• 13 Jun
    Christian community is vital for Japanese returnees

    Christian community is vital for Japanese returnees

    Though from a non-Christian family, Akiko went to a Christian school in Japan where she’d heard some Bible stories. She came to our home for one Bible study where she asked a lot of questions, and seemed interested in knowing more, but was nowhere near becoming a Christian. Soon after she went to study overseas and I connected her with Christians—within six months she’d decided to follow Jesus and was baptised.

    Machiko also went to a Christian school in Japan, and heard many Bible stories. For the last four years she has been coming to our Bible studies in Tokyo two to three times a month. She now understands the gospel well, and said recently that if she lived alone on a mountain, she might well become a Christian. She’s attracted to Jesus, but feels she can’t commit to following him—at least, not yet.

    These stories are fairly typical. Japanese people living overseas often become Christians relatively quickly, but Japanese in Japan generally take much longer to decide to follow Christ. Why is this?

    There are many factors involved, but a Japanese friend once told me “Japanese people like to make choices that feel natural.” It seems this might be part of the answer. In Japan—where the Christian population is a tiny minority, and there is a cultural overlay of Buddhism and Shintoism—to become a Christian feels unnatural and uncomfortable. For a Japanese person, the reality of making a choice like this in the context of Japan is scary and can seem plain wrong. But for a Japanese person surrounded by many Christian friends in a country with a Christian heritage, it feels much more natural to decide to follow Christ. 

    As Ichiro, a returnee seeker, said to me recently “When I was overseas I had many Christian friends and I began to think it would be nice to become a Christian and join their loving community. But since coming back to Japan I feel like there’s no reason to become a Christian.”

    What returnee seekers like Ichiro need are Christian friends. Of course they also need prayer that the Holy Spirit will give them true faith that can overcome the desire to only do things that feel natural. But Christian friends, especially missionaries or returnees who understand what it’s like to live overseas, will help the process tremendously. Friends who will reach out to them with genuine love and connect them to a Christian community in Japan which they can become a part of.

    The Christian community here may be much more of a minority than in other countries, but the love of Christ is no less real and, in time, returnees can find a spiritual home in Japan. But they need Christian friends who will walk with them as they continue on their journey towards faith.

    Returnees who come back as Christians, like Akiko when she returns later this year, also need loving Christian friends to support them as they adjust to living as a Christian in Japan.

    Names changed for privacy.

     By Liz, an OMF missionary


    Will you pray for Japan?

    • Pray for Japanese people who have encountered Christ overseas, that they will find good Christian friends when they return to Japan.
    • Pray for returnees who have found a Christian community in Japan, that they will be active in reaching out to others who are struggling.
    • Pray for wisdom for missionaries in Japan in helping those who come back to find community.


    Download resources to help you pray for Japan.


    Learn more about OMF Japan.


    Find out about serving with OMF Japan.

  • 06 Jun
    Keeping the faith: from English to heart language

    Keeping the faith: from English to heart language

    About 25 years ago we were attending a conference in the US when a tremendous thunderstorm hit and everyone scrambled to get inside. It was only a couple of years after we’d come back to the States after serving for ten years in Japan. We unexpectedly found ourselves in conversation with a Japanese student who had been impacted deeply by her experiences with Christians at her university and through attending church services. She had accepted Jesus as her Savior.

    My husband and I shared from our Japanese Bible and prayed with her in Japanese. That troubled her. It was her first encounter with anything “Christian” in her heart language. She found it disturbing to hear the words “Jesus” and “God” in Japanese and to her the Japanese Bible seemed difficult to understand.

    It was our first encounter with a Japanese person who’d become a Christian overseas. We were shocked.

    After we’d spent about two hours with her we gave her our Japanese Bible and left with heavy hearts. We prayed that her faith in Jesus would remain the strength of her life.

    We still wonder what happened to her when she returned to Japan. Did she find a place in a local church? Was she able to believe in Jesus in the depths of her heart where only Japanese truly communicates? Or did she drift away because she couldn’t find her place in a Japanese church that knew how to welcome someone like her?

    This was, and is a common story. When they are away from their home culture and its pressures many Japanese are open to learn about Jesus and explore Christianity. But even those who take steps of faith in English or another language often struggle to connect with Christians, the church, and even the Bible in their heart language and culture. Many people who make commitments to the Lord while overseas do not follow through when they return home (some say it’s eight in ten people or higher).

    The key to making a good transition is discipleship. Ultimately, growing deep in Christ requires talking with him and hearing from him in our heart language.

    Ways we can help

    We were also in Denver, Colorado (US), when the Japanese Christian Fellowship Network was conceived and developed in the 1990s. That development has led to a solid ministry of mentoring, counseling, and discipling Japanese students in the US and Canada. I especially love to hear about their Equipper Conferences. At these Japanese-language gatherings, students are discipled and prepared to return to Japan. What a great way to help new believers and connect them with the Christian community in Japan when they return!

    In the same time frame, from the mid-1990s, the internet developed and has become a tool to help returnees. There are now myriad creative ways to help the diaspora returnees to connect with the good news in their own language, to find resources to help them when they return, and to know where there are churches and other Christian activities. These resources are available to everyone, everywhere, including those who are connecting with diaspora returnees.

    So, let’s not lose heart. I have seen so many amazing, creative, helpful things happen in the past 25 years to encourage Japanese diaspora returnees to move back into their home situations equipped, strengthened, and connected with healthy Christian communities.

    I also know that many have disappeared from our view. But, each one is known to Jesus and he is with them. Let’s continue to reach out to students and other diaspora returnees with confidence in the love of Jesus for them.

    By Beth, OMF missionary

    Will you pray for Japan?

    • Pray for Japanese people who have become Christians overseas, that they will be able to link into the Christian community soon after they return to Japan.
    • Pray for those who are part of a new Japanese Christian’s life overseas, that they will seek ways to prepare their friend for return to life in Japan.
    • Pray for churches and Christians in Japan, that they will utilize the many resources available to them to help returnees in their area.


    Download resources to help you pray for Japan.


    Learn more about OMF Japan.


    Find out about serving with OMF Japan.

  • 15 Apr
    East Asian Diaspora Infographic

    East Asian Diaspora Infographic

    Global migration has increased significantly in recent years and God is using these mass movements of people to achieve his purposes.

    In this infographic, we explore migration today, how the Bible shows God using human migration and how we can all play our part in making the most of the opportunities for the gospel presented by global migration.

    For information on local outreach programs, training for your church or student group and more ways you can be involved, contact your local OMF center.

  • 08 Apr
    Kunthea’s Story: From Cambodia to Canada

    Kunthea’s Story: From Cambodia to Canada

    Meet Kunthea – a young Cambodian lady who was sent to Canada by her non-Christian family to pursue higher education a few years ago. While here, she came to know Christ as her Lord and Saviour through the ministry of her Christian home-stay family. Since then, she has grown in her faith to the point that she found herself studying in a seminary for vocational ministry.

    Today, Kunthea has graduated with a Masters’ Degree in Divinity and is actively serving with OMF Canada in two churches. First in a Canadian (multi-cultural) church reaching out to international students. Second, Kunthea has supported a Chinese church in Canada by leading their short-term mission teams to Cambodia over the last few years. More recently, she has started seeking opportunities to encourage and build up the fledgling Cambodian churches in Canada.

    Kunthea is a walking testimony of the truth of Paul’s words about God’s purposes in the world: “From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us.” (Acts 17:26 -28)

    God is on the move behind the global movement of people in places far and near. The exponential growth of diaspora communities all over the world is not an accident. The Lord in His divine wisdom has orchestrated these moves through political, economic and familial factors so that more will “seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him”. In OMF, we’re simply joining him in what he’s already doing.

    Canada in particular is a land of immigrants, teeming with diaspora opportunities, both with those who plan to return, and with those who plan to stay. In recent decades, we have seen immigrant churches blossom and bloom to maturity, well on their way to becoming a strong cross-cultural missionary sending force.

    We see the East Asian diaspora communities as both people to share the gospel with and people who can go on to share it with others. With our history and experience in East Asia, OMF is well positioned to reach out to, and come alongside, East Asian diasporas all over the world by

    1. coming alongside them to help build indigenous biblical church movements within their own communities- this is especially important with the smaller diaspora communities like the Cambodian, and Thai.
    2. partnering with the diaspora churches to reach out cross-culturally – the larger communities like Korean, Chinese, and Filipino ones are especially ready for this

    To that end, the Lord has blessed us in Canada with a team that is currently 23 strong. Our team members are all “bi-cultural bridges” who can flow between the Canadian culture and at least one East Asian culture. Through this team, we seek to connect with East Asia’s diasporas all across the land – in their heart language and according to their heritage culture.

    Rev CY Yan
    Canada Director for OMF Connections East Asia

    Will you pray for The Task Unfinished?

    • Give thanks for Kunthea’s testimony and how she is now supporting churches in Canada.
    • Pray for God to bless her and make her fruitful in ministry.
    • Pray for Connections East Asia and all OMF’s efforts to engage with East Asian diaspora communities around the world to share the gospel and come alongside them.


    Will you pray for the East Asian Diaspora?


    Discover more about East Asians on the move.


    Explore how you could serve the East Asian Diaspora.

  • 05 Apr
    Building Bridges and Witnessing to God’s Multi-cultural Kingdom

    Building Bridges and Witnessing to God’s Multi-cultural Kingdom

    With increased migration and globalisation in recent decades, there’s been growing mixing of traditionally separate cultures. And there are growing numbers of multicultural people, whose parents belong to one culture but who have been brought up in another culture. And so they develop their own new forms of culture from a mix of the two.

    For instance, the “Tsinoys”, or Filipinos of Chinese descent, have emerged in the Philippines after years of Chinese migration into the country. Similarly, the “Nikkei”, or Brazilians of Japanese descent, have made their presence felt in Brazil after waves of Japanese migration into Latin America since the beginning of the 20th century. And in recent decades these kinds of trends have been increasing.

    The problem?

    However, this mixing of cultures has its difficulties, especially for the children of migrants. They find themselves caught between their parents’ culture and the culture they’re being brought up in. For example, the children of the Chinese migrants who settled in the West or elsewhere have to try and juggle these different cultures and expectations. There is often the fear or even frustration of being misunderstood, judged or laughed at. Their parents’ values may be very different to the surrounding culture’s. Which values do they choose to live by? What is their personal identity?

    A Solution?

    But there is a community of love that could be a great place to help them explore these questions and more. As the community that has been reconciled with God and with each other (Ephesians 2,14-16), and as a world-wide family made up of every nation, tribe, language and ethnicity (Revelation 7) the church is uniquely placed to love multicultural people and help them thrive.

    So the maybe the traditional view that churches and ministries should be based on ethnic lines needs be reconsidered. Perhaps ethnic-based churches aren’t the best way of representing God’s multi-ethnic Kingdom in an increasingly multi-ethnic society. Local churches and Christian workers need to reflect on how they can do this well for God’s glory. There is a place for international ministries to complement mono-ethnic approaches.

    There are also exciting implications for cross-cultural mission. Once multicultural people have come to terms with their context and identity, they can be excellent bridge-builders between cultures because they’ve:

    • learned to navigate the culture they’re living in without disconnecting from their parents’
    • been able to assimilate into their lives whatever they regard as beneficial from each cultural context and avoid those aspects which they find unhelpful.
    • found helpful ways of cultivating relationships across cultures

    An Untapped Opportunity?

    So multicultural Christians have the potential to be especially fruitful for God in our globalized world. But it often seems as though this potential hasn’t been fully understood. So how could they be trained and supported to influence the places they come from, the places where God will still take them, and the communities they currently live in?

    Hans Walter Ritter
    OMF International Director for Europe and Africa
    Diaspora Steering Group

    Will you pray for The Task Unfinished?

    • Praise God for the unique contributions of people from different backgrounds in ministry.
    • Pray for ways of making the most of the experiences of multicultural people to build bridges in ministry.


    Will you pray for the East Asian Diaspora?


    Discover more about East Asians on the move.


    Explore how you could serve the East Asian Diaspora.

  • 04 Apr
    International Friends

    International Friends

    Mission Round Table Vol. 12 No. 2 (May-Aug 2017): 40-43

    Claire McConnell

    Claire is the Archivist at the OMF International Center in Singapore. Before coming to Asia she taught mathematics and science in a Northern Ireland grammar school. She has enjoyed introducing many international students to her wee part of the world. She loves hiking—especially in the mountains or on the beach—and gardening.

    For much of my life I have thought about the desires mentioned in Psalm 34:7—“Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.” It seems clear that some of my desires were given to me even though I might have only expressed them to a friend and had never really asked the Lord for them. Other desires took a long time to come even after many years of praying. But there have also been desires that were clearly put into my heart and mind by the Lord. One such desire is the desire to care for those we often refer to as the strangers, foreigners, or sojourners in our land.

    The Lord reveals his heart towards the foreigner in Deuteronomy 18:18–19 where we read that, “He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing. And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt.” God further instructs the Israelites how to behave towards the strangers in their land in Leviticus 19:9–10, 33–34.

