Life in lockdown for international students in China

Since early January, international students in China have been living in lockdown on their campuses. Even while local families reunited over the Chinese New Year holiday, these students suddenly saw the doors of freedom slam shut.

Those who didn’t get out of China in time found themselves with half-empty dormitories and friends gone. They were only allowed to leave to buy food on campus and then quickly return to their rooms. Two international students from Nigeria, who are part of an international church in Beijing, share what it’s been like living under lockdown during the coronavirus.

Can you describe life under lockdown?

Theophilus: Shortly after coronavirus cases were reported in other cities, overnight all religious and public gathering were banned here. Then the shock of early February was the message: “Students are no longer allowed to leave the university campus until further notice.” I wasn’t allowed to meet my new church family and friends, or go out to buy fruit and other necessities. Or even visit other international student dormitories within my university. It was like I was stopped from living.

I now have to wake up every morning and stare at the laptop all day. I’ve developed severe backache. Fear came too, especially from the news I read and people I talked to. It is a horrible, monotonous and tiring existence under lockdown in China.

Hyellai: At first I thought, this will soon pass. However, as the days went by and the cases increased it became frustrating and depressing. The lockdown started the day I was due to travel to Thailand, so I had to cancel everything. I was disappointed, hurt and angry. Two weeks into the lockdown I became tired of the restrictions and I started having headaches and body pain.

How has your family back home responded?

Theophilus: Because they love me, I receive phone calls constantly from my concerned family in Nigeria. Yet they won’t allow me to rest because I have to keep answering fearful questions all day about my safety in a strange land.But this also increases the bond between me and my family, because we now talk more frequently than before. I’ve been able to reassure them that our safety only comes from God.

Hyellai: The level of fear from my family checking on me every day makes me feel more comfortable and yet lonely realising they are far away.  But I’m grateful they call me daily as it makes me feel loved.

How has being a believer in Jesus shaped your experience?

Theophilus: The lockdown was really a moment to fear. But rather feeding that fear, it was time to meditate on God’s words and promises and feed my faith. It’s also been a time for me to pray, especially for the world. The world needs “all manner of prayers” even beyond this virus pandemic. Because of God’s goodness I believe this time shall pass. Our deserted cities, roads and churches shall once again be filled.

Hyellai: Being a believer has really helped me to stay hopeful. Having many meetings online and praying both with friends and alone makes me feel so much peace. The feeling of speaking to God and knowing He cares has been really important for me. I have new available time to pray and study the Bible, and doing these things helps me avoid anxiety.

The Lord continues to work in China through international students experiencing these restrictions. New online groups have begun as students have reached out to other internationals in different campuses and cities. God is changing hearts and drawing his people together to pray and envision ways to be a blessing to those in China and back home. Please continue to pray for international students around the world as they can often be forgotten during times of crisis.

Frailty, fear and faith

23-year-old Jonathan, a Singaporean international law student in London was attacked unprovoked earlier this month. “We don’t want your coronavirus in our country”, they shouted.

During a pandemic, what spreads is not only a virus but also fear.

The impact on lives, plans and hearts

Beginning in Wuhan, China, COVID-19 swept across the East Asian nations and has now reached every corner of the planet. In many countries, schools and universities are closed and employees are working from home.

In the world of student ministry, training, camps and events have already been postponed or cancelled, or are looking doubtful. One particularly close to my heart is the triennial East Asia Regional Conference, due to take place in Thailand in July. We were expecting more than 600 students to attend. To cancel such a strategic event would be a huge loss.

People are paralysed with fear. We have been confronted with our frailty and vulnerability by a microscopic, yet potentially fatal virus.

Yes, we are facing a fiery trial indeed. But how are we as Christians to respond?

Seek the Lord

Rather than panicking, Christians can respond differently. In the Bible, when facing trials, godly leaders showed one clear response: coming to the Lord in prayer and confession. We are to face our suffering squarely, and seek the Lord.

King Solomon prayed for the Israelites (and then similarly for the nations):

“When famine or plague comes to the land… whatever disaster or disease may come, and when a prayer or plea is made by anyone among your people Israel – being aware of their afflictions and pains, and spreading out their hands toward this temple – then hear from heaven, your dwelling place…”

2 Chronicles 6:28-30 NIV

So too, we are to pray, confident that He hears. In East Asia, we are using our noon time to share prayer items and spend time praying for the people and situation. Through this epidemic, we are learning to humbly submit to the sovereignty of our Lord.

