Are you ready for a shock? Here it is:
“Every year 18,000 Chinese Christians return home from abroad; 80-85% of these confessing Christians never commit to any form of Christian fellowship back home.” (Stuart Bullington, OMF Diaspora Ministries, cited by Heidi Ifland in China Partnership, March 2, 2015)
Stuart Bullington (OMF Diaspora Ministries) names the obstacles that Chinese Christian returnees face: 1) going home alone, 2) lack of training before their return, 3) inadequate connections to Christians back home, 4) no help with reverse culture shock–including church culture shock, 5) workplace challenges, and 6) family opposition. Some or all of these challenges await every returnee, regardless of culture.
Bullington recommends four ways American believers can help change this situation:
1. Disciple new believers for life back home:
1) Encourage your international friends to read the Bible and pray with you in their native language. Using a bilingual Bible may help both of you (see multilanguage.com).
2) Give your friends small but real challenges in life-skill areas such as time management, forming and maintaining healthy relationships, and handling finances with God’s Kingdom in mind. Teach them to draw on God’s help as they face challenges. Handling small challenges successfully here can help them conquer bigger ones back home.
3) If there is an ethnically appropriate church in your area, take your friends to it and strongly encourage them to get involved. Why? Attending an American church may lead your friends to expect things they won’t find back home. If there is no ethnic church nearby, involve your friends in a small group. Look for or form a small group with fellow believers from back home. If you can’t do either, take them to yours.
2. Prepare internationals for re-entry
Help them develop 1) a sense of purpose, 2) a view of themselves as living in Jesus, and 3) a realistic view of their future: reverse culture shock, high-stress work, family opposition. Some helpful publications to study together are Home Again, by Nate Mirza (dawsonmedia), Think Home: A Reentry Guide for Christian International Students (2011), Coming to America/Returning to Your Home (2011), and Back Home: Daily Reflections on Reentry, all by Lisa Espineli Chinn (InterVarsity Press).
3. Connect returnees with Christians back home
Bullington notes that “returnees who involve themselves in a good church within three months of returning tend to thrive spiritually.” To find a church or hometown Christians, contact a same-culture church or an international student ministry worker. Or go to sendingpad.com, fill in your student’s information, and see if they have a church in their database near your friend’s hometown.
Pray with them now, praying over each phase of their homegoing. Pray for them with family, friends, and small group, now and after they leave. Stay in touch and keep praying with and for them.