    When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Do not go over your vineyard a second time or pick up the grapes that have fallen. Leave them for the poor and the foreigner. I am the Lord your God. … When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not ill-treat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the Lord your God.”

    These verses are only a small sample of the passages that show God’s heart for those who are away from their home country, living in a strange land. He instructs his people to love them for two simple reasons. Firstly, because he loves them his people should reflect his character. And secondly, because the Israelites were once strangers in a foreign land, they know what it feels like.

    This heart for the stranger is something that the Lord at many times placed in my heart along with opportunities to work with him and others to love those who were living as strangers in my land.

    I became a Christian at a young age and not long afterwards felt that God was calling me to work in China. He placed in my heart a concern for people who lived far away in a strange land, a desire that they should know the good news about Jesus and be able to call out to him and be saved. In my late teens the Lord gave me the desire to pray and I was able to join a group of people who kept themselves informed and prayed for Christian workers in Asian countries, including China. That was in the 70s when the possibility of living and working in China was still unimaginable.

    On going up to University in Belfast, Northern Ireland in 1980, I found that students from many of the Asian countries I had been praying for were studying there. I was challenged and also excited. How could I pray for these countries and not get involved with those who were around me from these places? On my floor in halls lived some Hong Kong medical students who I quickly got to know and had great fun hanging out with. I joined a group of students from the Christian Union who with folk from local churches organised events especially for international students—“The International Friendship Association.” So during my four years at university I enjoyed the richness of living with and getting to know many Chinese and other Asian students. It was a great time to learn about their cultures, families, hopes and fears, and to eat and cook great food together.

    As we shared the same joys and struggles of life as students, it was natural to share my life with Jesus with these friends whether they were believers or not. A number attended my wedding. My university experience was my first real opportunity to meet and get to know people from other countries and I learned that they were just like me in many ways but also different from me. I also learned that just as people from my home country could be very different from each other, the same was true with people from other places. One further lesson was the advantages of pooling student and church resources. As students, we were living and working together, so it was natural for us to do things together and to invite our international student friends along to events. The folk from the churches had resources, cars, church halls, and friends to help with catering. They were often older and wiser and able to give us younger, enthusiastic students good advice. We, as students, were usually only there for three years. They brought continuity to a constantly changing student population. And the students enjoyed getting to know these locals and spending time with real families.

    After leaving university, I married and went to live on the north coast of Northern Ireland. For health reasons the door to Asia was closed to my husband and I but we continued to pray for Asian countries. Paul and I were both teachers and his school had a boarding department with pupils from Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore, and elsewhere. So we were able to support young people far from home.

    One young Japanese boy, in particular, stands out as he brought us an understanding of the pressures on young people in Japan to succeed academically. He had not done well enough to get into a suitable university in Japan so he was sent to Northern Ireland with little English and was not able to go home until he showed success. We got Eva Glass, a retired missionary from Japan, to help him with his English. Eva was able to mentor him and share her faith. He was able to share his struggles with her in his own language. He frequently joined us for meals and Christmas family gatherings. When he went to university in London it was natural for him to join the student programmes at the church where Eva had served after retiring. There he found faith and a wife! It was a joy to meet his father, mother, and aunt, who, when their son got married in England after graduating from university, came over to Northern Ireland especially to visit us. We felt we had done little, but for them it was good to know that someone had cared for and helped their son so far from home. This experience showed me the benefits of working closely with someone who understood the culture and language of international students and the importance of linking young people with Christians who live in their new setting. It was wonderful to see how God built on what he had begun in a small way through us.

    Looking back on my life, I can often see that God closes and opens doors for different kinds of service during different times and seasons. When the educational environment in Asia changed and fewer students came to board at our local school the school decided to close the boarding department. Thus another time of rich opportunities to interact with Asians came to an end.

    Of course the opportunity to pray for and support others working with Asians never closes. And through this time we continued to pray for OMF and for our friend David Strachan who was working with international students in Belfast through International Student Christian Services. One day David phoned to say that he had met a student from China who was moving to our town to study for a PhD. He gave me her address in halls and told me I was to go and visit her. Anyone who remembers David knows that when he asked you to do something you did it. I can still feel the nervousness I had when I stood outside the door in halls. What would I say? How would she react to me? But that was the start of a number of years of working with PhD students from China and their families at our local university.

    And so in the 90s, our home became a place for these students and families to gather, to eat and, to have fun, with everyone bringing different Chinese dishes. When newcomers from China arrived at the university, they were brought along to the next gathering at our home. Picnics, barbeques (often in the rain), and making jiao zi (with flour everywhere), highlighted the great times of fun and sharing life together. As I was at home caring for a young family, I had time to meet up with the spouses of the students to help them improve their English and later to study the Bible together. Each year we organised a Christmas party and dinner with all the traditional games and food. We invited our friends back on study leave from Taiwan to come up to our town and share the meaning of Christmas in Mandarin with our Chinese friends. The Christmas “Nine Lessons and Carols” service at church was also a great opportunity to share the good news as we followed the readings and sang the carols together. I realised just how helpful it was to have a printed liturgy or readings for those with English as a second language.  It was also a joy when some of the families started to organise their own events and invite us along. From the beginning, God provided like-minded Christians from our church and other churches in the area who enjoyed having the Chinese families to their homes, helping to cook the Christmas dinners, and organising other events. This was something God was doing and we were just doing our part—together.

    Making jiao zi with Chinese students

    But more changes were coming. As I went in and out of the university I began to notice that the PhD students from China were not the only strangers. There were more and more undergraduate students arriving from Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong, USA, Canada, Europe, China, etc. I felt a strong pressure from the Lord that we were to care and reach out to these strangers too. To be honest I was a bit overwhelmed at this prospect and not sure how it would all fit together. However one by one the people we had been working with began to graduate and move to other parts of the UK or Canada, return to China, or simply get jobs in the area. And so, as that opportunity began to fade, this new opportunity to reach out to a much wider group of students began to grow.

    It was instantly clear that this job was too big for one church or family to organise, we could not do this alone, and God provided the people needed to establish the new ministry. He first provided a friend who worked at the university and was prepared to put the time and effort needed to get things started. The idea was to work alongside the university International Office to link hosts from local churches to students who wanted to join the programme. We would match one or more students to a local family, couple (retired couples or “empty nesters” make great hosts), or individual and then they could work out together how often they would like to meet.

    I have always felt that bringing a young person into your home is both a privilege and a great responsibility as it puts them in a very vulnerable position. So from the beginning we were careful not to use this as an opportunity to preach or pressure the young person in any way. That is one reason I preferred to send the students in twos or threes so they might not feel so isolated and it was also easier for hosts to interact with a couple of students as one student might be quieter than the others or not have such a good grasp of English.

    We called ourselves “International Friends” as our desire was to provide opportunities for local people and students to become friends. Over the years many friendships have formed, extending to the families of students. Often host families were invited to graduations, sometimes to represent the student’s family who could not be present. After graduating and returning home, many students have come back to visit their hosts and hosts have gone to visit the students in their home country.

    While hosts were told to be careful not to put pressure on students, the students often asked about their hosts’ motivation for taking part in the programme and about their faith. Many asked to go along to church with their hosts. Events were organised so that the students and hosts could get together to visit local landmarks, take part in traditional Irish dancing—a Ceilidh—on St. Patrick’s Day, and enjoy a Christmas dinner together. This dinner was provided by a local business through their Christian ministry. At some of these gatherings we would have Christian presentations but always made it clear when inviting the students that this would be part of the programme.

    Christmas dinner with international students

    We built a close and wonderful relationship with the people in the university International Office who invited us to share at the induction meetings for new students twice a year to explain the programme. We also joined some of the induction events. In the early days, before it was possible to sign up online, they put our registration cards into the student welcome packs and helped to collect and pass these on to us.

    I write as “we” because from the beginning this was a joint venture between many churches in the area. One church could not sustain the number of hosts needed, as more than 190 students registered some years. Nor could one person undertake all the administration needed to match students with hosts, recruit new hosts, and organise events. Thus a group was formed with members from the different churches to share out all the work and to pray together. One major benefit of this cooperation was that the programme was not dependent on one person’s vision, or one church’s resources—a reality that has brought stability and continuity until today.

    Looking back, and at the time, I was certain that this was something that God had brought into being. He opened the doors at the university, he prompted the students and hosts to join the scheme, he gave the resources needed financially and in all the other ways. He gave us the opportunity to love the stranger and he grew that love in our hearts. So many hosts have testified to the joy they have had in getting to know these young people. Many of the students’ parents have thanked the hosts for giving their children a home far from home, and for being there for them during sickness or other difficult times. God has used these to bring some to know him or to open their hearts and desire to know more about him.

    With the changing needs of a family growing up I went back to teaching full time and had to move away from direct participation in the organising group, a difficult and painful decision. After a number of years of normal family life my husband Paul died suddenly while we were on a family holiday. And just less than two years later I married Walter who had worked as a missionary in Taiwan. It was he and his wife Karen who had come to help us with our Chinese students. Karen had also died suddenly, about six months after Paul.

    After we got married, Walter and his girls moved to Northern Ireland and a couple of years later he served as one of the pastors of the Belfast Chinese Christian Church. This church was very keen to reach out to Chinese students at the university and often had students come to their services which were held in English, Mandarin, and Cantonese. We helped to organise outings to local places of interest, Walter taught English and the Bible, and of course we put on a Christmas dinner. It was here that I really saw the importance of helping students to integrate their new Christian belief with their home language and culture.

    This was powerfully brought home to us one day when we gave a young student a lift from our home town to visit the Chinese church for the first time. She had joined the International Friends programme and had become a Christian through her host’s church. But in our conversation that morning she made a very shocking statement: “I want to do my Christianity in English. I don’t want it to be contaminated by my own language because that is contaminated by my home culture.” Not sure if we had really understood her meaning, we asked some questions and she explained, with examples, the negative feeling she sometimes got from reading the Bible in her own language. The words conjured up pictures in her own mind which distorted the meaning she got from reading them in English. We knew that this would be a problem when she eventually went back home and that she was clearly oblivious to the cultural overtones in the context in which she had heard the good news. It would be important for her to learn and study the Bible in her own language, and experience church life more fully in a context closer to that that which she would find when she went home. Otherwise the gap would be very difficult to cross. At that point she neither saw this need for herself nor wanted to make the move, even occasionally, to a Chinese church. She enjoyed the local church and, understandably, wanted to stay there.

    Our friend’s situation revealed a real tension between the desires that some international students have and some other needs they have but may not be aware of. On the one hand, they often prefer to meet up with Northern Irish families, improve their English, learn about the local culture, and visit local places of interest. This is good. And it is also good and often easier for local churches to reach out to and engage with students. But on the other hand, students who have become Christians need to prepare for the time when they will return home so that they can more easily fit into the churches that are there. It is therefore essential that local churches and ethnic churches work together. Chinese and other ethnic churches know and understand the culture and language and can support local churches by effectively communicating the Christian message and preparing students to enter the church cultures in their home countries.

    Reflecting back over my experiences through the years I can see that God uses many people in many different ways to reveal his heart of love to these strangers who have come to a foreign land. Christian students, whether in their home country or as international students themselves, can share their lives and their faith in a natural way with their fellow students. Church members can open their homes and lives to students and others who are strangers living among them. You do not have to be an expert in the stranger’s culture or language to show love, and it is fun learning about their culture first hand from your new friends. Simply sharing real life with its joys and struggles and openly showing how Jesus walks with you through these is a powerful testimony to our living Lord. Many of these folk will have come with all sorts of preconceptions about the Christian faith and God, whether positive or negative. Others will have absolutely no thoughts about these things at all. All need to see faith—real and alive—in our lives. And that takes time.

    Walking with foreigners can bring great joy, but it can also become a painful journey at times, particularly as we see dear friends return home, whether they have come to faith or not. And at the end of the day, some of our friends will embrace the gospel, some reject it, some misunderstand it, and others simply ignore it. After all, these were the types of responses Jesus got. Their response, however, is not our responsibility. Our part is to delight in the God who loves the stranger and desires people from every nation to love him and faithfully share that love with them.

  • 04 Apr
    Japanese Cultural Dynamics: Their Influence on Japanese Abroad and their Impact on their Return

    Japanese Cultural Dynamics: Their Influence on Japanese Abroad and their Impact on their Return

    Mission Round Table Vol. 12 No. 2 (May-Aug 2017): 36-39

    Graham Orr

    With his wife Alison, Graham served in OMF Japan from 1993 to 2011, and has served with OMF Diaspora Returnee Ministries since 2013. He leads the Dublin Japanese Christian Fellowship and teaches on cross-cultural issues throughout the UK and Ireland. He is author of Not So Secret (Nottingham: IVP, 2012), a primer on cross-cultural evangelism.