Love the least

Another Christian responsibility during this trial is to practice compassion for the marginalised. Whenever there is suffering, the less privileged are the first ones to suffer. The coronavirus outbreak proves it again. In South Korea, free meal service charities have shut down their centres and programs, meaning the hungry struggle even more to find food. But Christians are looking for ways to deliver food to the elderly and poor. In contexts where many are struggling to buy face masks, Christians are encouraging one another to give masks to others who may need them more.

Continue with creativity

Christian students and staff workers of IFES movements are using creative ways to reach out to one another at this challenging time. They are using social media as a medium to pray together and continue with Bible studies. Evangelism and discipleship continue through online platforms. For those students whose church services have been cancelled, Sundays are now an opportunity to stay at home and witness to their families, while joining services online.

Jongho’s prayer

We are humans, bound by our weakness and culture. We need to take precautions and do what we can to protect ourselves from potential harm. Yet we are called to be faithful, even during a pandemic. This requires faith, love and creativity. It is my prayer that through this fiery trial, we may be found purer before the Lord, deeper in love and faith, and more faithful in stewarding God’s creation.

Tome’s friends join his Bible studies

Bible study. Why did you never invite us to your Bible study?” Tome’s friend demanded. He was looking over Tome’s shoulder at his weekly schedule.

Tome had been meeting weekly with a local staff worker in Timor Leste to read God’s Word. He was very keen and always wrote the meeting time in his schedule to make sure he didn’t forget. But Tome hadn’t expected his friend to be interested too. In fact, he soon found that there were several friends who wanted to join in! Tome’s one-to-one Bible studies grew into a small group of seven students gathering together each week to open the Bible.

IFES student ministry began in Timor Leste nine years ago. Despite the challenges of the context, the work has grown as God has opened doors. There are now three groups meeting weekly to study the Bible on three campuses, as well as two local staff workers.

Join us this week as we pray for student ministry in Timor Leste:

  • Thank God for the new group meeting on Tome’s campus. Pray that groups can be started on more campuses this year.
  • Pray for the Bible camp happening this year, focusing on the book of Acts and providing training for students in how to study the Bible.

Helping students love the Bible in a world of distractions

Melissa was the student who stood out. Eu Pui had been involved in FES Malaysia student ministry for 16 years, but Melissa stuck in her mind. Melissa prepared Bible studies thoroughly for the group she led. She thought about the timing. She thought about the audience. And what’s more, Melissa wanted the Bible to influence her life, the way she interacted at church and her decisions at work.

Eu Pui longs to see more students in Malaysia like Melissa, committed to engaging deeply with Scripture. But with students’ increasingly busy schedules and social media distractions, it’s getting harder to help them love the Word. They lose concentration. They just want sound bites. They’d rather watch a YouTube video than open the Bible.

These are just some of the challenges of student ministry today in Malaysia and in the rest of East Asia – and indeed, across the world.

The recent IFES Scripture Engagement gathering brought together the Scripture Engagement global team, regional and national movement staff from almost every IFES region, including Eu Pui from East Asia. A network of regional champions for Scripture Engagement was formed. The group spent time talking together about how they can best help their students engage deeply with the Bible, in different contexts. This network will continue to be a space for encouragement and learning across the regions over the coming years, which, God-willing, will filter out across every national movement.

  • Thank God for the conversations staff had at the Scripture Engagement gathering, sharing ideas and best practices. Pray that Eu Pui and the others would know how to take it forward in their own regions and movements.
  • Pray that Eu Pui and other FES Malaysia staff would continue to find joy in the Word as they spend time meeting students and preparing studies, talks and training.

Instant Christmas, constant love

Invitations had gone well this time. Pun and Love alone, two Christian students from the same faculty, had invited ten friends between them to the TCS Thailand Christmas party, Instant Christmas, constant love. TCS students wanted to introduce their friends to the constant love of Jesus. The food was the instant part! The guests all squeezed into the small apartment, instant noodles in hand. Once inside they could add the extras – cheese, chicken, mince, mushrooms, pak choi – all provided by the TCS host. 

Between the food, the games and the singing, the TCS students shared what Christmas is all about. They watched a short Bible overview on video and then Pun shared how the gospel message is good news for us. It’s like a present, that we need to open and accept, Pun explained. What will your response be? For some, it was the first time they’d heard the big story of the Bible. 

Will you pray for these students who heard the gospel last month? 

