This post is the third in a multi-part series revealing the gifts Christians from other countries bring to our American campus communities and churches. This part focuses on the gifts East Asian Christians bear.
â€œI stood up and said yes,â€ said Jing (alias for her security). She, like many other East Asian followers of Jesus, shows us that God is not limited by our perceptions of him and our life circumstances.
As an undergraduate student in China, Jingâ€™s longings for unconditional love were crushed after her boyfriend broke off their relationship. Already, she felt an immense weight of parental expectations — now this. Life seemed meaningless; she contemplated ending it.
As she envisioned herself jumping from a high building, two visiting Chinese campus missionaries asked Jing if she knew Jesus. â€œAt any other time in my life, I would have quickly dismissed them,â€ Jing recalled. â€œBut by this point, I felt desperate.â€
The missionaries told Jing that God loves her unconditionally and has a unique purpose for her life. They also invited her to a local house church gathering.
There, Jing felt a connection with the character of a heartbroken girl in a powerful skit. â€œI also had been looking for unconditional love in many different ways, and none satisfied me,” said Jing. â€œWhen I saw the girl holding a gun, I felt convinced she would surely end her life[…]. But Jesus died for her. I felt Jesus told me then that He died for me too.â€
Afterward, when the pastor asked who would like to know more about this God, about Jesus, Jing said yes!
Godâ€™s Spirit moves powerfully within Mainland China. He is not limited by tightening restrictions and increasing surveillance.
Amid state-sponsored crackdowns on large non-government-sanctioned church gatherings, a pastor writes his flock: â€œBeing persecuted [is] something we should rejoice at: It proves that we belong to Christ, not to the world. God uses these opportunities to purify his church.” He also reminds them that God rewards those who faithfully persevere in the faith.
Forced to abandon the megachurch model, Chinaâ€™s church leaders adapt. Like the early church following Stephenâ€™s martyrdom, they scatter into places they would never have otherwise gone, bringing the Gospel to new areas. They meet in smaller groups or within online communities that creatively evade Chinaâ€™s â€œGreat Firewall.â€
Contrastingly, some U.S. evangelicals show a more limited perspective of how God might work amid restrictions.
â€œThere is no pandemic,â€ said the pastor of Grace Community Church (GCC), John MacArthur, attributing the supposed fabrication to â€œa virus of deception orchestrated by Satan.â€ As Coronavirus cases surged in the late summer of 2020, seven thousand mostly white maskless worshippers sat shoulder-to-shoulder, ignoring pleas from the predominantly Latino neighborhood and mocking county health measures. â€œChrist, not Caesar, Is Head of the Church,â€ MacArthur and church elders said in a statement signed by over twenty-one thousand people, including several thousand pastors.
Christians within the U.S. freely attend church andâ€”at least with GCC and COVID restrictionsâ€”can even defy local and state government leaders without legal consequences. But about a third of Americaâ€™s 350,000 Christian congregations are “on the brink of extinction,” says Ryan Burge, a political science professor, pastor, and author. Meanwhile, the church in China, officially an atheist state, sees remarkable growth where religious freedom is severely curtailed.
Might actual threats to the American church be more internal (a too-small view of God) than external (risks of losing religious freedoms)? How might East Asian believers help expand our view of him?
Gifts From Japan
Like Jing in Mainland China, Genkiâ€”then a neuroscience post-doc at the Johns Hopkins Medical Schoolâ€”experienced God unboxed through a broken relationship. â€œFrom then on, I started asking the Lord to equip me for loving and shepherding God’s beloved people with the love of gentle and lowly Jesus,â€ Genki resolved.
The Lord honored Genkiâ€™s surrender.
When he returned to Japan during the following winter break, â€œMitsumi surprised [him] with her invitation for coffee (which extended into a three-hour brunch!),â€ he recalls.
Before their visit, Genki prayed exclusively for Mitsumi. â€œGod had changed my heart! My prayers were totally different from eight years ago when I told God, in effect, I want to date her no matter what!” Genki said.
â€œOur wedding day (in Japan) was full of blessings and joy! God was most glorified. Besides hundreds of Christian friends, one hundred non-believers listened to the Gospel for the first time.â€
After returning to Baltimore, Genki and Mitsumi testified of Godâ€™s beautiful work as ministry leaders.