    Aki stepped through the door to Dublin Japanese Christian Fellowship one Sunday afternoon. Most non-Christians who come for the first time are shy and hesitant but Aki brightly announced to me, “I have already been to worship today. I was walking down Temple Bar and a missionary invited me in.” She used the Japanese word for worship, but awkwardly, as if she were not used to it. For missionary she switched to English. I nodded my acceptance with the non-committal, “Ah so desuka” to which she added, “They gave me a book.” She pulled it out of her handbag; thick and leather bound, it opened to double vertical columns of Japanese with chapters and verses marked with numbers. She closed it again to show me the cover with a gold embossed title in Japanese: The Book of Mormon. “Well done for going,” I replied, “would you like a cup of tea?”

    There are as many as 1500 Japanese in Dublin. This is the largest number of Japanese in the UK and Ireland living outside of London. Kaori came to a Bible study within twenty-four hours of arriving. She is the daughter of the pastor whose church we attended while at Japanese language school in Sapporo from 1993 to 1995. Her father dedicated our daughter Kathryn. Saori grew up two train stations from Ichikawa where the OMF Japan office is. Machiko grew up where we lived when pastoring OMF The Chapel of Adoration in Ichikawa. She hopes to go to the Chapel when she returns. I found out Aki came from Western Japan; she was lively and outgoing. Risa is from Kyushu and while in Dublin spent three months on an internship in the Czech Republic. I introduced her to a Japanese pastor there with whom she continued to study the Bible. Ena was from Okinawa, a place I have always wanted to visit.

    One of the first questions we ask is, where are you from in Japan? Having lived in three different areas of Japan, this question often provides a connection. Or maybe we have had others from that area come to the Dublin Japanese Christian Fellowship.

    I grew up in Yorkshire. I studied and got my first job in Oxford, worked in Japan for twenty years and now live in Northern Ireland. Even if you are not from the UK you probably appreciate some of the differences in culture between these places, often marked by accent and attitude.

    In Japan too there are variations according to region. Those from Western Japan can be more expressive, open, informal, and chatty. Those from Tokyo tend to be more reserved, more formal, and polite. Those from country areas are more conservative. City folk make relationships more quickly (but not quickly). There are variations in accent. And there are plenty of exceptions to all these types. Everyone who steps through the door of Dublin Japanese Christian Fellowship—or wherever you meet them—is an individual with his or her own personality, background, joys, troubles, hopes, and fears. However, there are (at least) three dynamics that shape Japanese people and influence their behaviour wherever they come from. They are: Group Identity, Deference, and Shame.

    Group Identity

    In many meetings, in a host of different Japanese cultural settings, a common phrase used by Japanese is, Wareware nihonjin wa. It is a self-reference, “we Japanese”, to explain the why of what they do. We Japanese are Buddhist. We Japanese go to Shinto temples. We Japanese don’t push ourselves forward. To Western-influenced ears this may seem an insufficient reason for a particular act. For Japanese, though, doing something because everybody else does it provides a deep-rooted motivation for action. It is foundational for Japanese living, for maintaining harmony in relationships, and for preserving their sense of identity as Japanese.

    If you approach the subject of Christianity in Japan, you will frequently receive the reply, we Japanese are Buddhist. There is no rudeness here. It is like me saying I live in Tokyo and receiving the reply, we live in Osaka. It is not an issue of personal conviction but of group identity. The implication is that it is fine for you to be a Christian, simply that we Japanese are not. We Japanese are Buddhist.

    Such a statement is made more complicated by the fact that few Japanese know the four noble truths of Buddhism; fewer still follow the eightfold path. When they say they’re Buddhist, they usually mean a family funeral will be taken by the Buddhist priest who will come and deal with the death in a professional manner by chanting in Sanskrit. Using the Buddhist sect the family has always used is more important than the religious content of the ceremony. Group identity surfaces again.

    At birth Japanese take their babies to the Shinto Shrine. They take their new car there too, to have it purified, kept safe, protected. As pastor of a church, I was asked to conduct car blessings too, and did. Kids are dressed up in traditional costumes and taken to a shrine at three and seven or just once at five if you are a girl. Everyone does it because everyone does it. If you do not do it as everyone else does it, there is an odd fear that if something bad happens, you might be blamed.

    Many weddings are white weddings, held in a church-y sort of room, with a cross at the front, and a foreign man dressed as a minister-like person. Again, there is not a lot of concern about content but rather a desire to follow popular fashion.

    Japanese society is a group society. It may be so more deeply than most others because of the many years of self-imposed separation and isolation from the rest of the world from the 1630s to the 1850s. This period distilled the cultural values of that day; values which persist despite the present, modern-day façade. It is particularly noticeable in the rigorous adherence to ceremony and ritual. There is death ceremony, indeed, many post-death ceremonies. At school there are all sorts of assemblies. In our children’s local primary school there was a pool opening ceremony during the summer term. Everyone was there. Everyone participated. The words read at the pool opening ceremony were the same every year. Within this highly choreographed structure Japanese find an ease, and a place, a group-belonging, an identity.

    I am often asked, what religion are the Japanese? I usually reply, a touch provocatively, being Japanese. To Japanese being Japanese means doing what Japanese do. This applies to being a family member, a company member, or a member of the class that graduated in 2004. Such group ties are felt strongly. It is the preservation of these meaning-giving ties that lies behind the second and third influences of deference and shame.


    Many of you will be familiar with the Japanese suffix -san placed after people’s names. It is often (wrongly) thought to be equivalent to Mr, Mrs, Ms, or Miss. The suffix serves a more important function than indicating gender or marital status. It indicates that I consider you above me. You cannot, therefore, use it to refer to yourself. Only others can use it to refer to you. For children there are alternative suffixes, but you can’t use them for your own kids. Between kids, you only use it for those older than you.

    For someone more respected still and when addressing letters, other suffixes come into use. As a church leader in Japan I also received a suffix. I was –sensei. Literally, one who has lived life a little longer. My given name, Graham, was never used, but sometimes I was Orr-sensei. However, most of the time sentences simply began, “Sensei…” Since Japanese don’t use the word “you”, but rather a name and honorific suffix, even in direct conversation with a person, you have to know people’s names and status to be able to talk to them.

    As deference is shown, verbs change and verb endings change. There are subtleties on subtleties. I could go on and on. My point is that Japanese show everyone the appropriate level of respect in everything they do from how they are addressed, to grammar changes, to the length and depth of each bow.

    Just in case we think this is easy and automatic for them, the following incident shows otherwise. My daughter Kathryn had a Japanese friend stay with us over Christmas. Her English was excellent, her German even better. I tried many times to switch into Japanese with her. She never wavered in using English. On the third day I said something about using Japanese and she replied, “Yes, but how polite do I need to be with you?” I had made constant comments that she was just part of the family while she was staying with us, but that left her unsure of what to call me if we used Japanese. In English I was just Graham. In Japanese would I be Graham-san, or Orr-san, or Orr-sensei?

    If you ask any Japanese person what causes them the most trouble and stress in life, you will receive a uniform answer: human relationships. I have highlighted one small area. Deference is required in all relationships, and it extends to all areas of life from pouring drinks of water at a meal table to what time you are allowed to leave the office after work.

    If a person at school, work, or church is a year older than you, it is their opinion that has priority. Yours is best left unmentioned. You do whatever someone above you requests. You do it humbly, without questioning. And you have the security of knowing that the person above you will take responsibility for you. Showing deference in all situations can be quite tricky.


    When Aki walked in to the Dublin Japanese Christian Fellowship, I wanted her to feel welcome, to feel like she was part of the group. We usually drink tea and chat for the first thirty minutes or so, welcoming newcomers, and catching up with recent news with others. When Aki arrived I didn’t launch into anything negative about Mormonism. Indeed, I actually praised her willingness to go. She had come to us showing the same openness. Any anti-Mormon comments would have made her feel she had done something this Christian group she was presently attending would not approve of. That feeling of shame would make her feel much less accepted by us. Instead of telling her what I thought was right or wrong, we simply welcomed her to join us and watch. She saw how we related to each other. She saw how we read the Bible passage and discussed it openly, warmly, and relevantly together for an hour. All that time she would have been assessing whether this was a group to which she would like to belong. The parameters for that decision would be the quality of the inter-personal relationships more than the content of the study.

    Afterwards, over more tea, I gently added a sentence or two explaining that Mormonism is not considered part of the historical Christian church. Even in saying that I smoothed it over with it’s fine if you want to go there, and set the whole conversation in a wider context of explaining church denominations in Ireland. It was deliberately indirect.

    Aki came back the next month, began to attend the Bible studies between monthly meetings and visited us in Northern Ireland for a few days as well. She became a fully-involved and greatly-appreciated member of the group. She never went back to the Mormons, though I do wonder what she did with the book. I don’t ask of course because that would probably embarrass her.

    My task in welcoming her was to show deference to her for her actions without necessarily condoning the actions themselves. At some point during the year, she must have worked out for herself the rights and wrongs of going to Mormon services and because it was all handled indirectly she did not lose face and could enjoy being part of Dublin Japanese Christian Fellowship.

    It may seem to western-influenced minds that Japanese avoid dealing with issues when in actual fact they are choosing to deal with them indirectly and invisibly to save public face. When I first lived in Japan, I was hired by a language school in Sendai that made out my contract on two sheets of paper. At the regional immigration office the school’s business manager submitted the top page that fulfilled immigration requirements and omitted the second sheet that did not comply with requirements. I saw what I thought was going on and told the immigration officer it was a lie. I was a young, naïve Westerner who didn’t understand what was going on! I caused the business manager huge embarrassment when all he was trying to do was to help me get a job. In retrospect I can see that the business manager was showing deference to required form and both he and the immigration officer would have known what was going on indirectly but neither could say without causing shame to both sides, embarrassment, and a breakdown in relations.

    Deference is shown in all public relations to preserve the harmony of the group, while the underlying private communications are surmised, discerned, and guessed at but never mentioned. When these unspoken codes of conduct are not followed, relationships break and cannot be mended. If someone is found to be involved in a financial scandal at a company, they resign. They remove themselves from the group in shame for having let the company down publicly, and the whole group feels shame that one of their group has been found out publicly. Often the boss also resigns in order to take responsibility for the group’s shame.

    All is well as long as the public face is preserved. No one thinks financial mismanagement is not actually happening. The problem, and the accompanying shame, only arises when it comes out and public face is damaged.

    How do these dynamics influence Japanese when they travel and live abroad?

    Dublin Japanese Christian Fellowship

    Japanese Abroad

    In my own context of the UK and Ireland, most Japanese who come to Dublin Japanese Christian Fellowship are on working holiday visas for one year. They are mostly women in their late twenties. In addition, there are two or three families on business and one or two undergraduates. Each has different reasons for being abroad, but a common one we hear is exhaustion and fatigue from an over-choreographed, conformist lifestyle. Aki had been working from 7:00 AM to 12:00 PM every day, seven days a week, as a primary school teacher and was worn out. She wanted to escape for a while to recover and reconsider her career choices. Some are asking deeper questions—what is life about? Who should I marry? What does the future hold?

    We have found these young Japanese living abroad to be more open to Christian influence than their contemporaries in Tokyo, but not to a rushed “four spiritual laws” type of approach. The key reason for such openness is their loss of identity. They are no longer part of a group, not among a large number of fellow Japanese, not among their school friends or workmates. They are dislocated from their normal way of obtaining and maintaining their identity. After settling in for a few months, this cultural lost-ness provides them an opportunity to learn. They begin to ask, where do I belong?

    The first consequence of this cultural dynamic of group identity is that Japanese abroad are very eager to belong to a group, as Aki’s story well illustrates. The Japanese pastor who trained me explained that for Japanese belonging precedes believing. I disagreed strongly at the time, but have found it invariably to be true. Japanese ease themselves into a group slowly, with care. Once they feel part of the group, accepted, and secure, they are able to explore deeper issues such as what is true while being supported by the new relationships they have built.

    The second consequence of these dynamics when Japanese live abroad is that they will defer to your opinion for the sake of your friendship and membership in your circle of friends. When abroad, Japanese are loosed, to a degree, from the groupthink ties of their culture, but they do not cease to be Japanese. They will show you respect and defer to your opinions, especially if you are older than they are. They will rarely say “no”, and “yes” denotes a nodding participation in the conversation, not wholehearted agreement.

    In my first position as staff in a large Japanese church, with still very limited language, I had to answer the church telephone. My side of the conversation would be: “Hai”, “Hai”, “Hai” ten or fifteen times, with bows (yes, even on the telephone). I would put the phone down but have no idea who called, what they wanted, or even who to tell about it. Hai is a versatile response, sometimes meaning I am on the other end of this conversation, sometimes I get what you are saying (though I don’t necessarily agree), and sometimes it can mean “yes, I agree with you.” It all depends on how you say it. It is a much broader and neutral response than an English “yes”.

    Once or twice a year I find an email in my inbox saying how in some UK city church, four or five Japanese have believed and asking what should the church do? While I delight in local churches having such contact with Japanese, I have first to peel back the layers of what has gone on and usually find that in answer to the major questions of belief such as, “Do you believe Jesus is the Son of God? Do you believe he died for your sins?” Japanese have answered, “yes” (thinking it an English equivalent to hai) because they want to belong and want on-going friendship and do not want to upset kind and generous hosts. My advice to delighted Bible study leaders and pastors is “Don’t take ‘yes’ for an answer.”