  • Pray that they would want to find out more and that their Christian friends would be prayerful in following up on conversations started at the party. 
  • Thank God for the courage of TCS students like Pun and Love, inviting their friends to hear the gospel. Pray that they would continue to be courageous witnesses, living distinctive, attractive student lives. 
  • Pray particularly for Ling* who has been coming to church and to a TCS Bible study regularly, and has recently taken the step of faith. Pray that she would be discipled well this year, growing in her love for Jesus and for evangelism. 

*name changed 

Thanks for praying with us!

Security risks and language barriers

Naomi needs to be careful what she says to her friends. Even a text message can be intercepted by authorities and scanned for ‘Christian’ language. It adds a tension to everyday life she didn’t know before September. Naomi has recently moved to a country to East Asia as an international student to pursue language learning. She reflects:

“I don’t like the effect it has on me. It makes me less inclined to share the gospel because I’m so conscious of the sensitivity of it. But if anything, my response should be the opposite! The gospel desperately needs to be shared here, as many people – locals and internationals – have yet to hear of Christ’s redeeming love and grace.”

Despite the dangers, Naomi is loving the international experience. She explains:

“In a class of 20 there are 14 different nationalities. I’ve met students from places like Iran, Sudan, Nigeria and many more! The number of different languages and cultures represented is enriching and exciting, but can be a challenge in getting to know people deeply and moving past surface-level conversations.”

Join us in praying for Naomi this week:

  • Pray for Naomi to have linguistic fluency, sensitivity and courage to have gospel conversations with friends.
  • Pray that God would open eyes and change hearts of local and international students, so that they would know Jesus as their Lord and Saviour.
  • Pray for the local Christians facing persecution, that they would continue to hold fast to Jesus and trust in His ways and provision.

Thanks for praying with us!

God is the script-writer

When PhD student Tom* first arrived here with his young family, he knew it was dangerous. But now he looks back at that time as the ‘good old days’. He lives in anticipation of hearing the police knock at the door. And yet, even here, God is at work. Tom shared how he has seen God breaking through the darkness in the student world…

On your guard

It’s surprising the students still want to meet us. At university, they’re given severe warnings repeatedly against having anything to do with religious activities or even attending English clubs. Owning religious literature is a risk. There are airport-like security checks at the campus gates.

We often wonder if we should cancel our meetings with students. We often wonder what we’re doing here. But every time we feel like we’ve reached our limit, God gives us a small encouragement – a glimmer of light breaking through in the darkness. And it’s enough to keep us going for a few more months.

Glimmers of light

We met student Ryan* not long after we arrived here, eight years ago. He wasn’t interested in discussing spiritual matters at all. But last year, his girlfriend saw a Christian biography on our bookshelf and wanted to read it. She then began to read the Bible and later professed faith. Following her example, R started to read the Bible with one of us in an unwatched spot in a nearby café. He professed faith very recently as well. Seeing his willingness to count the cost has been a real encouragement to us.

Others are wary of reading the Bible but are willing to meet up to discuss a secular book. That’s opened up many opportunities to speak of the gospel.

Dreams of Jesus

Among my own PhD peers, it has been a slow and often discouraging journey. Things got off to a good start when the semester started, but then in our third week together, the whole class was warned that I was there to force them to convert to Christianity. For two years after that, my classmates barely spoke to me. But earlier this year, very unexpectedly, one of them opened up to me. She mentioned that she’d been studying the Bible with a Christian for some time. She mentioned that she’d had a dream of Jesus on the cross!

I prayed earnestly that she would have more dreams. So far, she hasn’t. And I remember that God is the script-writer, not me.

Looking ahead

With the combination of slow progress in ministry, many uncertainties as well as constant stress, we often ask ourselves whether perhaps God has somewhere else in mind for us. But one message that we heard a few years ago keeps coming to mind: Jonah preached for three days and saw a whole city turning to the Lord. Noah witnessed to the people of his generation throughout the time it took him to build the ark (perhaps 100 years), but only saw seven others from his family join him in the ark. However, it is Noah who is included in the Hebrews 11 “Hall of Fame”. What we need to be conscious of each day is whether we are being faithful to the Lord, not whether our environment looks favourable or our ministry appears to be effective.

*names changed

IFES East Asia

East Asia Week 2019

Jesus is doing incredible things in the lives of students in our biggest global region. Learn from students and find out how God is calling many to know him in some difficult contexts.

