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Q&A with David, OMF Diaspora Returnee Ministries

In 2013/2014, nearly 275,000 Mainland Chinese students studied at U.S. universities[1]. The OMF Diaspora Returnee Ministries team, led by David, is taking notice of this staggering trend and investing in the ministry of welcoming— in short, inviting internationals into a warm, loving community in hopes that they will one day embrace the invitation to follow Jesus.

David, who personally invests in the Chinese student diaspora in Denver, Colorado, answered some questions about what it looks like to welcome these visiting students, the challenges involved and how anyone can be the hands and feet of Christ to their international neighbors.

What does the Diaspora Returnee Ministry look like?

Most of our missionaries are serving people from East Asia who are here as university students or scholars. You will likely be familiar with International Student Ministry (ISM) efforts where you live, which include hospitality, practical help, Bible study and discipling. Our ministry in North America is presently focused on Chinese and Japanese and is carried out in partnership with Chinese and Japanese churches as well as with other local churches and ministries that have a burden for internationals.

Our particular ministry focus is on those who will return to their home countries. Some suggest as many as 10 percent of the Chinese who return identify with Christianity—but the sad reality is that 80 percent or more do not go on with the Lord or engage with the church at home. This reality is what we feel burdened to address. The issue is both an evangelism and a discipleship problem.

What are generally the socioeconomic and religious backgrounds of the students to whom you reach out?

Most of the students and scholars we work with are middle to upper class. Chinese students today usually have no religious affiliations, either seeing themselves as atheists or having some affinity with Buddhism or the traditional religions of China which are experiencing some resurgence there.

How receptive are these students to being welcomed into the ministry and learning about Christ?

Mainland Chinese remain among the most receptive of international student populations. Most campus ministries to international students see that upwards of 80 percent of those attending their activities come from China. They are receptive to welcome and hospitality and of course some are spiritually hungry and seeking after something to bring meaning to their challenging lives.

What are some of the most effective ways of connecting with the students? What makes them feel welcomed and helps form relationship bonds?

Connecting with students right when they arrive is important as their lives soon get very busy. Relationships formed early can be lasting: airport pick-ups, help finding apartments and setting up their lives here are great ways to begin to make friends with students. Our local Chinese church campus ministry is involved in this way and also hosts welcome events in late summer, culminating with a new student welcome retreat in the mountains just before school starts.

Most students miss family and communities they have left behind. Providing that kind of family community here for students is, I think, one of the best ways to connect and build relationship with them, which leads to opportunities to share Christ.

What are some of the biggest obstacles these students face on their journey to knowing Christ?

I think one of the biggest obstacles is simply time pressure. International students need to devote much of their time to their studies in order to keep up with their American classmates. It is still common for Asians to see Christianity as largely a “Western religion” and for Chinese to see religion itself as something not necessary and not real. Most do not struggle with material needs, but have emotional and spiritual needs that we can help them with as we get to know them.

What are some of the ministry’s biggest challenges in reaching out to students?

Again, time capacity is one. Another can be parents’ opinions. Some are told by parents not to engage or believe in Christianity while they are here. Christianity is often seen as something that the “weak” embrace so it is not something that those feeling strong and self-sufficient would be drawn to. Some come to the U.S. suspicious of the motivations of the church. We also find that the profile of students who are coming is rapidly changing. They are much more influenced by Western culture and postmodernism. Even young Chinese Christians who are reaching out through our church have commented on how different the incoming students are than they were just a few years previous.

What advice do you have for people who want to reach out to international students but have never done it before?

Acts 17:24-27 tells us that God is sovereign over the times and the places in which people live. He is orchestrating these growing global movements of people and it is for his loving purposes, “so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him” (v. 27). We have a great opportunity—no, a great responsibility—to reach out with the love of Christ to these dear people he is bringing to our doorstep. Making friends with them is a natural and wonderful way to share the love of God with them through your life. It is also a rich and wonderful experience that will bring blessing to your life as well as you get involved with what God is doing to reach the nations right here at home!

[1] Institute of International Education, Open Doors Report on International Educational Exchange, 2014,, (accessed September 27, 2015).

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