Praying for International Students: A Season for Deep Relationships

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Editor’s note: Chris Morrison serves as the Area Coordinator for RUF International, overseeing the Presbyterian Church in America’s outreach to international students. He has been ministering to Chinese for over a decade, the last six of which he served as the campus minister for RUF-I at Southern Methodist University. 

Several years ago a couple of Chinese students studying at a community college in a small town drove more than two hours to attend the Mid-Autumn Festival party we were hosting. They heard we threw really great parties. That was a surprise to me because most of our parties, including this one, were pretty simple. There was no special guest speaker, we did not have live music, and there were no super fun games or activities planned for the evening.  

We had good food from a local Chinese restaurant that students frequented, and enough mooncakes to pass around and share with everyone who came. Those elements are an important aspect of showing hospitality to our Chinese friends and providing them an opportunity to celebrate an important holiday that most Americans are unaware exists. However, perhaps what attracted students to travel from another town was the kind of welcome they heard they would receive. There would be dozens of Americans eager to get to know them as they learned about and celebrated their culture. What made our parties great were not the activities or venues, but the people from local churches who jumped at the opportunity to welcome and befriend international students.

That was several years ago. Those parties are still important, and we still thoroughly enjoy hosting them. Many of the Chinese students and scholars we connect with love coming to the big parties we host. Yet, over the past couple of years, we have seen fewer Chinese students drawn to the large-scale events. While they are still interested in learning about and meeting people from their host culture, Chinese students are increasingly drawn to smaller, more intimate gatherings. They also tend to hang out with one another in smaller circles than in previous years. This has only been accelerated by the tumultuousness of COVID-19 and the past few months. 

Although it may feel disruptive for many groups to scale down some of their larger gatherings to welcome and minister to Chinese students, it may yield greater opportunities to build deep relationships with students. I don’t remember the names of those students who drove in from another town to attend our Mid-Autumn Festival party. I’m thankful that they felt welcomed and had the opportunity to experience hospitality alongside a large group of Chinese students, but my interaction with them was brief, and I never saw them again.


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This fall and the coming spring may provide the perfect circumstance to experiment with smaller gatherings. Due to the coronavirus and local restrictions, many of us may not be able to hold our typical larger events. Yet, as we are able to gather in smaller, more intimate settings, we can do so with greater intentionality.  

In many ways, it is encouraging that students are becoming more drawn to smaller groups over larger events. They are more interested in the relationship than the experience. They are more willing to be known, rather than having a myriad of surface-level conversations with people they may never be face to face with again. 

This means it will be more important than ever to have committed volunteers from the local church to partner with you in reaching out to Chinese students. In the past, church members that came to one or two events each year could help sustain the momentum of the ministry. That is becoming less and less the case, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. As you seek to enter smaller circles of students, equip churches and volunteers to engage with students in this way as well. As relationships deepen, it will allow for embracing evangelism as a process instead of as an event. It will open the door for speaking the Scriptures into their lives as those who bear the image of God. And it will create connections that will outlive their brief time here as an international student. We get to challenge those ministering alongside us to further embrace God’s calling on the Church to participate in his work of redeeming the nations by demonstrating biblical hospitality to the sojourner. What a tremendous privilege! 

Finally, as you prepare for ministry to Chinese students this fall, start with prayer. That sounds obvious, but there’s really no other place to start if we desire our Chinese friends to know the welcome, hope, and comfort of the gospel. Go to the Psalms and cry out to the Lord on their behalf. And, depending on your relationship with them, invite them into that process with you. Help them to see that the Lord Jesus understands their pain.

A recent BBC article suggested that many Chinese students do not feel valued by the U.S. or by their home country. What a tragic and difficult feeling that is for so many students we care deeply about. While we cannot offer students political hope for the U.S. or China, we do have a far greater, everlasting hope to offer our international friends. As believers, we are under the rule of a good and perfect King who stands ready to welcome international students into his glorious kingdom. The way we interact with Chinese students and scholars may look different, but our responsibility and privilege to invite them to follow Jesus remains. May you find great joy in doing just that this fall and in the years to come!

FOR REFLECTION

Can you think of any ways you could intentionally seek depth in relationships with internationals this fall?

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Further Reading

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The Internal Cross: A Pastoral Letter
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The External Cross: A Pastoral Letter
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Qingdao: How to Pray
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LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT IN CHINA

With rising pressure and persecution in China, there are two challenges imperative for church leaders. The first challenge is for current leaders to love Christ above all else, and not to stray into legalism or love of the world. The second challenge is to raise up the next generation of leaders, who will humbly model Jesus even if current leaders are arrested.

WILL YOU JOIN US IN PRAYING FOR LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT IN CHINA? PRAY FOR:

  1. Current leaders to grow in their daily walks with Christ
  2. Current leaders to shepherd and raise up new leaders
  3. New leaders who love Christ and will model him to the world
  4. New leaders to love and care for the church

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ABOUT LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT

About Shenyang

Shenyang is a city located in northeastern China and is the capital of Liaoning Province. It is known for its rich history and cultural heritage, including the Shenyang Imperial Palace, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Shenyang is also a hub for China’s heavy industry, with companies such as the China First Automobile Group and the Shenyang Aircraft Corporation having their headquarters in the city.

