Joy, originally from China, studied in Leeds before becoming our International Students' Intern in 2012. She recently visited China to find out about some of our students who have returned home and to look at the impact of our work with international students, here in Leeds.
"As Christians we are called to join Gods mission, His whole world is the mission field, and churches need to be united to see what’s going on outside our own little tiny worlds and our own countries."
Tell us about yourself…
I’m originally from China and was a student in Leeds in 2010. I’m from a family with no associations with religion at all, so when I arrived in Leeds and was invited to an ‘Introduction to Jesus and the Bible’ course which St George’s was supporting at the time; I made many friends. I could see an obvious difference between Christian British people and non-Christian British people; I felt this was a great place to be and I continued to meet with people from St George’s to read the bible and then I decided to follow Jesus and in December 2012 I was Baptised.
At the time, I was already involved in International Student ministry, but then they asked me to be an intern. I thought, ‘no way, I didn’t want to work for a Church’, but I prayed a lot and there were very obvious signs from God saying ‘I want you to do this’. So I took a step of faith, and that changed my life; I thought I’d be married with children in China by the age of 27, but I’m still in Leeds doing a Phd.
Why did you visit China?
I come from a background where no one knows Jesus, yet here I see people can be so open to this gospel, especially people from my country. So I wanted to find out whether it was all still relevant in China’s context as well as genuinely wanting to find out how people were doing back home to bring back stories to all those who’ve been supporting international student mission over the years; to see the results! But I’d also been in conversation with Transformations Leeds who wanted some up to date information on the situation in China in order to better support students who come to study in Leeds.
I went to visit 6 different cities around China to meet up with around 20 people, most of which were students in the west and became Christians, and half had worshipped at St George’s at some point. I met up with their family and friends to see how they are sharing their faith as well as meeting up with church pastors to get an idea of how the Church is growing in China.
There were so many highlights; God was teaching me something new every day.
Before I went I tried to make plans because I thought I had it all sorted but people said no to me when I asked for support, but God taught me a lesson; I heard Him saying clearly ‘it’s not about what mission you want to do, but about what I call you to join in.’ After I realised that, the next day doors just opened and people said yes and resources were put into place.
I hadn’t been home for 3 years, and China is going through some dramatic changes, so I didn’t know what to expect. I was quite scared so felt I needed to pray every day and God just spoke to me each time through scripture, encouraging me.
“Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.”
There was a point when I felt as though I don’t belong in China, but I didn’t belong in the UK either, and god was just there to get me through it; even when I was thinking I can’t do this, I will just return the money from those who supported me, he spoke to me through Joshua 1v9 “Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.”
I found it hard because I was devastated after breaking up with my boyfriend of 10 years, and to be frank, I couldn’t even carry my own suitcase it was so big, so I just thought how on earth can I do this alone, going to meet people I’ve never met. But the trip had been planned out in a miraculous way; the hospitality I received was just incredible. I really felt the sense that we were all part of the same family, even though I’d never met them before. God was bringing us together
The vision we hold about the impact of international mission is very true, we are at a very interesting point in history where the Church in the west can actually impact the future leaders of other countries, to equip them in implementing Christian values in their own country. This happens because students come who come to this country from the east are likely to come from privileged backgrounds or from powerful family backgrounds and the majority will return to their country into important roles in their careers, some are the future leaders of their countries.
I’ve heard stories from people in Shanghai who were students in the UK. They are the generation of people who were born in 1970s who are now Deans of Universities in China and others Government Ministers who are also setting up small churches in their city; using what they have experienced in the western church, to help the church grow in China.
A couple I met up with a couple who were in the UK 6 years ago and did the marriage course, and now back in China they have set up a church to help young families, helping others through marriage difficulties, and run a house church with a Sunday school; which are not allowed in China except so have to be hidden in house churches. This was a wonderful thing to see!
“I could tell you loads of stories”
Here’s a great story of how St George’s has discipled an international student. On my first day as an intern at St George’s I prayed to God ‘I can’t do this alone, please give me some help’, and a girl from China turned up at Church saying ‘how can I serve’. She was a new Christian, baptised 6 months before, and was involved in Alpha, washing dishes, welcoming at Church. She has since returned to the North West of China, a predominantly Muslim population where she is now helping to lead at a church small group using the resources and things she’s learned from being at St George’s. I met up with her pastor on my trip who was telling me how much their church has grown and when they asked for Gods provision of new leaders, and she just returned from Leeds ready to serve. The reason this girl became a Christian was because her university lecturer in China, actually studied in the UK and became a Christian then on return to China felt that she must share her faith with her students, despite the dangers of this. She taught physics and at the end of every lecture would say ‘these are all wonderful things in our world, but who do you think created them?’ and this is how my friend became a Christian!
"...the most important thing she got in the UK was not her degree, but meeting us who lead her to know God."
Another girl Emma, didn’t make her decision to follow Jesus until 1 year after she returned back to China. She said to me that the most important thing she got in the UK was not her degree, but meeting us who lead her to know God.
What is the future of China?
It has been said that China could become the world’s most Christian country within 15 years; the church is growing massively. There’s a new type of church emerging too led by intellectuals, which is really exciting as these could be our future ‘opinion leaders’ in China, they can be really influential.
The church in China is by no means perfect, they are hugely lacking in resources; even leaders are about 1-1000. We have so much and we need to share this with students who come to our church who can be of influence back in China.
How can others get involved in International Mission?
International outreach is a very exciting mission field that God has already laid out in front of us and it’s really easy to get involved with on our doorstep; helping out with international student welcome week for example, just be welcoming and invite them to church. Until you do this you won’t realise how open international students are to the gospel. Plus, I think doing mission with international students is far easier than with British students, but God is really providing so many opportunities here in Leeds and you really shouldn’t miss it!
St G’s has resourced international student mission so much already, so I hope we can carry on doing what we are doing, really listening to God and seeking the needs of the students. St G’s has been so welcoming in opening their doors to share meals with our international students over the years, countless times, which is so lovely. It can be awkward to overcome barriers of cross cultural communication so I really appreciate it when people do this!
It can be really exciting to witness international students being baptised and choosing to follow Jesus here at St George’s but I also want to recognise how many students return to China and become Christians there because of the positive experience they had while here in the UK. So I can attribute that to the hospitality and welcome we provide here at St George’s. So I want people to feel encouraged by the work we do here in Leeds, and why it’s so important to find the stories and get information about international students after they return home. I want you to know that what you do for our international students has value and a mega impact; I don’t want anyone to miss out on knowing that what they did, welcoming, hosting a meal, actually made a difference.
As Christians we are called to join Gods mission, His whole world is the mission field, and churches need to be united to see what’s going on outside our own little tiny worlds and our own countries.
Find out more about International Mission at St George's on our website.