What Encourages the Making of Disciples Among Chinese Scholars in America?
China Outreach Ministries (COM) has focused on sharing the good news of Jesus Christ with Chinese for more than fifty-five years. Currently, we are involved in a strategic opportunity with China’s future leaders who are studying at American universities. There are over 300,000 Chinese students and scholars here, and COM has contact with them at fifty-two universities across North America. These top intellectuals are curious about the gospel and are touched by the love they receive from Christians they meet. Many become serious seekers, and some come to faith in Christ. We prayerfully work to prepare them to return to China as faithful and fruitful disciples of Jesus. Because of this great opportunity, we wanted to discover how God is touching the lives of Chinese intellectuals in the United States and how we can best cooperate with the working of the Spirit. I had the privilege of doing research in this area for a Doctor of Ministry at Columbia International University. The title of my dissertation is “Factors Encouraging or Impeding the Process of Making Disciples Among Chinese Scholars in the United States.” COM staff administered surveys, both online and in person, with over sixty Chinese scholars who came to the United States without faith in Christ and have since become Christians. These Chinese scholars were asked questions regarding what God used in their lives to bring them to faith, what obstacles they encountered, and how Christian workers either helped or impeded the process.
The information that came to us from these interviews has been helpful. The key element the scholars recognized that God used to bring them to Christ was the loving relationships of Christians who connected with them and helped them in a new land. The top four factors scholars listed in how they became Christians were: contact with and influence of Christians; involvement in the church; coming to America; and involvement in a Bible study. Seeing something in the lives of Christians had a deep drawing effect on them.
Concerning their interaction with Christians, the Chinese scholars we surveyed mostly spoke of Christian service, community, and changed lives as having the strongest impact. Biblical teaching and answering questions were also important. I asked the scholars what things in the lives of Christian workers encouraged them to be Christians and the top four responses given were: testimonies/changed lives; care and love; selfless help; and encouragement/no pressure. When asked what specific help offered by Christian workers assisted most, the scholars listed: sharing their lives/testimonies; answered questions/teaching; sharing God’s word/Bible study; friendship/love/encouragement; and prayer.
Scholars submitted the following comments in their surveys:
A postdoctoral researcher said, "...they [Christians] have something special. I want what they have." The researcher went on to say, "I want to be like Christians to be able to love others... I want to have the joy that Christians have. I want to continue my faith journey even when I go back to China and help others in China to receive this peace and joy only Jesus can provide."
A PhD student said, "I was deeply attracted by the church life and the peace and joy the Christians had. I was also attracted by how they lived in harmony with one another."
A scholar commented, "I could tell by the positive attitude toward life (I didn't know if it was cultural or faith), but the openness and welcoming smiles made me sure some of this was from God, as well as cultural."
Another said, "I am impressed by the attitude of their everyday life, the attitude when they are confronted with difficulty. Also, they are always willing to help others."
One scholar gave a direct reference to how the testimony of changed lives resulted in her conversion, "Other Christian's testimony and their new life in Christ encourage me to be a Christian."
Another said, "From them I saw the image of Jesus Christ. Without them I could not know God."
This reminds us of the power of God’s love in and through his people. To love our neighbor as ourselves as obedient followers of Jesus results in the power of God’s Spirit taking that love and using it to impact the deepest part of a Chinese scholar, drawing them to the true Source. God has been using the loving evidence of Christ in his people and the truth of his word to touch the hearts of these dear friends.
We pray for more loving Christians to join the harvesting team, offering this love that passes understanding to the 300,000 Chinese currently at universities in the United States. The harvest field is very ripe. We believe this opportunity is God's answer to the prayers and sacrifices of the great host who went before us in serving China over the previous centuries. This is a moment in time to see the gospel of Jesus Christ return to China in the lives of these who have come here and now return transformed.
But the needs are much greater than the numbers of people currently reaching out. There are more and more Chinese coming to our universities, but many never have the type of connection with a Christian described by the scholars we surveyed for my dissertation. If relationship and shared lives are so vital to a Chinese scholar's journey of faith, then we desperately need more people willing to make their lives available. Christians in university areas can impact the largest country in the world right from where they are. Churches can open their doors, and especially their community life, to these sojourners and welcome them in.
Making a difference in China can be as easy as making a friend. I believe we can do this. The love of God has been shed abroad in our hearts and we can be his light to our Chinese neighbors. We can welcome them into our homes and walk with them in the difficulties they face adjusting to a new cultural environment. We can simply be their friends and God will use it to bring eternal change.
Look around. See the opportunity. Seize the moment. You will be a blessing, but you also will be greatly blessed!
Glen Osborn has served as President of China Outreach Ministries since 2000. COM exists to “Share Christ with China’s Future Leaders” on campuses across North America. Previously, Glen served as a pastor in Canton, Ohio. Glen is a graduate of Glassboro State College and Wheaton College, and has recently completed a DMin from Columbia International University.