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About Qingdao

Qingdao is a city located in eastern China and is famous for its beaches, beer, and seafood. The city is home to several landmarks, including the Zhanqiao Pier and the Badaguan Scenic Area. Qingdao is also a major port and has a thriving economy, with industries such as electronics, petrochemicals, and machinery.

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About Xiamen

Xiamen is a city located in southeastern China and is a popular tourist destination known for its beautiful coastal scenery, including Gulangyu Island, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site. The city is also a hub for China’s high-tech industry, with companies such as Huawei and ZTE having research and development centers in Xiamen.

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About Chongqing

Chongqing is a city located in southwestern China and is a major economic center in the region. The city is known for its spicy cuisine, especially its hot pot dishes, and is also famous for the Three Gorges Dam, the world’s largest hydroelectric dam. Chongqing is also home to several historic sites, including the Dazu Rock Carvings, which are UNESCO World Heritage sites.

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About Nanjing

Nanjing is a city located in eastern China and is the capital of Jiangsu Province. It is one of China’s ancient capitals and has a rich cultural history, including the Ming Xiaoling Mausoleum, the Nanjing City Wall, and the Confucius Temple. Nanjing is also a modern city with a thriving economy and is home to several universities, including Nanjing University and Southeast University.

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About Changchun

Changchun is a city located in northeastern China and is the capital of Jilin Province. It is known for its rich cultural heritage and is home to several historical landmarks such as the Puppet Emperor’s Palace and the Jingyuetan National Forest Park. Changchun is also a hub for China’s automotive industry, with several major automobile manufacturers having their headquarters in the city.

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About Guangzhou

Guangzhou, also known as Canton, is a city located in southern China and is the capital of Guangdong Province. It is one of the country’s largest and most prosperous cities, serving as a major transportation and trading hub for the region. Guangzhou is renowned for its modern architecture, including the Canton Tower and the Guangzhou Opera House, as well as its Cantonese cuisine, which is famous for its variety and bold flavors. The city also has a rich history, with landmarks such as the Chen Clan Ancestral Hall, the Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall, and the Temple of the Six Banyan Trees. Additionally, Guangzhou hosts the annual Canton Fair, the largest trade fair in China.

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About Kunming

Kunming is a city located in southwest China and is the capital of Yunnan Province. Known as the “City of Eternal Spring” for its mild climate, Kunming is a popular tourist destination due to its natural beauty and cultural diversity. The city is home to several scenic spots, including the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Stone Forest, Dian Lake, and the Western Hills. Kunming is also famous for its unique cuisine, which features a mix of Han, Yi, and Bai ethnic flavors. The city has a rich cultural history, with ancient temples and shrines like the Yuantong Temple and the Golden Temple, and it’s also a hub for Yunnan’s ethnic minority cultures, such as the Yi and Bai peoples.

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About Shenzhen

Shenzhen is a city located in southeastern China and is one of the country’s fastest-growing metropolises. The city is renowned for its thriving tech industry, with companies such as Huawei, Tencent, and DJI having their headquarters in Shenzhen. The city also has a vibrant cultural scene, with numerous museums, art galleries, and parks. Shenzhen is also known for its modern architecture, such as the Ping An Finance Center and the Shenzhen Bay Sports Center. Despite its modernization, Shenzhen also has a rich history and cultural heritage, with landmarks such as the Dapeng Fortress and the Chiwan Tin Hau Temple.

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About Chengdu

Chengdu is a city located in the southwestern region of China, and the capital of Sichuan province. It has a population of over 18 million people, and it is famous for its spicy Sichuan cuisine, laid-back lifestyle, and its cute and cuddly residents – the giant pandas. Chengdu is home to the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding, where visitors can observe these adorable creatures in their natural habitat. The city also boasts a rich cultural heritage, with numerous temples, museums, and historical sites scattered throughout its boundaries. Chengdu is a city of contrasts, with ancient traditions coexisting alongside modern developments, making it an intriguing and fascinating destination for visitors to China. 

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About Beijing

Beijing is the capital city of China and one of the most populous cities in the world, with a population of over 21 million people. The city has a rich history that spans over 3,000 years, and it has served as the capital of various dynasties throughout China’s history. Beijing is home to some of the most iconic landmarks in China, including the Great Wall, the Forbidden City, and the Temple of Heaven. The city is also a hub for political, cultural, and educational activities, with numerous universities and research institutions located within its boundaries. Beijing is renowned for its traditional architecture, rich cuisine, and vibrant cultural scene, making it a must-visit destination for travelers to China.

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About Shanghai

Shanghai is a vibrant and dynamic city located on the eastern coast of China. It is the largest city in China and one of the most populous cities in the world, with a population of over 24 million people. Shanghai is a global financial hub and a major center for international trade, with a rich history and culture that spans over 1,000 years. The city is famous for its iconic skyline, which features towering skyscrapers such as the Oriental Pearl Tower and the Shanghai Tower. Shanghai is also home to a diverse culinary scene, world-class museums and art galleries, and numerous shopping districts. It is a city that is constantly evolving and reinventing itself, making it a fascinating destination for visitors from around the world.

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