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.