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Understanding and Reaching Chinese

My name is Tiffany Khamphoune. It’s my honor to share with you today about how to connect and reach out to Chinese students. Because growing up in Taiwan, I was used to worship our ancestors on a regular basis with my family and visited Buddhist temples to ask for special blessings. In fact, like many Chinese students, before I came to the U.S., my parents also took me to a Confucius temple to ask Confucius to bless my study in the U.S.. I came to Ohio in 2007 to pursue a master degree, and there I had the opportunity to go to church and to learn about Christianity through my Christian classmates and local families. An unanswered question at that point of my life was, “if one day we will all die, what’s the point to work hard and to become successful?” Learning how I was created in God’s image and how we ought to live for Him was the best answer I’ve found. I count it an honor today to share with you because it was through people like you, who had a heart for Chinese students and shared the love of Christ with students like me; I had the privilege to become the first Christian in my family. Today I will be sharing what I’ve learned through my personal experiences and my ministry to Chinese students and focus on the following three things: why reaching Chinese students, what to know about them, and how to connect them to Jesus. Hopefully by the end of the talk, you will feel excited and ready to engage Chinese students with the gospel.

2. Why
So why reaching Chinese students? Dr. David Aikman once stated that, “Reaching out to students from Mainland China is simply the most strategically important Christian missionary endeavor anywhere in the world”

3. They are strategic

It’s strategic because in the last two decades, China has become more an influencer in the world. And Chinese believers are starting to take the gospel to other areas of the world that many American Christians cannot go. In 2016, about 850 Chinese Christian leaders gathered in Hong Kong and they came up with a long-discussed goal: to send 20,000 missionaries from China by the year of 2030.

Today China is known as “the world’s factory,” as you might have noticed that nowadays it can be hard to find things that are not made in China. Do you know China produces about 80% of the world’s air-conditioners and 70% of our mobile phones? Imagine what it could look like one day, as millions of Chinese become Christians and being sent into the world, China might become the largest missionary-sending country in history. And many Christians around the world will say that they are “made in China” because the Chinese missionaries have brought the gospel to them, to every corner of the world.

That’s what continues to motivate me to reach out to Chinese students. Because here in the U.S., we have the special opportunity to reach Chinese through them coming here as international students.

4. They are numerous

Chinese students are everywhere. They are numerous. China continues to remain as the largest foreign nationality represented on the U.S. campuses. There are over 350,000 Chinese students studying in the US in a single year. One out of three international students on campus is from China.

5. They are prestigious

And among these students, many are either the best and brightest of Chinese society or come from families with wealth and influence. It’s not hard to imagine the impact they could make one day as they become future leaders. Robin Li is a recent example. Founder and CEO of Baidu, Google of China. The most popular and accessible searching engine you can use in China is Baidu. Guess where he went to school? He was a graduate of the University of Buffalo. Today, he’s not only impacting China every day through his company Baidu, he was also named as one of the “World’s Best Business Leaders” by the American Business Weekly. I wonder what kind of impact he would make for God’s Kingdom if he had encountered the gospel while studying here? The students on our campus today might be the next Robin Li, influencing China and the world with what they have learned in the US. Our prayer is that they will not only bring back the degree but also the gospel.

6. They are intrigued

The good news is, many Chinese students are intrigued to learn more about Christianity. Growing up in a communist country that promotes atheism and being taught that all religions are superstitious, many students are surprised to find that some of their professors and fellow students here are actually Christians. Coming to the US probably is the first time that they are challenged to think beyond the material world. And here at our doorsteps, we have a great opportunity to come alongside them as they begin to explore faith.

7. Understand their world

So how can we engage them with the gospel? Unlike the previous generation of Chinese students who wanted to find out answers on apologetic topics such as God’s existence, creation vs. evolution, or the inerrancy of the Bible, what this generation of Chinese students are asking today is: “what difference does Christianity make to my life?” And it’s hard to answer this question without knowing much about their life. Pastor Davy Chu suggested, maybe “as we get to know our friends better, we can help them see how the gospel makes a difference when they meet with academic failure for the first time in their life, or when they go through a difficult break-up, or when they feel lonely or isolated, or even when everything seems to be going well but there’s still a hunger for something more.” In other words, the better we understand them and the better we can enter into their world, the better we can connect them to the unconditional love of Jesus Christ.

8. Three influences

While every Chinese student has a unique life story, I want to take a few minutes mention three major influences that has generally shaped Chinese students’ life today. Hope that will help you to better understand them.

First, the influence of the society change. As China has been quickly rising as an economic power in the last two decades, many students have opportunities to acquire material goods and the latest technology. They take great pleasure in shopping, dining, and traveling. So how we serve them might look different today than the last decade. As many of them have resources to meet their own needs, they don’t need a ride to the airport or grocery stores anymore because they can simply call an Uber or buy a car. Instead of being served, more are interested to “serve.” It can be from involving them in planning events with you, packing food for the homeless people, or joining community service projects like the Harvey hurricane relief. Those are all great opportunities to show students what servant leadership is like and talk about how Jesus came to serve and laid down his life for us.

Secondly, the rapid development of Internet has exposed Chinese students to the world outside of China. They follow the latest trend in fashion, and they are very active on social media. Consequently, they are also more receptive to some of the ideas from other parts of the world. For example, cohabitation is very common among the Chinese students today. At the same time, many students also use the Internet to detach themselves from the realities and connect to the virtual world through playing video games or watching movies via the web. As a result of that, they might find it more difficult to verbally communicate with others in real life. So how we can better engage them “online” is important. It can be chatting with them on the most popular app in China called “We Chat,” sharing a video of a Christian testimony, or sending them an encouraging Bible verse photo will all speak to them more than giving them an apologetic book.

