionally.
This meeting is the first meeting to focus on and discuss international student ministry in China. By listening to different voices, those in different stages in the ministry were able to share and exchange information. At the same time, possibility of future cooperation was mentioned during the meeting, such as how local churches might cooperate with international churches in China, or how to utilize international students who are already believers as a bridge to invite more international students. Local churches may also use their strengths in terms of culture, church venue, etc., to help international students adjust and adapt better to China. We look forward to meeting and communicating again in a year, to learn about one other’s progress in ministry. May the Lord help more local churches to see this need and take action.
For more information and background on international student ministry in China, please read “International Students in China—an Unreached Diaspora” or “在华留学生一群未能听到福音的 ‘散居者’”
Original Article: 中国国际留学生事工香港会议篇, ChinaSource.
Translated, edited, and posted with permission.
Are you enjoying a cup of good coffee or fragrant tea while reading the latest ChinaSource post? Consider donating the cost of that “cuppa” to support our content so we can continue to serve you with the latest on Christianity in China.