Chinese international student revival in U.S. weakens among returnees

The large and growing number of Chinese international students who have become Christian while in the U.S. frequently fall away from or are weakened in the faith upon returning to China, reports ChinaSource Quarterly (September). This issue of the online journal is devoted to the problem of the “returnees,” who are not prepared nor assisted in the transition from the U.S. to China by churches and ministries in either country. The number of Chinese students in the U.S. is as many as half a million, and a segment of them have converted to Christianity through concerted efforts by evangelical campus ministries and Chinese congregations. With the developing Chinese economy, the number of students returning to China has increased significantly. But the Christian returnees face “reverse culture shock” in their home country; they are unused to the different church life in China, with its many restrictions and political penalties for attending some congregations, while also dealing with family pressures against their new found faith.

Writer Lydia Song estimates that 75 percent of returnees do not have a consistent religious life, and many fall away from the faith. There have been new “hidden returnee fellowships” started in China as a form of support, but they are difficult to find, with many returnees not even knowing that they exist. New converts in the U.S. are sustained by strong support systems not only of churches but also fellow Christian students and older mentors who involve them in a steady stream of social gatherings and Christian events. In contrast, in China churches meet secretly in many cases, and returnees find “huge gaps in age, education, and social status between themselves and the church members.” Song reports that there have been recent attempts to establish internal and overseas church networks to minister to returnees, with house churches and returnee-based congregations reported as having some success in retaining them.

(ChinaSource Quarterly,