While in many ways they are very different from their parents’ generation, one thing that hasn’t changed is that family still remain a very important role in Chinese students’ life. As a result of the one-child policy, many Chinese students are the only child in the family, that means that there is one set of parents, and two sets of grandparents giving all of their attention to just one child. This creates a lot of pressure for that child to succeed and also can prevent them from making decisions on their own. It’s not uncommon you’ll meet students who are interested in Christianity but cannot decide if they want to become a Christian because they are afraid of their family’s disappointments or rejection. They feel it’s not a decision they could make on their own. On the other hand, many Chinese are raised by their grandparents or being sent to boarding school at an early age while their parents are busy at work. So many of them felt emotionally distant from their parents. The pressure to succeed and the distant relationship with their parents have caused many of them struggled with emotional health. A recent article from the New York Times indicates that 40% of Chinese students here suffer from some degrees of depression or anxiety symptoms. The suicide rate also has increased in recent years. This pain can be an open door to the gospel.

As many of them didn’t have the model of what a godly marriage or a loving family could look like, seeing your relationship with your spouse or how you parent your children can be a very powerful testimony to them. So inviting them over for a meal or to join your family activity like going to your kid’s soccer game are great ways to witness to them.

9. Dr. Glen Osborn, the former president of China Outreach Ministry has observed that “The key element the Chinese scholars (and students) recognized that God used to bring them to Christ was the loving relationships of Christians who connected with them and helped them in a new land.”

I would like to make a few suggestions to help you build a relationship with them and to connect them to Jesus.

#10 practical tips

First, share the gospel via technology. In addition to what I mentioned earlier to share scriptures/videos online to engage with them, utilize apps on your phone is also an effective way to communicate the gospel with this generation of students. A recently developed tool called “Honor Restored” has a clear presentation to explain the gospel to Chinese students in the shame & honor context.

2) Besides inviting them to your home, introducing them to your community and church can also make a great impact on their life. My observation is that the more Christians they know, the more often they can encounter Jesus.

3) Sharing your story is one of the best tools God can use to touch their life. As Chinese students want to know “how does Christianity work?” or “what difference does it make?” your life and your story can offer them a tangible way to see God. Hopefully, it’s such an integral part of our lives that talking about God is just a natural way for them to get to know us. For example, you can share how God meets you in your suffering (not only talk about blessings), how the gospel impacts how you love your family or how you pursue work with integrity. Remember, your God story is powerful.

4) Sharing meals together. Food is a very important part of Chinese culture, as food is probably most Chinese people’s “love language.” And often the best conversations happen over meals. So invite them to eat together or accept their invitation for them to cook for you. Because sharing a meal also communicates that you value them and you want to form a relationship with them. Remember Jesus also had many ministry opportunities through eating with his disciples, Pharisees, and tax collectors.

5) Sharing the gospel early and often. The earlier you bring up spiritual topics in your friendship with them, the easier to continue the gospel conversation as your relationship develops. And for many of them, this is the first time they are challenged to think about the spiritual world, so it’ll take some time for them to really grasp the gospel. A simple question you can begin with is asking them, “has anyone taking the time to explain what Christianity is all about to you?” It’s an easy transition to share the gospel.

11. Let me end with Ying’s story

This was a photo taken at her wedding. Ying came to study in the U.S. from China three years ago. We were first connected through her Christian classmate, Rebecca, who had developed a great friendship with her through doing homework together. Rebecca found that Ying was intrigued by the Christian faith, so she encouraged Ying to join our Discovery Bible Group. It’s a small group for non-Christians to go through scriptures each week and learn how to pray, how to apply God’s word, and share with others about what they’ve learned from the Bible. Growing up in an atheist family and whose father is a communist party member, Ying had never read the Bible before. However, as we started meeting weekly with two other Chinese students in our Discovery Bible Group, she was so drawn to God’s word. She said, “As I read the Bible, I pray to God to open my eyes to understand what he wants to say to me through his words. The more I know what Jesus did for us, I feel more peace and love in my heart and that void part in my heart is filling up.” I was at her wedding a few months ago. Both of her and her husband were the first Christian in their families, so they intentionally prepared the wedding program to allow their family to hear a clear gospel message. I was in awe of God’s plan as I celebrated with her that day, watching both of their parents and all of the relatives reading the scriptures and singing worship songs in the service, thinking what God might do through this marriage in the future. I was reminded that each student we reached out with the gospel today might one day reaching a family, a city, and maybe a country and beyond. God may use us to change their family history.

And it all began with her first friend in the U.S., her Christian classmate Rebecca, who invited her to do homework together and go out to ice cream afterwards. Ying often shared how ice cream played an important role in their friendship because that was where all the deep conversations about God began. Today, as you encounter Chinese students, maybe the first step is to invite them to eat ice cream and start getting to know them. Don’t forget to download the apps like “honor restored” on your phone, coz it might come in handy in the midst of your ice cream conversation! And don’t forget to download “We Chat” to stay in touch with them! You might be reaching out to the next world leader today.

Understanding and Reaching Chinese


Reaching Chinese students for Christ has been called the most strategic missionary endeavor anywhere in the world. And while China is often dubbed a “closed country,” Tiffany explains why the Chinese culture is more open than ever to the gospel. Learn the practical ways you can build relationships with Chinese students and connect them to Jesus.

Reaching Chinese students for Christ has been called the most strategic missionary endeavor anywhere in the world. And while China is often dubbed a “closed country,” Tiffany explains why the Chinese culture is more open than ever to the gospel. Learn the practical ways you can build relationships with Chinese students and connect them to Jesus.