    In the first few months abroad Japanese are disoriented and respond warmly to friendship and encouragement. Welcome them to your circle of friends. Since UK culture is less expectation laden than Japanese, and Irish culture expects even less, Japanese find an increased sense of freedom. Unfortunately, it is a sense of freedom that will hunt them down when they return home.

    Returning to Japan

    Every one of those on working holiday visas in Dublin will return to Japan. Undergraduates too. Businessmen too. They may be abroad a year, or two, or maybe as long as five, but almost every single person returns to Japan. And has a shock.

    While working in OMF The Chapel of Adoration we learnt that Japanese come to faith in Christ in quite large numbers when abroad. As many as a quarter of church members were returnees. But three in four of those Japanese who have become Christians abroad struggle to keep their faith on return. There are many reasons: inadequate understanding of what it means to become a Christian out of deference to over-eager preachers, a lack of discipleship in local churches, and unfamiliarity with Japanese Christian language. However, the most common (and tragic) reason is simply being unaware of how difficult and different Japan will feel on their return.

    Their freedom from the requirements of Japanese cultural groupthink is often central to their finding a new identity and faith in Jesus, baptism, and membership in a church. On returning to Japan they are dislocated (again) from this new group and struggle to relocate themselves in the Japanese church. They expect it to be just like the church they have come to know abroad, which it rarely is. Their experience away, the lessons they have learnt, and the new values they have adopted are often contrary to Japanese expectations (even church expectations!) and when they live out their foreign-learnt values at work and in church, they find themselves behaving very differently from their colleagues. By not showing deference to those around them, by not fitting in, returnees quickly find themselves outside of the group, with its accompanying shame.

    To avoid such mishaps, we take time to prepare those returning and try to help those who work with Japanese in other cities to do the same. Without such preparation, Japanese get back home and find they don’t belong in the culture, and even more shockingly to them, they don’t belong in the church either.

    This is a complex issue with which to grapple. I have found material published by Friends International UK to be well written and universally helpful. In particular the booklet, Think Home and their Bible discussions for international students, The ID Course. I have translated the latter into Japanese to allow those working with international students across the UK to use it in conjunction with the English version.

    Aki returned to Japan in January wanting to be involved in educational reform but didn’t take up an offer to work at her former primary school. In May I came home from a conference to find Aki was staying with us overnight. She had come back to Ireland for a week and travelled up to see us. She said she missed speaking English, had found Irish people so friendly, and that she wanted to come back to Dublin—which she called her second home. She has been granted another working holiday visa, this time for Denmark, where she hopes to do further study. In July, to everyone’s delight, she appeared again in Dublin, for a week this time, accompanied by her mother. She is, however, showing signs that she is struggling to settle back into life in Japan.

    Will her continued search for identity and significance lead her to a lasting relationship with Christ and an assurance that she is an integral part of God’s people? Will local Christians and overseas Japanese Christians and Japanese Christians at home welcome her and include her in their circle until she discovers she is a part of it? Will her unspoken questions about group identity be supplemented by questions about her identity before her Creator and what he has done through Jesus? It may well be that God is using her overseas experience to extend his love to her so that she will find a lasting identity. With great hope that God is leading many out of their native cultural setting so they can find him, we work to lead Japanese to faith in Jesus, disciple them in Christian truth, prepare them to return home as changed individuals, encourage them to integrate into a church upon their return, and to make an impact there as witnesses for Christ.

    Resources for Returnee Ministry


  • 04 Apr
    Preparing Diaspora Converts for their Return to East Asia

    Preparing Diaspora Converts for their Return to East Asia

    Mission Round Table Vol. 12 No. 2 (May-Aug 2017): 26-30

    Stuart Bullington

    Dr. Stuart Bullington served as a missionary in East Asia for nearly eleven years, where he ministered among Christian returnees and evangelised young people preparing to study in Western countries. He and his wife Beth now serve with OMF’s Chinese Diaspora Returnee Ministries field in Sheffield, UK.

    East Asians who convert to the Christian faith while living abroad face a unique challenge—after returning home they will need to live as Christians in a context that is very different from the one in which they came to faith. Not only will the home context be different, it will be many times more difficult.

    In the early decades (1950s–80s) of international student ministry in the West, this reality was often ignored. The emphasis was on welcoming and extending hospitality to foreign students, with little thought given to the future prospects for those who came to faith in Christ.

    Since the 1990s, however, as communications and ease of travel have improved, the full measure of the challenges new converts face in the East has been seen more clearly. Anecdotal evidence gathered in the author’s interviews with international student workers in 2010 indicated that a mass defection was taking place among returnees in China every year: 75 to 85 percent of those who had attended Christian meetings as students in the West never met with Christians in China, and thus fell away from the faith. In Japan informed sources have indicated that the defection rate is even higher.

    This article will focus on the thousands of East Asian young people, especially the Mainland Chinese, who study at the university level in Western countries (USA, UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Germany, Netherlands, etc.). It must be kept in mind, however, that the East Asian diaspora population is much larger, more widely distributed, and more diverse than this.[1]

    Returnee challenges: A brief overview

    Why is it that so many returnees are falling away? Why are we losing so many promising Chinese young people, for example, when they return to China? The change of context, already mentioned, is clearly the major factor. But we can be more specific than that. The following list provides a brief sketch of the kinds of challenges diaspora Chinese converts face upon their return.

    Isolation, Identity, and Culture Shock[2]

    Going home alone: From the moment a homeward-bound student boards the plane, all social support for his or her Christian faith is gone. The free dinners, outings, picnics, fun activities, and cross-cultural friendships that the student once enjoyed in Christian groups overseas have come to an end. Isolation immediately begins to take its toll.

    For some students, there is a strong association between experiences in the West and the Christian faith and it can be hard to separate the two. This is especially true for those whose entire Christian experience has been in English. Having never discovered what it means to be a Chinese Christian, the students may unconsciously presume that leaving the West means leaving Christianity behind.

    Adjusting once more to the traffic, noise, and crowded conditions of China may take some time. Some returnees now have concerns about food safety and the health effects of China’s air and water pollution, even if they never had these concerns before.

    Re-entry (or reverse) culture shock begins to set in. This is usually unexpected, and can last from about six months to one year (or even longer). Returnees may struggle with feelings of not belonging and not fitting in. They may experience deep feelings of loss and “homesickness” for the host country. Since these feelings are not understood or appreciated by friends and relatives who have never left home, the returnees tend to withdraw and dream about going overseas again. Many find that their feelings are only understood by other returnees.


    For some, returning home means moving back in with parents and other family members. Every movement is under parental scrutiny. The freedom, privacy, independence, and personal space that students enjoyed overseas are gone.

    Traditional Chinese families that practice ancestor worship or temple rituals will often expect or demand that their children participate. For new believers who are not prepared to negotiate their way through this conflict, the pressure can be intense and the result is often capitulation.

    Female students, especially, may face pressure from their parents to marry non-Christians after they return. This can be very difficult to resist, especially when there are no eligible Christian men. Marrying a non-Christian, however, will make it difficult, if not impossible, to practice the Christian faith.


    Finding a job is usually not as easy as returnees expect. They often discover that there is intense competition for any job opening. This may predispose them to accept the first job that is offered. If they succeed in finding a job, they may immediately be faced with crushing and brutally long hours at work on top of a long commute. Chronic exhaustion can become a way of life.

    The Chinese workplace often leads Christians into moral and ethical compromise. Cheating, lying to customers, bribery, corruption, kickbacks, tax evasion, false accounting, and alcohol abuse are often the norm. Employees may get fired because of failure to go along with these practices.

    Financial pressures to buy a house, or to repay relatives for financing their overseas education, may drive returnees to seek the highest-paying positions, regardless of the personal consequences or cost to their spiritual lives.


    When returnees try to get involved in Chinese churches, they often discover that it is not easy. For those who do not live in the large cities or prefer not to join the registered Three-Self Church it may be difficult to locate a house church, since many are not registered and meet in undisclosed locations. Members of these churches have learned to be cautious after years of persecution, and newcomers may feel that they are not very welcoming. Returnees who attend house churches may also notice an often huge gap in age, education, and social status between themselves and the church members, which can make it hard for them to make friends or feel that they belong.

    They often search for a church just like the one they attended while overseas, but of course it is impossible to find—there is no church like that in China. And so, after visiting two or three churches, they just give up.

    Returnees may also be concerned about the possibility of trouble with the authorities or career repercussions from attending Christian gatherings.

    In cities where returnee fellowships exist, newly arrived returnees will often find a warm welcome. But these groups can be hard to find and many returnees do not even know they exist.

    Given all of the challenges they face, there is little chance that Christian returnees will make it on their own. Their only chance of surviving as practicing Christians is to join a close-knit faith community which, as we have just noted, presents its own set of challenges.

    Reducing the numbers of those who fall away

    Is there anything that we can do in Western host countries to reduce the defection rate among returnees? The options for intervention fall into two general areas:

    1. Pre-return preparation
    2. Post-return connection to churches and returnee fellowships in East Asia

    In this article we will focus on the first area—doing a better job of preparing new converts for their return. We will take it as a working hypothesis that pre-return preparation can be effective in reducing the rate of returnee defection.

    But what, in practice, does pre-return preparation consist of? Or, given the fact that many diaspora field workers are already involved in some form of Bible study and discipleship training with East Asian students, perhaps we can ask the question in a different way: “What kind of discipleship training can we give students to make it less likely that they will fall away as returnees?”

    We offer the following five suggestions as to how this might be done:

    1. Turn believers into doers

    The New Testament depicts a true disciple of Jesus as a doer, one who abides in his word and translates faith into action (John 8:31). Disciples are believers, to be sure, but a fully biblical response to Christ does not end with belief, as all too many have defined it, that is, a mental assent to certain doctrines. Instead, in the biblical disciple’s life there is a seamless and natural expression of faith in ways that other people can see and experience: good behaviour, good works, right living, actions that put the fruit of the Spirit on display before a watching world.

    The New Testament always assumes that there will be this kind of harmonious integration between the disciple’s inward faith and outward action, a consistency between the inner life and the public persona.

    In John 13, after washing the disciples’ feet and commanding them to follow his example, Jesus tells them, “If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them” (John 13:17). Tellingly, the blessing comes, not in the knowing, but in the doing. It is only the true disciple, the practitioner, who discovers the blessing that lies, dormant but waiting, in the word of God.

    James 1:22–25 is another passage that addresses the question of this integration of faith and action directly.

    Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do. (NIV)

    James sees any attempt to separate believing from doing as an aberration that requires correction! Listening to God’s word should naturally lead to doing what it says, and those who do this will “be blessed in what they do.” Apparently James apprehended, even among the earliest Christians, a tendency to substitute mental assent for wholehearted obedience.

    The New Testament also includes doing as a critical factor in the disciple’s witness to the world. Matthew 5:16 is an example of this.

    In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven. (NIV)

    Believing flows naturally into doing, and those who witness the good deeds that result will experience God’s goodness in a way that leads to praise.

    There is nothing in these verses that should lead anyone to question the clear teaching of Scripture on justification by faith alone. However, as Martin Luther said, “Good works do not make a good man, but a good man does good works.” We are right to expect that the inward transformation of a disciple of Christ will be expressed in outward action, in behaviour, and in good deeds.

    In the practice of diaspora ministry, then, it follows that we need to communicate and demonstrate that Christians are people who take action and do not just talk. Discipleship is not just a “mind game”, an empty intellectual pursuit. It is instead a purposeful quest for transformation—in the individual, in the family, and in society. The study of the Bible should bring about tangible changes in all areas of life.

    It is important for those who disciple East Asian students to think of disciples as apprentices, those who are learning practical skills on the job by imitating a more experienced journeyman. In 1 Corinthians 11:1 Paul wrote, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.” Again, the emphasis in Scripture is on a life on display, actions that can be seen and imitated. If East Asians become practitioners of God’s word while overseas, they will be better prepared to practice it in Asia.

    Of course we cannot work with God to “turn believers into doers” until we first have believers! Faith always comes first. We hope that our disciples will have a clear and biblical understanding of the good news about Jesus and a genuine faith that emerges from this understanding. To this end, we never tire of proclaiming the good news accurately from the Scriptures in ways that make sense to East Asians. And we would do well to make sure that our disciples can explain the good news clearly to others before they return home.

    But if we proclaim the good news to East Asians only verbally and not through action, we unwittingly encourage a “mental assent” view of faith. Our disciples may, with some justification, conclude that Christianity is mainly about words and ideas, rather than life transformation, and that these words and ideas may safely be discussed in private, without any impact or crossover into the public sphere. Is this the kind of Christianity that we want our disciples to take back to East Asia?