Gifts From Singapore
“Many times, we doubt if we heard God right when things don’t go according to our plans, or we wonder if He made a mistake, says Dr. Wai Jia Tam, a Singaporean alumnus of the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health. â€œBut I’m learning that our detours are not mistakes. They are more purposeful and intentional than we ever imagined, often stepping stones to our next launchpad.”
Wai-Jia learned these lessons over a decade of wrestling with God and his call. During that time, he gave Wai-Jia a vision of her family in Baltimore. Then he miraculously paved the way for her to study at Hopkins.
While at Hopkins, the Lord led Wai-Jia to launch Kitesong Global as an international non-profit bringing wholeness to vulnerable communities. Her program director booked the schoolâ€™s largest conference hall. Hundreds came to hear Wai-Jia testify of Godâ€™s unboxed work.
â€œThree years later, a young woman reached out to me when she became suicidal during the COVID-19 pandemic, as she remembered what I had told her about Jesus,â€ said Wai-Jia. I led her to Christ and connected her to a [local] church community.â€
Gifts from China
God also gave Jing a vision of what she later experienced in America. In China, after she came to faith in Christ, Jing saw a multitude of worshipers praising God in different languages. A Muslim woman wearing a red hijab and smiling stood out among them.
Jingâ€™s multilingual worship vision five years earlier mirrored her experience at InterVarsityâ€™s Urbana Missions conference this past December. Urbana 22 featured speakers and music from the church outside America, inviting participants into Godâ€™s global mission. Jing, now an international student in the U.S., also joined a Peace Feast Urbana seminar featuring God at work as Muslim and Christian students gather for a delicious meal, sharing from the heart, listening respectfully, and gaining new friends.
â€œThe message shared [at Urbana] was about saying a small yes to God, and eventually, He will guide us to say the big yes for his calling,â€ Jing recalls. â€œAs long as I keep saying small yeses to God in my daily life, He will lead to [Godâ€™s great vision for me] one day,â€ she says.
â€œUrbana reminds me that my extended Ph.D. journey could be a gift since it allows me to interact with students from different backgrounds,â€ Jing continues. My current lab has a very diverse culture, and Iâ€™m in good relationships with multiple Muslim international students. I see it as a training opportunity, preparing me for the multicultural vision God gave me.â€
Over three decades of ministering among East Asians (three years serving in a Taiwanese church and twenty-seven with InterVarsity), I repeatedly sense an inner peace within many of our brothers and sisters that flows from their humble surrender to God and quiet confidence in his special purpose for their lives. As part of Godâ€™s global church, they challenge us to enlarge our view of God so that he can work as he wishes in and through us.
Resources to Consider
Growth in globalization and other recent developments (ex., COVID, wars, and refugee resettlement) requires us to learn from the rest of the world more than ever. The growing number of Christians coming to America provides an amazing opportunity to learn from the global church!
This bite-size resource provides quick tips and tools for engaging Chinese internationals.
A similar resource for connecting with Japanese internationals.
This May 31 webinar shows what God is doing through four ministries involved in digital engagement with people in China.
Previous Posts in this Series
 Fenggang Yang of Purdue Universityâ€™s Center on Religion and Chinese Society estimates there are between 93 and 115 million Protestants in China, with fewer than 30 million attending officially registered churches. High-profile crackdown cases include demolishing a megachurch in Shanxi Province and lengthy prison sentences for members of an unregistered church in Yunnan Province.
 See Acts 8:1b; 11:19-20.
 According to the Pew Research Center and the Public Religion Research Institute, white evangelicals were the least likely religious group â€” Christian or otherwise â€” to social distance, wear masks, and get vaccinated.
About the author:
God has privileged Bill Nelson to represent Him among students and scholars gathered from over 50 nations at Johns Hopkins University over the past 25 years. Bill is an ordained minister through the Evangelical Free Church of America (EFCA), having received his theological and ministry training at Dallas and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminaries. He and his wife Michele enjoy hiking in the mountains and other activities with friends and family, including their three grown children.