From Day One.
Rich and Joanna Fullner have been missionaries to international students at the University of Washington through China Outreach Ministries for almost 20 years. For many of those years they have partnered with UPC’s Ministry with Internationals (MI). Members of both of these ministry teams are acutely aware of internationals’ desire and need to be embraced by their host community.
Joanna explains there’s a lot of stress put on many people in Chinese culture, to the extent that many people may begin to wonder why life is even worth living—a question that can foster hopelessness. “There’s extreme pressure on all of them, even from little children, to get into the right schools and university. Also on the adults: so busy, so much pressure.” But the big life questions can also create a sense of openness: “I think it’s like a little vacation when they come to the US—they aren’t so busy, there are friendly people around, they compete less,” says Joanna. Many have and take time to consider these questions differently and more openly. Heidi Ifland, a colleague of Rich and Joanna’s, says, “They can take some time here to reflect on what it all means.”
As Time Goes By.
This past fall, Polly Yorioka, associate director of MI, played the role of matchmaker as she connected internationals with UPC families and small groups for the holidays. New acquaintances and friendships germinated as folks from different continents shared Thanksgiving dinner, baked Christmas cookies, and celebrated Christmas together. “Some people are intimidated at first, but in the end, they find that a little initial awkwardness is worth the opportunity to get to know someone from a different culture,” Polly explains.
The holidays are a time to share what we have with others, and internationals among us who are a part of our church family are far from home and sometimes feel lonely in a foreign land. It’s an opportunity to extend a welcome, and that’s what this ministry is all about. Not just around the holidays, all year long.
UPCer Sue Bodensteiner is working on a Master’s degree in intercultural studies. She found her niche working with scholars from China. “There are so many thousands of people coming to our city, there’s no end to opportunities to engage with newcomers,” Sue says.
Sue has developed a friendship with a visiting scholar from China through attending church together. “I met this woman at Global Friends, without knowing her well, I asked if she’d like to worship at a Chinese church with me. She accepted, and we’ve gone together several times now.”
For students and scholars from China who find faith here in the US, it can be very difficult to maintain their faith when they return home. This is the object of Sue’s studies and is a common concern expressed in international ministry.
“It’s difficult to be open about faith once these folks return home, because it can limit their professional opportunities. And since a lot of churches are underground, it might be difficult returning home to find a group to connect with spiritually,” Joanna says.
“Because of the various difficulties of maintaining one’s faith,” Sue says, “whenever we can, we connect those who are preparing to return home with believers who are already there. It’s especially important for them to be in community with people who have also transitioned from North American culture back home, and who also have faith.”
Heidi summed it up beautifully, saying, “We don’t rely on programs; we rely on personal relationships.”
A Different Love.
God’s love in us takes all forms: a smile, a cup of tea, an English class. A former visiting UW scholar put it best when she said,
Seattle is the first stop when I came to America and it is the first place where I learn that there is a different love—the love from God. You spread the love to so many people, which makes a good example for me, showing what God’s love is.
—Zhang, scholar from China
In 2006, 2.4 percent of UW’s freshman class was international students. In 2011, that number had grown to 16.9 percent. As people from the top of their classes and professional fields from around the world flood into our city—our very neighborhood—God is preparing their hearts to grow not only academically, but spiritually.
Before I came to the USA I was not religious at all. I had some relationships with Christians and people of other faiths, but had no interest in knowing God or following him. I thought that religion was just about living righteously and receiving luck or punishment. I didn’t follow a religion but I had respect for God. However, I did notice that people who are religious want to help others from the heart and this was attractive to me.
—Cai, scholar from China
While cultural differences have the potential to form intimidating barriers, they can create opportunities to highlight or experience a new reality.
Thanks very much for your praying and the wonderful class. It is very helpful for me to understanding the principle of Christianity. I feel much comfortable to be with you. All my 1,000+ questions actually are not questions; I think they are the conflicts between the cultures I was brought
up in and the cultures here. I am sure Christianity is a very good religion since the people who believe it are among the best in the world…
I hope sincerely that you can understand that I cannot give up the merits of Chinese culture now. The everlasting Confucian philosophy has a deep impression on me. I am proud of being Chinese and I am proud of having you as a friend of mine. To be honest, I love my motherland, even if she is
poor and suffers a lot.
I am so glad I can talk freely with you on so many topics about the life, both physical and spiritual. When I was in China, one of the most enjoyable things is chatting with friends [about] what is life and how to live a meaningful life.
—Wang, scholar from China
Hospitality is the most basic means we have for sharing our faith with others, regardless of language ability, faith background, or common interest. It’s as simple as extending a warm welcome and so impactful that it leads to lasting friendships that span oceans.
I am deeply impressed by the warm party on Christmas Eve. It is my first Christmas Eve and my first party in US because I arrived here just a week before it. It’s very kind of you hosting such a great party for Chinese friends here. I met many friends at that party and feel no loneliness any more.
I read the stories of Jesus and Christmas carefully. I find myself heartily interested. It touched me deeply. I will go to the [English] classes as much as possible and pass the class information to every friend who is interested.
—Chen, scholar from China
My friend took me to Global Friends and it was so amazing. I was able to practice speaking and listening in English with others. People are so kind that it gives me confidence and this is so important to learn a language well. With this environment I was able to overcome my communication difficulties and make new friends and deal with everyday problems more easily. I felt less lonely and discouraged. It was hard for me to believe there is such place with so many nice people. I couldn’t help to ask, “Why are they so kind? How could they have unconditional love?” I noticed that Christians have peace and love and hope that they get from God. These things are used to help others from the heart. I also noticed that people were not trying to convince me that their religion is true. Instead they were kind. There was no obligation. It made getting to know God very comfortable.
I went to my first Bible study on James at the International Friendship House. I read the Bible from a new angle. Now I feel great to know God. I learned that knowing God is not about making promises or receiving punishment. It is about love. I learned that the basic belief of Christians is to believe in God and love your neighbor as you love yourself. I feel this is wonderful. So I continued to go to other Bible studies. I like the saying: “Blessed to be a blessing,” which I learned from the Global Friends women’s group. After I learned this saying, I started to thank people with: “May God bless you.” Maybe it’s simple to others, but it’s special to me and really comes from my heart.
—Cai, scholar from China