    2. Contextualise

    Contextualisation, if it is defined clearly and biblically,[3] can often be a helpful conceptual tool in cross-cultural mission. But in ministry to East Asians in the diaspora it is important that we do not limit our thinking about this to macrocultures (Chinese, Japanese, Thai, etc.). To be as practical and helpful as possible, contextualisation should also be more granular, that is, more individualised and specific. This will involve delving into the microcultures and social groups to which our disciples will belong after they return home. One way of pursuing this is by sensitively asking our disciples about their home contexts so that we can educate ourselves about them.

    It may help us to think of “contexts” sociologically, in terms of the specific social situations the disciple will face. We have shown that a disciple is a doer, one who translates faith into action. This action will inevitably take place, however, in a social context—not in an abstract communication space such as “culture” or “worldview”, not just in the realm of ideas or values, but in concrete social situations that make up the relational fabric of daily life: school, work, family, church.

    These are the settings into which the disciple will bring the biblical message incarnationally, that is, physically—by means of his or her distinctive lifestyle, behaviour, and good works that display biblical values and mediate the biblical message.

    In the practice of diaspora ministry, then, we need to somehow prepare our disciples for the challenges that these future East Asian social contexts will present, while, at the same time, helping them to see the wonderful opportunities they will have to be witnesses for Christ.

    Here are some general suggestions for the practice of contextualised discipleship among East Asians in the diaspora.

    • From the moment we first meet an international student, we need to keep the end in mind. How is what we are teaching and modeling preparing this student for returning to East Asia?
    • While teaching the Bible we need to emphasise practical application, both for current as well as future contexts. This should be done, however, with a high degree of cultural understanding, as appropriate applications may vary depending on the cultural and social contexts. An ongoing dialogue with East Asian disciples is recommended. How would they, as cultural insiders, appropriately express the values being taught in Scripture within their family setting back home? In the workplace? In the church? We do not want to be overly prescriptive, but rather help our disciples to develop skills in applying Scripture in daily life, wherever they may be.
    • Since much of this is anticipatory, however, it may feel a bit unreal. How can we prepare our disciples for contexts that we ourselves have never seen or experienced, that we can learn about only through the person we are discipling? The difficulty is compounded by the fact that the new converts will, in many cases, not return to exactly the same contexts from which they came. Perhaps the best resource, supplementing the information provided by our disciple, is the experience of other Christian returnees. Case studies, constructed from returnee stories gathered in the home country, may be used to illustrate the kinds of conflicts that Christians are running into when they return. When studied together with relevant Bible passages, the disciple can begin to work out how he or she will respond if faced with a similar situation.

    3. Encourage participation in Christian communities

    The best discipling takes place in a community—a small group, a fellowship group, a church. In the community of faith new converts find multiple role models, gain from exposure to the full panoply of personalities and gifts, and learn by observing and communicating with Christians in all ages and stages of life. Here new converts can begin to serve, eventually learning to lead in various aspects of community life. By affiliating with and then belonging to a community, a new personal identity begins to form, derived from the identity of the group. Over time the convert begins to self-identify openly as a Christian in contexts beyond the community, hesitantly at first, but then with greater confidence as relationships within the community grow deeper.

    What kind of Christian community, then, prepares new converts best for their return to East Asia? Here are some identifiable characteristics:

    Ideally, East Asian students need a community that:

    • Invites them into a hands-on, immersive experience of the living church, the body of Christ.
    • Teaches directly from the Bible and applies biblical teachings to all areas of life.
    • Provides opportunities for new converts to serve and to lead.
    • Helps new converts to learn how to read the Bible, pray, worship, and share their faith in their own native language.
    • Helps the person develop a Chinese, Japanese, or Thai, etc., Christian identity, so that they will not view Christianity as exclusively Western. We aim to produce indigenous Christians who will take Christ home without taking the West along with him!
    • Provides instruction and guidance on how Christians should respond to the challenging aspects of East Asian cultures: ancestor worship, idolatry, organised or folk religious practices, obedience to non-Christian parents, pursuit of wealth and status, face, corrupt business practices, marriage to non-Christians, etc.
    • Maintains relational ties to churches in East Asia and can introduce converts to people in these churches when they return.
    • Can help new converts appreciate the history and culture of the indigenous churches back home, so that they will understand why they are different from churches in the host country. It is also essential to help new converts learn how to recognize and avoid cults.

    4. Build skills in spiritual self-care and in cultivating the spiritual life

    What are the essential things that disciples must understand, believe, and do to survive and thrive? These are the things we need to model and teach. This “curriculum” (for lack of a better word!) will include universal elements that apply in every culture, as well as contextual elements that will equip the disciple to make good choices when confronted by the specific temptations and trials likely to be encountered in East Asia.

    As a general rule, it will be helpful to emphasise core biblical values and life skills rather than prescriptive solutions for every problem, so that the disciple may retain the utmost flexibility in finding the best way to apply Scripture in any context.

    We suggest that the eight topics in the list below be included in a curriculum on the spiritual life. The order of topics does not imply any hierarchy, as all need to be covered. Each topic will need to be unpacked from the Bible and illustrated by practical examples and applications set in an East Asian context. The idea of making this selection is simply to give each new convert a basic spiritual survival pack, containing the most essential ingredients to sustain their spiritual life.

    1. The Lordship of Christ
    2. The Word
    3. Bible reading
    4. Scripture memory
    5. Inductive Bible study methods
    6. Learn how to identify God’s values in a Bible passage and how to live out these values in daily life
    7. Prayer
    8. Spiritual Warfare
    9. The necessity of participating in church and Christian fellowship
    10. Witnessing and mission
    11. Marriage and family life
    12. Workplace issues

    Someone may protest that this is a lot to cover, and, given the short interval between the typical student’s conversion and departure for home, there is simply not enough time to teach it all. In response, we might suggest that it is better to be broad than deep. An overview of the most basic biblical teaching in each area could be done in a single weekend, and it would at least alert the student to the fact that the Bible has much to say in these areas that they may want to explore in depth in the future.

    5. For those who are open to further training, try to extend their stay in the host country

    Many East Asian disciples have to return home before they are ready to stand on their own two feet as Christian disciples. It is often painful to see them go, knowing what lies in wait for them on the other side.

    In many cases, however, this situation can be avoided by extending their stay in the host country. Students may apply to a Bible school for additional Bible training. They may enter a training or internship program in a church, or serve with an urban mission. In the UK, Friends International offers a training programme—The Reach Programme—for committed Christians in international student ministry. There may also be opportunities to serve in cross-cultural missions in other countries. Whenever it appears that our disciples could benefit from an extended stay, we should work with them to explore all of the possibilities.


    Perhaps, as we conclude, we can take a moment to answer a common objection to pre-return preparation. We could state it in the form of an extended question: “If these East Asian students are really saved, then how can they fall away? Isn’t God able to help them persevere in their faith?”

    The implication is that any human effort (such as pre-return preparation) will ultimately have little effect on whether students actually persevere after returning home. The underlying theological question is a serious one that needs to be addressed. While we cannot even begin here to explain how God’s sovereignty and human responsibility work together, we can nevertheless offer a few thoughts in defence of pre-return preparation:

    • The question essentially ignores God’s use of means. Yes, God will help them to persevere in their faith, and he may decide to use pre-return preparation to do it.
    • The question suggests, a bit unfairly, that pre-return preparation is motivated by a lack of trust in God’s ability to take care of his own. On the contrary, it is God’s love for the returning students that compels us to help them!
    • The question subtly implies that Christians cannot and should not be involved in helping other Christians to persevere. Is this really what the Bible teaches? Augustine is credited with saying, “Pray as if everything depended on God and work as if everything depended on you.” Yes, we can agree that everything depends on God, yet he still has work for us to do.

    1 The reader may find it helpful to survey the ethnic diversity and geographic distribution of the East Asian diaspora by exploring the links within the following Wikipedia webpage: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category:East_Asian_diaspora (accessed 15 August 2017).

    2 The segment here and the subsequent three segments on Family, Work, and Church, are taken, with some modification, from the author’s published article at http://www.chinasource.org/resource-library/articles/the-need-for-chinese-students-to-prepare-for-their-return (accessed 15 August 2017).

    3 Of course the idea of contextualisation is not taught explicitly in the Bible, but it can be argued that there are many passages that lay a foundation for its later development as a missiological principle. As we minister to East Asians, we especially want to avoid any approach to contextualisation that involves changing the biblical message to make it more pleasing to the hearers, thus creating another gospel! True biblical contextualisation is faithful to the biblical message, changing only the presentation, not the content, so as to allow this message to be heard clearly and without confusion in the recipient culture.

    Resources for Returnee Ministry


  • 04 Apr
    Multi-dimensional Discipling for Diaspora Communities: Partnership between Host Church, Ethnic Church, and Parachurch Organizations

    Multi-dimensional Discipling for Diaspora Communities: Partnership between Host Church, Ethnic Church, and Parachurch Organizations

    Mission Round Table Vol. 12 No. 2 (May-Aug 2017): 20-25

    Carolyn Kemp

    Carolyn joined OMF International in 1993 and was a church planter for several years in Manila’s slums before joining the Diaspora Returnee Ministries (DRM) Field where she has been serving for fourteen years, the last seven years as DRM Field Director. Working in thirteen countries, DRM focuses on contextualised, intentional in-depth discipling, training, and coaching of East Asian academics, business people, and migrant workers living outside their home country. Carolyn is a member of NextMove, a global collaboration group working across mission agencies facilitated by Frontier Ventures. Carolyn leads the Returnee Team, a global think-tank of returnee ministry.


    Never has the need for intentional partnerships been more important than now. The challenge that confronts the local church, ethnic churches, and parachurch organizations in a host country with a view to discipling diaspora communities is immense. Whether they know it or not they need each other more than ever.

    I’m constantly confronted with the challenge of discipleship across these contexts. The need for contextualized discipleship that is multi-dimensional and influences diaspora communities is critical. Even so, there are very few good examples at the grassroots level. We need complementary, not conflicting, models of partnership that express cooperation and trust. The urgency to address this issue can’t be underestimated.

    Globally, there is a definite awakening to the potential of reaching the world’s seething number of migrants. Migration and diaspora have become missional buzzwords. This is not surprising when

    More than 247 million people, or 3.4 percent of the world population, live outside their countries of birth. Although the number of international migrants rose from 175 million in 2000 to more than 247 million in 2013 and will surpass 251 million in 2015, the share of migrants has remained just above three percent (of world population) for the last fifteen years.[1]

    More than 20% of all international students globally are Mainland Chinese and this is increasing all the time. According to a 2016 report by the Chinese Ministry of Education, 523,700 Chinese students went abroad to study in 2015 and about 70 to 80 percent of the students abroad have returned to China in recent years.[2] The graph (below) from the report shows the figures from 2010 to 2015.

    Number of Chinese outbound students and returnees, 2010-2015. Source: Chinese Ministry of Education2

    This presents a unique and God-given opportunity as people who live overseas express a greater openness to exploring issues of faith. Being away from their home culture removes social constraints and peer pressure so that they have greater freedom to seek God, trust Christ, and learn to live with the leading of the Spirit.

    However, of those who consider or respond to the claims of Christ while overseas only 20% or fewer continue to follow the Lord after returning home. When we think of the opportunity presented to us through diaspora ministry, this statistic is frankly appalling. If 80% of Boeing aircraft crashed, there would be an immediate investigation. Aircraft would be grounded until Boeing got to the bottom of the problem and corrected it. Similarly, until we address the issues surrounding this fall-out rate we will lose one of the most profound mission opportunities of modern times.

    One key factor is a lack of contextualized discipleship designed to prepare returnees to stand firm as Christians back home. That preparation must start in the host culture and for that to take place a multidimensional relational discipleship model needs to be adopted which includes input from the host church, the ethnic church, and parachurch organizations. This paper seeks to present such a model.

    This model aims to work backwards, starting with the context of the home culture to which overseas students, businessmen/women, and migrant workers will return. However, since many of them live in and travel to different places—for example, two years in the UK then on to the USA for another few years—before returning home, we are talking of the need for a global mobile movement to equip them to become not only disciples of Christ but also cross-cultural ministers of the gospel who share Christ wherever they go.

    Defining terms

    Before we continue, I will clarify some of the key terms used in this paper. The term “returnee” refers to those who, having been abroad for a number of months or years, “return” to their home country. They may be students, migrant workers, or people involved in business. The key factor is that they will at some point return to their own culture and country, whether this takes a few months or a number of years. It is important, therefore, when we come alongside someone who will return that we intentionally nurture and disciple them from the first meeting with this in mind. While contextualized evangelism is just as important as contextualized discipleship, this paper will concentrate on contextualized discipleship.

    When I write about “contextualization” I mean being culturally sensitive and appropriate to the context, history, values, language, and forms of expression of one’s home culture. It’s about seeing all the dimensions of the gospel impacting and relating to all the dimensions of a culture. It’s about sensitively taking all aspects of culture and worldview into consideration when relating the gospel story in order to communicate effectively and make Christ understood. It’s about seeing the gospel within a culture and worldview inform, challenge, and direct it.