3 things I’ve learned from students in Malaysia

It is a privilege to walk alongside so many students who have shown great Christ-like example in their ordinary lives on campus. Here are three examples of students who have left an imprint in my life.

A passion to serve

Mark was a second-year student when I first met him. He showed me what it meant to serve the Christian Fellowship (CF) with passion. He had a humble and quiet personality. He served behind the scenes. He went the extra mile without being asked. He came to the fellowship week after week without fail and would reach out to the juniors, especially those who were left out from the group. He did not hold any leadership position in the CF. Rather he intentionally freed himself from official responsibility so that he could have time to make the juniors feel welcome. Serving is not about a position of leadership but about reaching others with Christ’s love. Mark had a passion to serve.

A passion for the Word

Sam and Edna taught me what it means to be hungry for the Word. Their campus was a long way away. Because of the distance, my wife (also a staff worker) and I could only visit their campus once a month. There were times when we questioned if it was worth it to travel all that way for just two students. After a long and tiring drive to their campus, we imagined we’d just meet over a simple meal for some fellowship. But they had other ideas! They wanted a proper Bible study! The two of them were always eager and waiting for us to do a Bible study together, even if we had to do it in McDonalds. I also remembered how they saved up the little money they had over a few months, so that they could buy a study Bible to help them dig deep into the Word.  Their passion for the Word was a wake-up call for us.

A passion to share

Then, there was a group of students from Kampar who had a passion to see their friends and nation reached with the gospel. This group were also passionate about running! They ran almost every week.  One year, they organised a run, in conjunction with the Malaysia Day Celebration. While they were running, they invited all other Christian groups on campus to pray for the nation. On another occasion, they invited their non-Christian friends to join them for a marathon around the country. Their dream was to share with their friends about who God is especially during the time spent travelling and running together.

What I find in these three groups of students is a common word: passion. Passion to serve, passion to study and passion to share. My life has been enriched by each of them.

IFES East Asia

East Asia Week 2019

Jesus is doing incredible things in the lives of students in our biggest global region. Learn from students and find out how God is calling many to know him in some difficult contexts.

Sarah’s search

Sarah* was devout. She wanted to help her Christian school friends become Muslims. They were kind people, and she didn’t want them to go to hell. So she started buying books about religion, watching debates and reading articles. She’d ask her Christian and Hindu friends clever questions to help them see their mistakes and realise the truth.

By the time Sarah was at senior high school, she was reciting prayers every morning, memorising two pages of the Quran every week, and fasting every Monday and Thursday.

Yes, Sarah was devout.

But she was also curious.

Compelled by curiosity

It was curiosity that took Sarah along to a talk held by the Christian student group, Perkantas (the IFES movement in Indonesia). The flyer had been well designed and caught Sarah’s attention. She wanted to go. She knew her boundaries – she wouldn’t join in any worshipping or praying – she was just curious. As she listened to the talk on salvation by grace, she thought again how wrong Christians were.

Curiosity took her along to a second Perkantas event, this time a seminar about the Trinity. Sarah wanted to know what was behind the concept of the Trinity. She wanted to see for herself just how weak that Christian concept was.

But she came away a bit dissatisfied… It wasn’t as ridiculous as she’d expected. She realised that winning an argument against a Christian over the Trinity might be harder than she’d thought, and probably shouldn’t be attempted.

Searching for answers

Sarah went back to concentrating on her devotion to Islam. She took it more seriously than ever. But one day, she found herself with a new question: am I just a Muslim because of my upbringing? Or is Islam objectively and universally right?

It was a question she couldn’t answer. But she wanted to know. Her Muslim friends were not much help. Sarah’s Christian friends, however, were happy to talk it over with her. One discussion got to the crux of the matter: “In my religion, Jesus was not the one on the cross”, Sarah told them. But their unnerving reply: “Which one came first? The Bible or the Quran? In history, the text written closer to the event is more likely to be true.”

Those words were dancing around her mind. She didn’t want to believe, but she needed to find out the truth.

Another friend suggested she read Nabeel Qureshi’s book Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus, the story of a devout Muslim converting to Christianity. The writer was from a different Islamic sect to Sarah – no wonder he wavered, she thought. Though reluctant at first, Sarah finally downloaded the book and began to read it on her phone. Again, she found her perspective on the crucifixion being challenged.

Could it be true?

She wasn’t yet convinced.

