January 19, 2018

Building Bridges to China on the College Campus in America

Carl Sebris

In 1978 Deng Xiaoping (1904–97) came to power and, as David Aikman writes, “opened China up both to its own latent internal creative energies and to the outside world with his famous ‘open door’ policy.”[1] Mao Zedong’s (1893–1976) “Cultural Revolution” (1966–76) had closed China off and isolated the Chinese people from the outside world. But with Deng Xiaoping’s “open door,” Chinese intellectuals were allowed to travel to the West to study in America’s colleges and universities. It was in the early 1980s that the first Chinese students and intellectuals began to arrive in my home town of Clemson, South Carolina. They were here to begin their studies at Clemson University. The pastor of our church recognized the evangelistic opportunity of this “open door” and took steps to build some bridges with these first Chinese arrivals. The pastor’s small home Bible study eventually grew as more and more Chinese began to arrive, and a Chinese church was established in Clemson.

How can churches evangelize and disciple students who come from China (or other countries) for undergraduate and graduate training in America? The answer is by building bridges. This was the Lord’s method of evangelism and discipleship (John 3–6) and the method used by the apostle Paul (Acts 16–19). According to the Webster’s Dictionary, a bridge is “a time, place, or means of connection or transition.” Churches can evangelize and disciple the students from China by finding “a time, place, or means of connection or transition” with them.

What are some of these connections or bridges for evangelism and discipleship that churches can make with the Chinese students? One effective and practical way to connect with the Chinese is to greet them at the airport when they first arrive. Most of the students arriving from China travel many hours. They arrive weary, lonely, and often very nervous in their new surroundings. The airport is an ideal place to meet these new students for the first time with the love of Christ. Churches and individuals can immediately connect with these students by helping them get settled in the community. This can be accomplished by showing them where to shop and bank, assisting them to find housing, introducing them to other Chinese, helping them to gather furnishings and other necessities for their apartments, guiding them to purchase a safe and reliable automobile, and (if you are brave) teaching them how to drive.

The timeless principle of truth recorded in Leviticus 19:34 still holds: “But the stranger that dwelleth with you shall be unto you as one born among you, and thou shalt love him as thyself; for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God.” Contact employees at the International Students Office on a university or college campus and let them know that your church is available and wants to offer this type of practical assistance to the foreign students. E-mail is the most efficient way to get and stay connected with the international community. The Chinese (and other nationalities) at most colleges and universities have an e-mail list that can be subscribed to and later used to announce your church’s special events, ministries, and services.

Churches can make connections and build bridges for evangelism and discipleship with the Chinese through a variety of outreaches. Day trips to visit local historical sights and special attractions are a great way to establish relationships and allow for personal evangelism. English classes to help these new Chinese students (and their spouses) improve their English vocabulary, comprehension, and conversational speech are another means to get connected and communicate Bible truth.

The holidays are a great point of contact. The Chinese New Year is the most special time of the year for the Chinese people. A Chinese New Year banquet is interesting and fun for the American church family and will draw many Chinese visitors to your church who have never before heard the gospel. A Thanksgiving Day meal or banquet is an excellent way to teach the Chinese about the spiritual significance of our American tradition.

An International Saturday at your church is a practical way to get a large number of international students out to your church for a visit and a great way to involve the entire congregation in your church’s international outreach. Depending on your church’s facilities (and the size of the international community), an International Day can incorporate a variety of carnival-type games for the children, a flea market designed to give away clothing and other usable household items to the international students and their families, a luncheon on the grounds, and an athletic tournament (Ping-Pong, soccer, or basketball). Following lunch or during the tournament awards ceremony the gospel can be preached and an invitation given. Very often these new international students who want to learn about Christianity and the God of the Bible will respond.

When asked, many of the Chinese students will agree to attend a short (six-to-eight-week) small group personal Bible Study. Those interested in Bible truth will want to continue the study and will often invite friends and neighbors to attend. Typically within a year, Chinese people will be getting saved, and the nucleus for a Chinese church will be established. Churches can evangelize and disciple students who come from China (or other countries) for undergraduate and graduate training in America by making connections and building bridges. You don’t have to go to the other side of the globe to obey the Great Commission (Matt. 28:19, 20). Churches and individuals can evangelize and make disciples of all the nations (and in particular the Chinese) right next door on the college campus in America.

Carl Sebris, formerly was International (Chinese) Pastor at University Baptist Church in Clemson, South Carolina, then became pastor of Bible Baptist Church in Fort Pierce, Florida. He passed into glory in October, 2015.

(Originally published in FrontLine • September/October 2004. Click here to subscribe to the magazine.)

  1. David Aikman, Jesus in Beijing (Washington, DC: Regnery Publishing, 2003), 13. []

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