    When I use the term “discipleship” I am not talking about a program but about intentionally journeying with someone so that Christ becomes preeminent in life and ministry, impacting decisions, choices, focus, and worldview. It is not just about Bible study, although that is critically important, but it’s about the choices and decisions made, and the way time and talents are used. It’s about bringing Christ into the moments and completely trusting in his sovereignty and rule. It’s about submission to the lordship of Christ. This can only be modelled as we live our lives before men, openly and with transparency. Discipleship is a life-long journey.

    When I talk about “multi-dimensional relationships” I mean that we need to acknowledge that it takes many people to help forge another individual. Each of us is engaged in many relationships that impact us. I talk to some of my friends about family, to others about my ministry, and to yet others about church. There is a smaller group with whom I walk through issues of a more personal nature. There are very few people that I talk to about all areas of life. Every day I am influenced and shaped by many different people who help me enter their experiences and understandings of a wide variety of issues. A healthy disciple needs to be exposed to various kinds of people who bring a richness to the discipleship process and journey that should be embraced.

    The interaction between the host church, ethnic church, and parachurch coming together to disciple returnees puts the emphasis on the individual being discipled, and displays a kingdom perspective in which the global church has a role to play. This multi-dimensional discipleship allows each entity—host church, ethnic church, and parachurch—to work to their strengths to impact the life of an individual so that the disciple can be stronger than he or she would be otherwise.

    As we will see below, when we bring all those definitions together and think about multi-dimensional discipleship for a student or migrant worker, we are talking about the focus being on the breadth of relationships impacting the life of the disciple so that the discipleship itself can be more effective.

    The following scenarios help cement the definitions:

    The Indonesian migrant worker in Taiwan who is being reached and nurtured by an OMF worker (a member of a parachurch organization providing contextual discipleship), and is working for a Taiwanese Christian employer (who attends a host church), and meets members of a local Indonesian (ethnic) church has a multi-dimensional discipleship experience. Everyone involved—the OMF worker, the employer, and the ethnic church members—will bring a unique (while biblical) perspective and breadth to the discipleship of this worker.

    The Chinese student in the UK who is attending an “introductory Bible study on the Christian faith” run by a parachurch organization, and having one-on-one discussions with an OMF worker in his native language (a member of parachurch organization providing contextualised discipleship), while attending the global café run by the host church which provides a broader experience of Christian community, and the local Chinese (ethnic) church giving cultural context is also experiencing multi-dimensional discipleship. Each one provides input and plays a critical role in nurturing this student in the faith—the primary focus being equipping the student for future ministry wherever he may go with the aim that he will be able to effectively live as a Christian when he returns to his home country.

    The Chinese businessman in Kenya who joins a Bible study group with other Chinese (run by the parachurch organization OMF), and attends an international service run by the local Kenyan church with the help of an OMF member (bringing a host church and parachurch organization together), while also attending the local Chinese (ethnic) church learns through these multi-dimensional discipleship encounters.

    Each of these relationships help enrich the faith journey of these new Christians from different perspectives. Each may emphasise different aspects of what it means to follow Jesus in situations relevant to their own cultural backgrounds. But when put together there is a depth in the discipleship in which the new Christian learns about unity in diversity, allowing him or her to grow and develop a broader kingdom perspective and worldview.

    The Context

    In the following section we will consider some of the issues which must inform how we disciple returnees while they are still in a host context. By way of example we will look at the challenges faced by two groups of returnees—Japanese and Mainland Chinese—although returnees of many other nationalities also face the same issues.

    Case study 1: Japanese returnees and the context they face

    Japanese returnees who come to Christ overseas face numerous challenges. Though there are more, we will identify and explore two key areas: culture and church.

    Culture: Anyone who leaves his or her own culture for any length of time adapts in many ways to the new culture. They take on new mannerisms, changing to blend in and achieve a degree of integration. Adaptation comes first in areas which least impact one’s value systems. Deeper levels of culture may change more slowly but will cause greater disruption when the person returns home. For instance, since Japanese society is hierarchical—based on Confucian teaching—older people should always be treated with respect. And though most societies show respect for the elderly, how this is expressed varies. For Japanese, this includes never addressing older people by their first names. Similarly, Japan is a group-oriented society that places a high value on preserving the harmony of the group. It’s important to “read between the lines” and say things that do not disrupt harmony. Returnees who have adjusted to living in a culture that greatly values individualistic behavior, direct speech, and an openness to express personal feelings and ideas may find relearning Japanese cultural norms to be extremely frustrating if not impossible. In some cases, returnees may feel that people at home are less warm simply because they are more reserved and a longer time is needed to build relationships of trust and friendship in Japan. Though these things may appear small and, due to the subtleties of culture, go unnoticed, they can also reveal a bigger problem of what is known as reverse culture shock. When people return to their own culture, expecting that nothing has changed, they may face a larger shock to discover that they have adapted to a host culture all too well and just don’t fit in at home anymore.

    Church: The church in any society is a sub-culture of the whole. In churches where no one has lived abroad, there is very little understanding of a returnee’s experience. At the very least there is a cautiousness to what is unknown.

    A Japanese OMF colleague recently shared what returnees generally experience:

    The local church member welcomes returnees by treating them as they would anyone else, cautiously, with this message: “Forget what you experienced in the West. Concentrate on what you have in front of you.” Returnees feel rejected, and although they may have things they want to share, the sharing is unwelcome. While overseas the returnee had been welcomed into a church with often-targeted enthusiasm, taken on outings, put onto a “host” scheme, and was set apart from the beginning. Yet at home in the local church they seem almost invisible.

    Another area of tension is that pastors in Japan prepare baptismal candidates in great depth so they will be able to stand firm in a secular world in which 99 percent of the people claim to be Buddhist and Shintoist. Pastors find it hard to accept the seemingly poor level of preparation the returnees had while abroad. It is the returnee who feels the full impact of such insightful judgments by Japanese pastors, which unfortunately, are often quite correct. Some churches distinguish markedly between church members and non-members. Returnees are initially considered as non-members, thus accentuating their feelings of isolation at church. If they had been nurtured in English overseas, it is difficult for them to go on to read the Bible and pray in Japanese, let alone understand Japanese Christian jargon, something which increases the sense of isolation and difference.

    Even returnees from Japanese churches abroad have a hard time trying to settle into local churches in Japan as they are required to show loyalty to church and to the denomination in equal measure. They often wonder where loyalty to God really lies. In Japanese churches overseas, returnees are encouraged to help in church life soon after baptism, because the churches are small and relationships are closer. In Japan, they are expected to watch and learn for a while—at least a year—and then are slowly given tasks. Japanese face reverse culture shock in general.

    Case study 2: Chinese returnees and the context they face

    Sometimes we find that our new Chinese friend had become a Christian in China. However, more often than not, their every relationship—whether with family members, friends, or co-workers—is with non-Christians. While overseas, Chinese students are attracted to Christian groups because of their need for community. When they return home, it works in the opposite direction as they are flung back into a network of relationships which may now entail conflicts due to changed values arising from their Christian faith. This increases stress and isolation. The cross-cultural friendships that they enjoyed in Christian groups overseas are all gone. All of the available social activities are now hosted by non-Christians. Adjustments need to be made at every turn: living with parents and other family members again, losing privacy and independence, discovering how much everything changed while they were away, and experiencing deep feelings of not belonging and not fitting in. Finding and keeping jobs, joining the fast-paced world of work, and climbing the corporate ladder can be all consuming and overwhelming.

    It is within this backdrop that returnees have to make many major, life-changing decisions in the first year after returning. These range from finding a job where one’s relational networks are diminished and competition is brutal to getting married—frequently facing great pressure to marry a non-Christian. Then there is the decision to identify oneself as a Christian or not! These may be compounded by questions and doubts about the faith and other issues. Was that just part of the overseas experience? Where is there a church anyway? Those who find a church and seek to grow as a Christian often face long work hours, not to mention a long commute. Opposition from people holding other beliefs and value systems is encountered in the workplace as well as the family. Since their personal values have changed with their new-found faith and through their overseas experiences, it is no longer possible to agree with the old way of doing things.

    What could make a difference to returnees who are facing such pressures? What could change the experience of Chinese returnees looking for jobs? What could change the experience of the local church in Japan when a returnee joins their fellowship? What difference would a multi-dimensional model of discipleship make with the above case studies in mind?

    The role of the host and ethnic (Japanese and Chinese) churches in the host country and the parachurch organization

    Example 1: Reaching out and welcoming in

    There can be no doubt that the host church is making a huge impact on reaching out to international students and workers. It is often the place where they go either to learn the language of the host country or observe culture. Many churches have an excellent “welcoming ministry”. However, in their exuberance to reach out and make international visitors feel welcomed and wanted, many churches have inadvertently started them on a journey which one day will alienate them from their own people and church when they return home.

    Although the host church may have shared with the diaspora visitor how Christian community can function, it has only shared part of what life in community is, not the whole diverse story. This is because community includes the daily serving of others, which is often a role in the shadows. There also comes a point in church life when one moves from being a “visitor” (who is treated as such) to someone who is part of the community, and then moves into a relationship in which they become like the host who considers the needs of others and serves them.

    An ethnic Japanese or Chinese church might have much to teach new Japanese or Chinese Christians about how these transitions take place within their culture. The Japanese church in the host culture, although different from the Japanese church in Japan, is at the very least one step closer to what they will return to. The subtleties and nuances of culture and communication within the Christian context is a necessary learning curve for the returnee. Things such as Christian terminology and the nature and expression of service are not easily learnt in a host church. In the long term, the returnee’s transition home will be greatly aided by being effective and fully grown in the things of Christ in their home language and cultural context.

    As one colleague shared,

    Whether consciously or unconsciously, it’s not uncommon for returnees to exhibit a superiority complex. After all, not everyone has had the opportunity to study abroad or get an advanced degree, and not everyone has gone through such hardship in the process. Even if you don’t really know a lot, at least you’ve been to a foreign country and you’ve seen and experienced more than others. Thus, you gain a special identity on returning to your own country, hometown, or church. Yet without a “humble attitude”, it will be very difficult to identify with others or be accepted by them.

    Surely there is a special role here for the ethnic church. There is a way of being which is often overlooked by the host church, a posture which is culturally embedded. Humility can be felt as much as it can be seen.

    People with cross-cultural experience who work with parachurch organizations can act as a bridge between the host and ethnic churches, serving both as a conduit of communication and trust. We should not minimize the critical role of bridge building—it is a requirement in our multicultural communities.

    I will say more about the role of the parachurch organization below.

    Example 2: Discipleship issues

    One issue which always comes up in my conversations with church leaders in Asia is baptism. This should not be treated as one-size-fits-all concept in view of the fact that baptism needs to reflect the symbolism of dying to the old life and putting on the new. As many local churches in the West know little of the context of an “old life” (which includes the unspoken beliefs and values of a culture), there are limitations to how fully they can disciple regarding the issues concerned or prepare new believers so that they can live the “new life” in their home settings.

    Discipleship needs to take place in a context. There are broad brushstrokes which the local church in a host country is fully capable of making when discipling diaspora communities. For example, the foundations of the faith are universal and part of the reality of being members of the body of Christ is experiencing diversity. I am convinced that God’s purpose in taking people “overseas” from their home country is to expose them to a diversity of experiences as part of the process of knowing him. This is highlighted very clearly in Paul’s sermon at the Aeropagus. “From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us” (Acts 17:26–27).

    However, what does the Western church in general know about ancestor worship or the complex responsibilities of the oldest son? How can we best help a new believer from overseas see this through Christian eyes? How can we help them to develop a biblical perspective and worldview that will enable them to be both members of their home culture and faithful Christians? What about the complex issues of harmony and respect for elders? How can the Western church help a new believer from Asia wrestle with such issues from a Christian perspective when it plays a diminished role in our own culture? How can the Western church address the issues of the spirit world and animism when it rarely acknowledges the spirit world in Scripture? As new believers prepare to return to their home countries, how do we help them wrestle with these complex issues?

    Western discipleship methodology is often far too prescriptive and often relevant only to our limited context. In many cases, little thought has been put into the day-to-day lives of those we disciple even in our own context. Do we disciple people on issues pertaining to the workplace and the marketplace? How does the church equip people to live out their faith in a non-Christian family? Do we consider the context of those we disciple regardless of background? Do we ask what they need to live fruitful lives for Christ in their home, society, family, and workplace? If such questions are important for people from our own culture, they are even more critical for those living and working in a very different context from our own.

    Ethnic churches in the host country are more likely to have thought through issues of baptism and discipleship for their own diaspora community (although not always with the view of candidates returning “home” in the near future). They know what to look out for and the subtleties of expression needed to guide new disciples into areas of freedom from the past and to prepare them for the future. Returnees need to see how Christ is expressed within their own culture, how being a follower of Jesus is modelled and lived out on a daily basis, and how their own cultural community expresses Christian community. This in no way diminishes the role of the discipler who is not of the same cultural background in the discipling process. What it does say is that the more culturally relevant the discipler can be, the deeper the understanding and application will be for the disciple. We all learn in community. We learn about ourselves and about others. We learn more about the different aspects of the character of God in community. The ethnic church can bring new believers a step closer to contextualized community living by helping them engage with issues of importance to their culture so that they can take every thought captive and make it obedient to Christ.

