FBC Livingston works with locals to reach Chinese studentscomment (0)
June 26, 2014
By Anna Keller
Pastor Jerry Hall was quick to admit that his church’s initial outreach to Chinese exchange students studying at the nearby University of West Alabama was a complete bust. First Baptist Church, Livingston, had the best intentions, filling baskets of dorm essentials — along with Chinese/English Bibles — for the 45 students and leaving them outside their dorm rooms. But efforts weren’t well received, Hall said.
“We found out later they didn’t like the Bibles, and some even threw them away, so we felt a little bit rejected and dejected too,” he said. “The first year we made very few connections.”
Hall knew it was important for the students to feel comfortable so he began searching for Christian Chinese connections nearby. He found a Chinese Baptist church in Jackson, Miss., and took 12 students on a weekend retreat, where they were hosted by Chinese people in their homes, fed Chinese food and made to feel “at home.”
It was through that church in Jackson that Hall met a Chinese seminary student, Born Zheng, who became instrumental in reaching out to the students, and by the second year the outreach began to pick up significantly.
Hall made friends with the owners of a local Chinese restaurant in Livingston and they began attending First, Livingston, regularly. Hall would go by the restaurant on Thursday evenings after the dinner rush and would help one of the co-owners, Judy, study the Bible and answer any questions she had. Later she’d pass along everything they had discussed to her husband and sister (the other restaurant owners).
Friday night Bible study
Eventually it made sense to make that restaurant a destination for Chinese student outreach, so Hall set up a weekly Bible study on Friday nights to take place there.
“Born preaches and we have music and worship and everything is in Chinese,” Hall said. “We run anywhere from six to 10 at our Chinese Friday night Bible study, and they always stay late and ask questions. They’re not on a time schedule like most Americans would be.”
In addition to the Friday night Bible studies, First, Livingston, helped establish a weekly English as a Second Language class, where attendance ranges from three to 15 each week.
As the students who participated in the Bible study from its start began to finish out their two-year terms at school, the ones who had accepted Christ started wondering what life as a Christian would be like for them back home in China.
Cindy Larkin, a First, Livingston, member who’s been a part of the Chinese student outreach, said, “The students that are going back were very curious about how to win their families to Christ and started asking us these questions during Sunday School.”
According to Zheng, it will certainly be different — and often difficult — for those Christians who go back to China.
“They’re going to face a lot of challenges, but I do believe God has touched them and my prayer is that God will continue guiding them,” he said. “Just like me, they’re the first converts in their family, and I do believe that people will see them changed and will be curious about ... this God they believe in.”
Hall has worked to help connect some of those returning home with missionaries in China or help them schedule ongoing Skype conversations with Christians in the United States.
As the students leave Alabama, Hall said he is sad to see them go.
But Hall and First, Livingston, members aren’t left without a new challenge, as this fall a group of 40 Saudi students will make their way to the University of West Alabama. The church hopes to reach out to them as well (as well as 20 new Chinese students).
“It’s so exciting, and now we’re going to have to figure out how to reach these Saudi students,” Hall said.
According to Zheng, Hall is the perfect person to be at the helm of this type of outreach. “My motivation comes from Brother Jerry. He’s a living witness for Christ,” Zheng said.