When I think of God bringing someone’s journey “full circle,” Nicole’s story comes to mind. An international student who came from China to study in the U.S. in 2011, Nicole met Christ through the OMF Diaspora Returnee Ministry, and then—four years later—has been reaching out to Chinese students through the same ministry.
Nicole shares about the people who welcomed her to the U.S., the concerns she battled to become a Christian and her advice for people reaching out to students like herself.
How did it feel when you first arrived in the U.S.? Was it difficult to meet people and make friends?
I felt both excited and nervous. Because there would be a lot of first-time experiences in front of me and I needed to be independent as all my families and friends were not with me. There was no one to rely on. The people I first got close to were my roommates—three other Chinese girls going to the university. But soon I felt we had different schedules and also different personalities and values. So I did miss home a lot and didn’t get used to the life here for a while.
How did you get invited into the Diaspora Returnee Ministry? What did you think of it at first?
An American family volunteered to pick me up from the airport when I first came and I lived at their place for one week. They took me to a home school family gathering. That was where I met an OMF Diaspora Ministries worker, David, and his family. I was surprised that David could speak fluent Chinese and we had a really nice talk. His wife Lynn invited me to dinner at their place a few days later.
At dinner, I shared that the home school family gathering had been my first time seeing worship. One song really touched my heart, “Here I am to Worship.” David was surprised I remembered that song.
David also invited three other international students, also members of a diaspora ministry, to his house. We had a great time that night and they invited me to join their summer retreat on Labor Day weekend.
To be honest, I had no idea what “retreat” meant. I was attracted by the fact the event was up on the mountains, which was a pretty new experience to me. So I signed up for the retreat and got to know a lot of people at that event. People were really friendly and nice to me. I really liked the warm atmosphere there as it was like a big family. I felt less lonely while in the group.
What made you want to keep going back to the diaspora ministry?
After the retreat, the leaders told me they had a weekly gathering every Friday night. I wanted to join it because of 1) free dinner (really authentic Chinese food!); 2) it was a very welcoming place and people there were always kind, joyful and warm-hearted. I wanted to be like them someday; and 3) I had never heard about Jesus and Christianity in China so I did have a lot of questions and I wanted to find the answers.
What were some of the most significant moments on your journey to Christ?
There was a Chinese New Year celebration at church held by the diaspora ministry group in February 2012. The worship and message really touched me. When we were praying, I felt joyful. When the leader asked if anyone trusted that Jesus loves us, I raised my hand. After that night, a sister (friend) in the group started to meet one-on-one with me and helped me to get to know more about this faith.
Two other sisters shared and encouraged me before I got baptized as I was actually hesitant at that time. I felt like I hadn’t had a “special” or “supernatural” experience yet. One sister shared with me that “Faith is to believe even without seeing”; the other shared with me, “Maybe Jesus is already outside your door and knocking. You need to let him in so that he can do amazing things for you.”
What were some of the biggest concerns you had about becoming a Christian?
It was easy for me to admit I was a sinner and needed God’s salvation. However, it was difficult for me to believe the Lord is the only God. I think it had something to do with my Chinese background. I was not an atheist when I grew up. On the contrary, I did believe there was some higher power in the heavens. I read a lot of fairy tales, both Oriental and Western. And I was very interested in Tibetan Buddhism, Chinese folklore and even Ancient Greek and Egyptian mythology. I felt like, if I claim Christ is the only God, it meant I had to say no to any other possibility, which I wasn’t very sure about at the time.
How did your life change after you became a Christian?
I think I’m becoming a better me since I believed in Jesus. He is teaching me different lessons in different phases of my life—like forgiveness, humility, patience, self-control and mostly importantly, to trust him. Life didn’t become easier but I feel less fear in my heart.
What is your desire and hope for the students you reach out to now?
My hope for them is that they can truly experience God’s love while they study and live in the US.
What are the most encouraging moments you’ve had in reaching out to new students?
The most encouraging moments would be seeing people in my small group get baptized—especially one girl who used to tell me she had no interest in the gospel at all, as her family all believed in Buddhism. God turns the impossible into the possible.
If someone is considering getting involved in ministry to internationals in their community, how would you encourage them?
I think the first two core values of our group can answer this question well:
• God’s family is a welcoming place and home for life.
• Salvation is through living faith and genuine love.
Treat the students as family and build up relationships before spreading the gospel so they feel like you really care for them but are not just “selling” Jesus. A lot of times actions speak louder than words. If we can live out God’s words in our daily lives, it seems more convincing to nonbelievers. Last but not least, do what you can and trust God for the rest. God has different plans for everyone. Whether to believe or not is their decision. Our job is to bring them to Jesus.
Will you pray for East Asia’s Diaspora?
• Give thanks for Nicole’s story and how God has worked, bringing her ‘full circle’.
• Pray for more churches to get involved in welcoming and discipling international students and helping them work through the kind of questions Nicole had.
• Pray for God to continue to draw East Asian students to himself.
Editor’s Note: This story was first posted in 2018. Since then Nicole has married and recently had a baby. While Nicole is not currently involved in student ministry, she’s involved in her local Chinese church.