    What can be done? A kingdom building partnership

    Many other issues make life for the returnee both challenging and exciting. But when the host church, ethnic church, and parachurch organization work together, they can make a greater difference than if they work separately! The kingdom perspective does not say “this returnee belongs to this church (or this organization), therefore …” but “what does this returnee/new Christian need to live for Christ and serve him wherever he or she goes?”

    While host churches might not know what specific questions to ask in relation to the old life and how to prepare for specific aspects of the new life for the returnee getting ready to go home, they can and do play a significant role in welcoming and discipling diaspora believers in the foundations of the faith. In this way host churches are conduits of real grace and unconditional friendship. They are often less mono-cultural in their missiology, something which is greatly needed in our multicultural communities.

    Diaspora Chinese or Japanese churches differ from their counterpart churches in the home country. The simple fact that a church is in a diaspora setting will effect changes which separate it from its cultural roots. Even so, it is closer to the culture of an international student or worker than is a host church. They therefore provide a bridge between host and home cultures and provide a good place for new Christians to learn the subtleties of how to express their faith appropriately in their own cultural context.

    Since parachurch organizations exist to serve, they can often take a less “territorial” view where church is concerned. Looking in from the periphery, they can embrace both the host and ethnic church perspectives and act as a bridge between the host and ethnic churches. In so doing they can facilitate trust and respect between each group as they function in the life of the diaspora communities. Parachurch organizations can facilitate an objective coming together, a platform for communication, discussion, and true, valued partnerships. Often host churches need objectivity when it comes to cross-cultural contextualization. At such times, a parachurch organization with much experience serving a particular community (e.g., Chinese, Japanese, Thai, Indonesian, etc.) can potentially bring that objectivity to bear. They can also train and equip host churches in specific aspects of a culture so that their communication will be culturally appropriate and understandable. They will also come with specific cultural understanding regarding church, family, and the spirit world of the culture in question.

    Working together, the host churches, ethnic churches, and parachurch organizations can nurture and disciple diaspora believers so they can grow as members of the Christian community. The question should not be which church or group they belong to but how we can disciple them so they do not become cultural misfits. Our goal should be to see them living and working in whatever arena God has called them to, be it their own communities or another where they bring transformation through a powerful demonstration of the Spirit of God seen through contextualized theology and methodology which impacts society.

    With this in mind, we need to see a greater commitment by all three parties—the host church, ethnic church, and parachurch—to come together. Effective partnerships take time and patience; often any initiative takes longer as more discussion is needed to bring everyone to the same place. Though we are often rushing to accomplish something, and partnering across cultures takes time, patience, and trust, we should continue to work together because the potential for rich rewards are great.

    Could we see prayer groups coming together with members from the host church, ethnic church, and parachurch in cities where significant diaspora work is taking place—praying for the needs of the diaspora we are all working with? Could we also see multicultural forums held between these groups where discussions can build on the part we are all playing in the discipling of the internationals God has brought to us in our cities?

    Could we invite representatives of the host church and ethnic church to events we run for those we disciple to build trust and kingdom perspective? Could we invite ethnic churches to join the host churches in outings they organize? If ethnic churches have special teaching weekends could they extend a welcome to host churches to send some representatives to join them, providing translation if needed? Could we see the special awareness training run by a parachurch organization—like OMF and the OMF Diaspora Returnee Ministries (DRM) Field—bring together host and ethnic churches?

    I would like to close with two examples of host churches, ethnic churches, and parachurch organizations working together.

    The first is a Chinese Returnee Retreat run by the OMF DRM in the UK and the USA for Chinese who will return home within the following year. Each retreat includes a small group of no more than twenty-five returnees. When we plan these events we invite members from the Chinese church and Chinese parachurch organizations in the host country, members of another parachurch organization, and representatives from host churches. Together we create a context in which we can all learn from each other and have effective and contextualized input into the lives of the returnees.

    The second thing that OMF DRM engages in is cross-cultural training in all our centers. This includes participation from the host and ethnic local churches and parachurch organizations.

    We all know that there are more opportunities than we can cope with, as everyone is busy, churches have full programs, and the time we can spend with any one person is limited as demands on our time stretch us. For this reason, having a kingdom approach is critical. If we make efforts to help any student or contact gain access to other churches and groups then the input they will receive will be greater. If they can gain exposure to biblical teaching, mission training, and Christian community, does it really matter if this crosses the ministry lines of several groups or churches in one city? Surely the focus should be to encourage diaspora believers to engage with the wider community as much as they can while still overseas and experience more deeply what it means to live in community as a member of the body of Christ. There is no room for anyone saying only the Chinese can reach the Chinese, or only the Thai can reach the Thai. That is not kingdom theology or a biblical model of mission. We all need to come together as a family ordained by God to love one another and to reach out into our communities with the love of Christ in the power of his Spirit.


    The need for multi-dimensional relational discipleship has never been more crucial. Only in relationships will the trust be built that is needed to work together with a kingdom perspective. The one-dimensional discipleship where the returnee only has the view of the host church, the ethnic church, or the parachurch increases the risk of returnees falling away from the faith. They need the much richer perspective that comes through multi-dimensional discipleship to help them learn across cultures and get nurtured from the perspectives of both the host and ethnic cultures. In this melting pot of cross-cultural experience and nurturing we can think missionally as we prepare returnees to go home.

    [1] World Bank Group, “Migration and Remittances Factbook 2016,” 3rd ed., v, http://siteresources.worldbank.org/INTPROSPECTS/Resources/334934-1199807908806/4549025-1450455807487/Factbookpart1.pdf (accessed 16 May 2017).

    [2] ICEF Monitor, “A Record Number of Chinese Students Abroad in 2015 but growth is slowing” (6 April 2016), http://monitor.icef.com/2016/04/a-record-number-of-chinese-students-abroad-in-2015-but-growth-is-slowing/ (accessed 16 May 2017).

    Resources for Returnee Ministry


  • 04 Apr
    “Going Home is Not What I Thought It Would Be”: The Unique Challenges Faced by Returnees

    “Going Home is Not What I Thought It Would Be”: The Unique Challenges Faced by Returnees

    Mission Round Table Vol. 12 No. 2 (May-Aug 2017): 31-35

    By Pete

    George represents many Chinese students who become Christians while studying in a Western country. He believed in Jesus after spending time in a vibrant campus ministry and attending church and a Bible study in English. A few years later, George returned to China and found it was harder than he ever imagined to keep his faith. His job requires long hours and involves corrupt practices that seem impossible to avoid. His parents are pushing him into marriage with a non-Christian woman, and even if he had any time on Sunday he can’t find a church where he feels comfortable. George is seriously thinking of giving up on the faith he found in the West.[1]

    Students who have become Christians while overseas face challenges when they return to China in the areas of family relationships, employment, and church. These challenges are so severe that it is estimated up to 80% of them will abandon their faith within a year of returning to China.[2]

    Cultural values and cultural distance

    Why is it so hard for returnees to continue in their faith after returning home to China? I suggest that the chief cause is a conflict of cultural values that has developed because they responded to the gospel and were discipled in a Western cultural context and are unable to adapt their faith to the cultural context of China.

    Culture has been described as the collective programming of the mind that distinguishes one group of people from another.[3] Cultural distance is the difference in cultural values between two groups of people.[4] Cultural values are acquired in childhood through a process called conditioning, which relies on positive/negative reinforcement by family and society.[5] Children are not conscious that they are being conditioned, and what they absorb in the process is taken to be the correct, moral, and appropriate way to think and act.

    I believe that the key cultural value impacting discipleship of Chinese students is the difference between individual and group orientation, also called individualism and collectivism.[6] Chinese students who have grown up in China have spent their formative years in a group-oriented culture.[7]

    Group-oriented culture

    A group-oriented culture shapes a person’s identity so that it comes from their membership and role in a group (e.g., the family, a village, or a work team). Group-oriented people sub-consciously believe their own survival and wellbeing depend on the success of their group, so individual needs are sacrificed for the benefit of the group. Group members think in terms of we and us, not in terms of I or me. Interdependence and harmony between group members are highly valued and relationship is more important than truth.[8] Most Chinese students have grown up in closely enmeshed relationships with their family members and have learnt to cooperate with their relatives (and later with their classmates) to ensure that the group does well—ensuring success for all.

    Leaving these tightly interconnected relationships to study in a foreign country is difficult for group-oriented Chinese students. The vacuum of close relationships they experience when first moving overseas is probably one of the main reasons that many of them find Christian churches and fellowships so appealing. Their need to be part of a group and connect to others makes Christian community and the gospel very attractive.[9] Many responses to the gospel message are perhaps motivated by a need to belong and identify with a group where they can care and be cared for.

    At the same time, many of their thought patterns and their understanding of the world are challenged by the experience of living in a foreign country and studying in a Western institution. In China, tradition is valued and harmony, within the community and amongst teachers and classmates, is important. Individual thinking and presenting a critical point of view are seen as dangerous challenges to the authority and the well-being of society.[10]

    Individual-oriented culture

    When they move overseas to the West, students discover they are in a place where individual thought is valued, where critical thinking and arguing your point are rewarded, and copying from others is frowned upon. Whereas in the past good grades depended on the ability to memorise information and reproduce it on a test, now they need to understand and apply the information. In China, quoting the official line and copying from the experts were rewarded; now they are in a place where it is punished as plagiarism.[11] This is often a great shock to the newly arrived student, although most adapt very well and are transformed by the experience. They discover that they are able to think critically, have their own ideas and opinions, and they are able to explore many things that were previously considered off-limits. It is often at this time of emotional, intellectual, and cultural upheaval that they come across the message of the gospel and a Christian community that encourages them to critically study the Bible, ask questions, and make decisions based on what they learn. In China, decisions of this magnitude are made in consultation with the group (family) and with approval of the group leader (parent),[12] but while overseas, family are far away, exert little influence, and cannot provide the kind of connectedness that the student needs and the Christian community displays.

    Although a church or student fellowship in a Western country is very much a group that exhibits many characteristics of a collective, it is also often a group that has been established by individual-oriented people and exists in an individual-oriented culture. Discipleship is contextualized to the surrounding culture[13] and it is most likely that the new Chinese believer will be discipled in a Western individual-oriented context. An individually-oriented person identifies primarily with self, relating to me and I. They subconsciously believe that the needs of the individual take precedence over the needs of the group. Independence, self-reliance, and taking care of one’s self are valued. Individuals may choose to join a group but it doesn’t form part of their identity and they can easily leave the group again whenever it suits them.[14]

    Discipleship in an individual-oriented society usually starts with the individual—me. I recognize my sin, I repent of my sin, I ask God to forgive my sin because Jesus died for me and I believe in Jesus. This is all theologically correct, but typically this is a journey the individually-oriented person makes on his or her own and then announces to family and friends. This is acceptable in an individual-oriented culture because faith/religion is considered a personal and private affair. Family and friends may mock, they may resist being proselytised themselves, but the new Christian is allowed to have his or her personal faith.[15]

    After responding to the gospel message, new believers are discipled in how to live as a Christian. They are encouraged to attend a church and fellowship, to be generous with their resources, and to look for ways to serve their church. This is the community aspect that is often so attractive to international students. However, within this community there will be an emphasis on developing faith as an individual. As the Bible is taught and explained, it is applied to the context of a student-focused ministry in an individual-oriented society in a modern Western city. There will be an emphasis on personal holiness expressed by personal Bible reading, reflection, and prayer. They will be persuaded to stand up for the truth, even if it impacts relationships. They will be encouraged to build up their knowledge of the Bible and (Western) theology.

    However, although they are encouraged to attend church and a study group, there is often limited teaching about the purpose and meaning of church. They will observe a lack of commitment by some, and the common practice of moving from church to church to find “the church that suits me.” They will experience church in a society where it is free and legal to meet. Probably very little will be said about suffering or persecution, or how to face conflicts with close family members in a way that upholds truth but honours the relationship. In a society with a Judeo-Christian heritage, “integrity in the workplace” will only receive a brief mention, not the careful nuanced discussion that is needed for the context in China where corruption is an everyday practice at all levels of employment.[16] In the Western context where each person makes their own choice of a life partner or to remain single it is unlikely that there will be advice on how to face persistent pressure from relatives who are determined to see a suitable match that produces grandchildren.[17] Sadly, for all the careful discipleship and mentoring, many Western ministries have prepared these international students for the wrong context.[18] In some ways it is like teaching a man in the tropics how to build an igloo for shelter or make snow skis for transport.

