Why We Need Internationals in Our Small Groups

You may have read how Dawson Trotman, founder of the Navigators, called a guy he was discipling and said, “Come over quick, my wife and I are having a fight!” Trotman understood that beyond Bible study, we must also live life together as we follow Jesus; true teaching is not simply transferring information, but knowing and being known.
In most American churches, small groups are one of the major ways that peer discipleship and fellowship happen. We experience Jesus revealed in each other as we know joys and sorrows, eat together, serve, laugh, and learn. We begin to truly know others, and allow ourselves to be known. For international seekers or new believers who plan to return to their home countries, being wholeheartedly welcomed into small groups can be very powerful, even if only for a short time. Let me explain this reasoning using China as an example.

I recently heard statistics that radically changed my perspective. Every year 18,000 Chinese Christians return home from abroad. I learned from Stuart Bullington of OMF’s Diaspora Ministries that 80-85% of these confessing Christians never commit to any form of Christian fellowship back home. Most who hear those numbers agree that they are “game changing statistics.”

Those who choose to go to a Chinese church here in the United States sometimes have a little more preparation for return. For example, they have already learned how to pray in their own language. However, this alone does not prepare them to thrive. They still have little understanding of how to live as Christians in the Chinese context. Bullington cites the following as some of the major obstacles:

1) Returning alone.
2) Lack of training before return.
3) No (or inadequate) introduction to Christians back home.
4) No help with reverse culture shock (including church culture shock).
5) Workplace challenges.
6) Family opposition.

The Bullingtons, among others, are dedicated to understanding these challenges and helping equip the church to do something about it. While these obstacles are overwhelming, what we do see is that those who “survive” are those who are not only in love with Jesus, but take their need for fellowship very seriously. In order to take this seriously, they have to truly experience it.

As Stewart Bowerman, co-director of ministry with internationals at University Presbyterian Church in Seattle points out, “It makes sense to have our small groups be the returnee support teams.” These people can pray for them, check on them, call them on Skype, and walk with them through the process of connecting back home. Those going home most often need a support group in order to “survive” this major transition.

It takes a whole team of people with different gifts to support one returnee. And it is important for the returnee to know a group that sees each other often, encouraging each other to help their returnee and pray together for him or her. If we share our struggles and joys together with our returning friend while we are together, we feel safe to share mutually across the oceans as our friend transitions.

Beyond the excitement of seeing one believer survive, there is a broader vision for why this fellowship is essential, even if someone is visiting for a short time. First, we need international men and women in our small groups, both seekers and believers. Whether through stories or questions or teaching, a person from another culture can reveal Jesus to us in ways we would otherwise miss. As Abraham welcomed the strangers (who turned out to be holy visitors) and was blessed, so we are blessed when we welcome. Inviting someone for whom English is a second language into a small group is not always easy. But it is most often the case that we meet Jesus through him or her.

Second, with God’s power working through our brokenness, we in America have the opportunity to impact and bless the church in China by fully adopting a stranger into our midst. By welcoming them into our beautiful and broken community life, we help prepare people to not only survive back home, but help serve and lead in the churches to which they return in whatever capacity God allows. We help defy the statistics each time we go deeper with someone in true fellowship.

There is value for the returnee simply in crossing cultures on a small group level. If this can be a positive experience, a returnee can use the same cultural competency skills to adjust back home. This is valuable not only for the individual returnee, but also for other returnees adjusting and integrating on a deeper level. Once a person has been a stranger welcomed into “the family,” he can in turn empathize with other “strangers” and know how to welcome them. We ought to shift our thinking from helping a returnee survive to thinking ahead to the impact they could have as leaders in their families, communities, and churches.


Never miss a story

Sign up to receive our weekly email with our original articles.

Beyond these rather strategic reasons for welcoming internationals into small groups, I believe this is God’s heart and will for us:

“I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one…”   – John 17:20-22

May we be “one” with the church around the world, welcoming seekers and helping new believers even before they return home to continue serving and growing. May they have a chance to know and be known, and may they bless the church in China.

 

Heidi Ifland is on staff with China Outreach Ministries in Seattle, Washington. She graduated from Covenant College in 2005 and subsequently taught English at a university in China. 

Share This Story

Further Reading

henry-co-G0rae74NmvY-unsplash
The Internal Cross: A Pastoral Letter
Read More
hangjia-xu-3ZdSvOSlm4c-unsplash
The External Cross: A Pastoral Letter
Read More
billow926-ND4-6joi3t8-unsplash
Qingdao: How to Pray
Read More

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

Videos

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.

Videos

Stories from Shenyang

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.

Videos

Stories from Qingdao

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.

Videos

Stories from Xiamen

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.

Videos

Stories from Chongqing

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.

Videos

Stories from Nanjing

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.

Videos

Stories from Changchun

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.

Videos

Stories from Guangzhou

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.

Videos

Stories from Kunming

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.

Videos

Stories from Shenzhen

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. 

Videos

Stories from Chengdu

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.

Videos

Stories from Beijing

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.

Videos

Stories from Shanghai

give

A short message about partnering with us.