The Growing Opportunity
In the early 2000s, an increasing number of people began arriving in the United States from the People’s Republic of China, both as international students and as immigrants. In the 2000–2001 school year, about sixty thousand international students from China studied in the States. Fifteen years later, that number had multiplied five times, so that in the 2015–2016 school year, almost 330 thousand students from China studied in the United States. Now nearly one out of every three international students in the States is Chinese.
“Now nearly one out of every three international students in the States is Chinese.”
In addition to international students, legal immigration has brought a large number of working Chinese to the United States. From 2010 to 2015, an average of seventy-seven thousand people from China became legal residents in the States every year. That’s a 20 percent increase from the average of sixty-four thousand per year between 2000 and 2009.
As the numbers grow, it’s important to remember that a vast majority of these Chinese are not simply non-Christians. Many of them have never heard the gospel. The people from China are a significant mission field right at our doorstep.
The city of Tucson, Arizona, is the home of the University of Arizona (U of A), where 1,900 Chinese students study. Nearly half of the international students at U of A are Chinese. The city itself has more than three thousand residents who were born in China.
When our church in Tucson started to disciple Chinese students and immigrants in 2006, one of our major hurdles was finding suitable discipleship resources. Most of the available Bible study materials for Chinese speakers were written and published in Hong Kong and Taiwan—in traditional Chinese characters that most people from China do not read.
We found a few resources with simplified Chinese characters in bookstores in Southern California and Hong Kong, but we prepared much of the study material ourselves. Thankfully, in the last several years, we’ve been in contact with various other churches, missions agencies, and Christian organizations that provide a variety of Bible study materials.
These evangelistic and discipleship training studies are useful for several reasons:
- They are prepared in China for people in China, which suits our growing population in the States.
- They are written in simplified characters, the written language read by the majority of Chinese people in the world.
- We can reproduce them at an inexpensive cost.
- They are often available in a complementary English version, so they can be used by teachers who are not as fluent in Chinese. The English version also allows bilingual churches to study the same materials simultaneously.
The discipleship training materials are very useful because we want to train new Christians as quickly as possible. The Chinese population in the United States is extremely transient. Most international students and scholars move back to China upon completion of their studies. The rest often move to another state for further study or for work. Immigrants also tend to move during their first few years in the country because of job opportunities.
So we need to seize the short window of opportunity to introduce them to Christ and teach them to grow in their faith. And when they eventually move away, we hope they will make disciples of Jesus among other Chinese wherever they end up in the world.