    Three key problem areas

    Typically, Chinese returnees struggle in three spheres of life when they return to China. Firstly, with family relationships. Secondly, with work and career issues. And thirdly, settling into a church or fellowship.[19]

    Family relationships

    It is my observation that the kind of family that sends a child overseas to study is not an average family. Considering what has been said above, it is even more remarkable that group-oriented Chinese parents would choose to send their only child away from the nurture and protection of the group to a foreign land. In general, Chinese are known to have high levels of achievement motivation and it is the highly motivated parent who is willing to make tough decisions to see their child, and by extension, the family get ahead.[20] Studying overseas is an expensive and difficult process that requires great tenacity and determination. The student may be unaware of the extent of the effort made on their behalf, and they are equally unaware that completing their studies overseas is not the end of their parents’ plans. On returning to China, there are further tasks that will need to be fulfilled and the high performing parents then apply their considerable organizing skills to these tasks.

    Work and career

    The first task of the returnee is to find appropriate employment. Up to this point, it would be easy to believe that the goal has been to help the child receive an education that facilitates a prosperous career. However, on returning home, it becomes obvious that the higher goal is not so much the success of the individual student, but the benefit and reputation of the whole family. While overseas, the returnee learnt to think of employment as something that provides financial income as well as a sense of meaning when engaged in a purposeful career. As a Christian he or she may desire to work in a way that honours God. While expecting that work will take up the majority of their time, they also expect to have time to relax and attend church events. On returning to China, they face an undersupply of appropriate jobs and an oversupply of qualified returnees. Often the only way to get a job is through family connections, and this means their work performance must be excellent to show gratitude to the employer and give face to the family. They discover that a work week can extend to fourteen hours a day, seven days a week with long commutes on crowded public transport through difficult weather and extreme pollution. They also discover that corrupt business practices are so ingrained that it is impossible to avoid taking part. To make matters worse, they receive little sympathy from those around them who accept this as a normal part of life in China. Unfortunately, the Bible teaching they received overseas often offers them little practical advice in responding to these problems.


    Once employment is established, the next challenge appears. In Confucian societies the greatest obligation of adult children is to produce the next generation—grandchildren.[21] The obvious requirement for this is a spouse. The motivated parent is unlikely to allow matters to simply take their course and has already been planning for this critical point in life’s journey. Potential candidates are introduced, and their suitability is defined in terms of their family background, connections, employment, and financial prospects.[22] Great tensions can develop between the returnee and their parents if he or she fails to cooperate with this process. Requests for a Christian partner are usually pushed aside as being unimportant on one hand and impossible to fulfil on the other—the parents don’t know any Christians! The family’s (group’s) future prestige and success depends on grandchildren and grandchildren come from marriage. The returnee is told that his or her desire to marry a Christian, or otherwise remain single, is selfish and endangers the welfare of the parents who have given up so much for them already. The Bible teaching they received overseas (based on the assumption that choosing a life partner is a personal decision) is not of much help here. The returnee discovers that being firm and saying “no” only causes their parents to work even harder at getting them married. They also discover that in China, because of the interdependent group-oriented culture that surrounds them, they cannot simply ignore their parents—this is unacceptable in society.

    Settling in a church or fellowship

    The third challenge is finding a church. While discipled overseas, students were taught that it is important to meet with other believers and to be regular in church attendance. Whilst overseas they experienced church in a place where meeting is free, open, and legal. Churches were easy to find because of their obvious architecture, signage, and online presence. They were open to all and there was no need for an invitation or introduction. Churches with a student ministry excel at welcoming new people, and in the West, Chinese students are often a novelty, so they may have been cared for with overtly expressed love and practical help like lifts to church and free meals. Student ministries in Western countries are well known for high quality teaching that is interesting, intellectually stimulating, and succinct. Services usually include vibrant modern music and other interesting youth-orientated activities. All this takes place in either purpose-built church buildings or spacious air-conditioned university lecture rooms borrowed or rented for the purpose.

    Simply finding a church presents a challenge to returnees. In China, official churches may be in recognizable buildings, but they are not that common in less urbanized areas and in a large city they can be hard to find.[23] Attending one of these churches may also be a challenge. The teaching is usually good, even if sometimes influenced by politics, but hundreds if not a thousand people may attend each service. At the end of the service everyone leaves in a hurry to make room for the next service and the returnee finds it difficult to meet and talk with anyone. The returnee often finds it all but impossible to get the close fellowship they need and enjoy.

    The other church option is a house-church. These groups have flourished in China even though they are technically illegal. Often, these meetings are very much out of sight and require a careful introduction by someone known and trusted by the leader before it is possible to attend. Some house-churches have leaders who were trained in local underground seminaries or overseas (the latter are returnees themselves). However, many house-churches are led by committed believers who lead, pastor, teach and minister, but have usually received very little training to do so. Returnees who are used to a vibrant overseas church, often find the sermons rambling, the theology strange, the music uninspiring, the room cramped and stuffy, and the children’s ministry non-existent.[24]

    As an overseas student they were used to the idea of moving from church to church to find one that suited them; after returning, the few options available are much the same and moving around is viewed as unspiritual.[25] In such a situation, it’s hard to connect and feel at home or build the supportive relationships that are needed to face the pressures in life. There are no more friendly lifts to church and the journey by public transport may take an hour or more. There may only be one day a week (if even that) to rest, and there is pressure from family members who expect the returnee to spend Sundays with them. Is it any wonder that many returnees struggle to establish themselves in a church and slowly stop making the effort? While overseas their church or fellowship was their main “group” providing support, relationships, and meaning to life. Now, after returning to China, life slowly reverts to the traditional groupings of family and work. Without the support of other Christians, many returnees find it impossible to live for Christ, slowly compromise to fit in with those around them, and eventually leave their faith behind, becoming yet another statistic.

    What can be done?

    What can be done about this situation? It is interesting that when faced with this problem some Western ministry leaders have suggested that more Bible or even seminary training might help.[26] This is partially true. If we recognise that the key issue comes from a clash of cultural values rather than a lack of Bible knowledge then it becomes clear that Bible teaching for Chinese students needs to be contextualised to the Chinese context. What does contextualized discipleship look like, and in what ways does it help with the problems of family relationships, work, and church?

    Using Chinese language to worship

    We have already said that contextualized discipleship requires discipling the student as a Chinese Christian in order to live in China. The first simple step is to encourage them to use Chinese language in their worship and learning about God. It may seem obvious that reading the Chinese Bible, praying in Chinese, and talking about matters of faith in Chinese would be helpful. However, for various reasons there is a great deal of push-back on this. Many Chinese became Christians in an English language campus ministry, with improving their English as a bonus attraction. The most commonly used Union Version Chinese Bible uses archaic Chinese that is difficult to understand, unlike modern English translations, which are in everyday English .[27] Western ministry leaders often accept that students will use the version they like and understand (i.e., an English version), rather than encourage them to also persevere with learning to understand the Chinese version. Prayer is modelled in “easy English” which is the language used in mixed-group international ministries. Several students, after making trips home to China, have shared with me their frustration of being unable to explain to their parents what has happened to them after becoming Christians. Since the whole experience was in English they did not have the Chinese words to explain it.

    Applying Bible teaching to the Chinese context

    At a deeper level, these students need to be encouraged to consider how to apply the Bible’s teaching to life in China, such as: What does the Bible say about honouring your parents when they are non-Christians and expect you to do things that violate God’s law?[28] What does the Bible say about eating blood or food sacrificed to idols and how do you apply this in a situation where these things are common practice?[29] Leaders need to recognise that many issues that are rarely mentioned in a Western Bible study are issues that a believer in China must face each day. How can we facilitate making connections so that Chinese students can fellowship and get mentored by mature Chinese Christians? How can we ensure they are being discipled as Chinese Christians who are ready to return to live in China?

    Preparing them to return

    Students need to learn about the issues they are going to face at home before they return so they have an opportunity to prepare themselves. These are complex issues with no easy answers, but prayerful thought and discussion beforehand can help set realistic expectations and strategies. Introductions to churches and returnee networks can assist returnees in connecting to a church or fellowship that is committed to seeing returnees settle well. These questions indicate the need for specialist knowledge and skills that are often beyond the scope of traditional student ministry teams. OMF’s Diaspora Returnee Ministry team make a unique contribution by partnering with other churches and ministries to facilitate discipleship for the Chinese context, to provide specialised pre-return training, and to help connect returnees with churches and fellowships through networks in China.

    Chinese returnees like George who have become Christians while overseas typically face severe challenges when they return home. There are tensions with parents and employers, as well as difficulties in finding and settling into a church. However, understanding that these issues arise from a clash of cultural values suggests that discipling Chinese students with the Chinese context in mind, giving them some pre-return training, and connecting them with a returnee network that will help them find an appropriate church will make a crucial difference for returnees like George.

    [1] For the complete story see http://thrivingturtles.org/2016/06/19/george/ (accessed 31 July 2017).

    [2] Stuart Bullington, “Diaspora Ministries: A View from the Field: Adding to Church Growth in East Asia by Discipling the Diaspora” (OMF International, 2014), 8.

    [3] Geert Hofstede, Gert Jan Hofstede, and Michael Minkov, Cultures and Organizations: Software of the Mind, 3rd ed. (New York: McGraw-Hill, 2010), 6.

    [4] Craig Storti, Figuring Foreigners Out: A Practical Guide (Boston: Intercultural Press, 1999), 5.

    [5] Craig Storti and Laurette Bennhold-Samaan, Culture Matters: The Peace Corps Cross-Cultural Workbook (Washington, DC: Peace Corps Information Collection and Exchange, 1997), 18.

    [6] Hofstede, Hofstede, and Minkov, Cultures and Organizations, 91.

    [7] Hofstede, Hofstede, and Minkov, Cultures and Organizations, 97.

    [8] Storti and Bennhold-Samaan, Culture Matters, 31.

    [9] J. Ling, “The Hook and the Cook: A Portrait of a Mainland Chinese Student in the UK,” China Source Quarterly 18:3 (Autumn 2016), http://www.chinasource.org/resource-library/articles/the-hook-and-the-cook (accessed 26 July 2017).

    [10] Wenzhong Hu and Cornelius Grove, Encountering the Chinese: A Guide for Americans, 2nd ed. (Yarmouth: Intercultural Press, 1999), 77.

    [11] Hu and Grove, Encountering the Chinese, 80.

    [12] Jean Brick, China: A Handbook in Intercultural Communication (Sydney: National Centre for English Language Teaching and Research, Macquarie University, 1991), 47.

    [13] Joann Pittman, interview with Jackson Wu and Sam Chan, “Contextualization and Chinese Culture,” China Source Conversations. Podcast audio, 1 November 2016, https://s3.amazonaws.com/gospel-io-chinasource-processed-files/6a/c685d09e0111e6a3f3e52e91d8278a/Contextualization_20podcast.mp3 (accessed 26 July 2017).

    [14] Storti and Bennhold-Samaan, Culture Matters, 31.

    [15] Ben Gosden, “Discipleship and the Problem of American Individualism,” Covered in the Master’s Dust (blog), 13 March 2012, http://mastersdust.com/2012/03/13/discipleship-and-the-problem-of-american-individualism/ (accessed 26 July 2017).

    [16] Michael Harris Bond, Beyond the Chinese Face: Insights from Psychology (Hong Kong: Oxford University Press, 1991), 85.

    [17] Bond, Beyond the Chinese Face, 64.

    [18] Bullington, “Diaspora Ministries,” 9.

    [19] Stuart, “The Need for Chinese Students to Prepare for Their Return,” China Source Quarterly 18:3 (Autumn 2016), http://www.chinasource.org/resource-library/articles/the-need-for-chinese-students-to-prepare-for-their-return (accessed 26 July 2016).

    [20] Bond, Beyond the Chinese Face, 17.

    [21] Brick, China, 48.

    [22] Bond, Beyond the Chinese Face, 64.

    [23] For example, while the population of Kunming is around five-million people, there are only four official churches.

    [24] E. T. Henry, “Returnees Committing to Church in China, ” China Source Quarterly 18:3 (Autumn 2016), http://www.chinasource.org/resource-library/articles/returnees-committing-to-church-in-china (accessed 26 July 2016).

    [25] China Outreach Ministries, Returning Home to China: An Equipping Guide for Chinese Christians Returning Home, 8, https://friendsinternational.uk/resources/downloadable-resources/returning-home/58-returning-home-to-china/file (accessed 26 July 2016).

    [26] Several International Student Ministry workers in Australia made this comment during a conversation with me in 2014.

    [27] The Chinese Union Version of the Bible was published in 1919. Although it is an accurate translation of the text, it uses literary Chinese that was appropriate for nearly 100 years ago. It is somewhat similar to reading the King James Version of the English Bible today.

    [28] This is a complex issue. The teaching in Exodus 20, Matthew 15, and Ephesians 6 corresponds with Chinese cultural ideas that honouring your father and mother is very important. However, Chinese culture would say this is the ultimate command and parents must be obeyed above any other claims, whereas the Bible puts this command below “honouring God” in the Ten Commandments (Exod 20) and Jesus makes it clear that following him must come before everything else (Luke 14).

    [29] See 1 Corinthians 8 and Acts 15.

    Resources for Returnee Ministry


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