Skyler Gerald – Unsplash

Dreams and doubts

But a few days later, Sarah had a dream. She saw Calvary.

She told herself it was just the result of her recent reading, nothing more. But then – another dream! In this one, she had become a Christian and her mother was furious with her.

Sarah felt scared. She was a Muslim. Why would she become a Christian in a dream?

Sarah’s long search for the truth, her unanswered questions, dreams and doubts finally drove her to prayer. She asked God to show himself to her. She turned first to the Quran, but didn’t find an answer. Then she turned to a Christian website and her eyes fell on this:

“Be still, and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth.” 

Psalm 46:10

Sarah knew that God was speaking to her directly. At that moment, she decided to open her heart and become a Christian.

Dramatic changes

Sarah’s life changed dramatically from that moment on. Moved by God’s love for her, she felt a new compassion for her family and friends who didn’t know Jesus. Now, instead of wanting her Christian friends to become Muslims, she wanted her Muslim friends to become Christians. It was a complete transformation.

When Sarah moved to Malaysia to go to university, she got involved with FES, the IFES movement there. She went to Bible study and church regularly and made friends who helped her learn more about God. She came to understand more deeply that salvation is not something to keep to yourself. It is for all people around the world. She had been greatly blessed to have heard, understood and experienced God’s love and grace in salvation. Other people needed to know too.

A new dilemma

Sarah told her family about her faith quite recently. Her mother was furious with Sarah. She wouldn’t let her go to church or go to her fellowship group. She arranged for someone to come to their house to teach Sarah about Islam. She told Sarah that she’s the reason she’s getting sicker every day.

For Sarah, it’s a new dilemma. What does it look like to love and honour her mother, while at the same time, following Jesus?

She writes:

Whatever happens, I believe God is in control. I’m grateful for the support and prayers of IFES, FES Malaysia and Perkantas. It means a lot to me.               

* name changed

IFES East Asia

East Asia Week 2019

Jesus is doing incredible things in the lives of students in our biggest global region. Learn from students and find out how God is calling many to know him in some difficult contexts.

Why I’m thankful for KGK Japan

My name is Honoka. I was raised in a non-Christian home. After graduating from a protestant middle and high school, I stopped reading the Bible. But while studying Spanish at university, I was introduced to KGK Japan by a friend, and was saved last year during a summer camp. It has been almost two years since I found KGK, and 14 months since I got saved. KGK became the most important place for me at university. I want to share three things that I am particularly thankful for:

Recharging my batteries to love my neighbour

Our KGK group met every morning at 8am for devotions. We read the Bible, shared what we had discovered and prayed for each other. I loved these times! It was so important for me to hear God’s words, dwell on His will and feel His love, before jumping into the non-Christian environment.

I have never been good at forming relationships, and in a non-Christian community it has been my biggest challenge to love my neighbour. I lose the power to love others the moment I am away from God. But because of that fellowship time with my Christian friends each morning, I could recharge my spiritual batteries to love my neighbours on campus.

We could see God answering our prayers and could feel God’s grace being poured into the smallest details of our lives. My sister showed no interest in church, and I was very desperate for her. Yet through the prayers of my friends every morning, she started to change and eventually she too gave her life to Christ!

KGK Japan

Learning from my friends 

It was a huge blessing to be able to learn from each other. There were so many times when I admired the faith of my friends. The reason I was able to know God was because I saw the beauty of the KGK members praying together. When I looked into the eyes of my friends talking about God, I really knew that God exists! It was wonderful to be in that kind of environment.

The chain reaction of salvation

I was introduced to KGK by a friend and was saved a year ago. My friend then started to participate in KGK activities too, and accepted Jesus at camp this year, exactly a year after me. I feel so overwhelmed to see God’s big, detailed plan in this chain reaction of salvation. Now I wonder how I was ever able to live without God! Before I met Him, I was easily crushed by anxiety and I always felt stressed about very small things. It was such a blessing to have been saved during my campus years, and now I wish that many other students will be saved along with me.

I am now studying as an international student in Colombia. I have joined the local UCU group (UCU is the IFES movement in Colombia). I felt God call me to start leading morning devotions here. So now we meet at 8am every morning to read our Bibles and pray. If God will use me, I want to serve Him here in Colombia, or in KGK Japan student ministry in the future.

IFES East Asia

East Asia Week 2019

Jesus is doing incredible things in the lives of students in our biggest global region. Learn from students and find out how God is calling many to know him in some difficult contexts.