Imagine experiencing the joy of coming to Christ while studying overseas and when you return to home after graduating, your family no longer understands you and your new faith? C* is a worker in East Asia who partners with CMS. She writes about the importance of her work with students returning home to their country after studying overseas and the challenges of reverse culture shock.
The name of my work is rather unusual – ‘Returnees’ Ministry’. For most Australians, it is truly an unheard of ministry. Every East Asian Christian who has encountered Jesus in Western churches and universities needs special nurturing on returning home. If you think about how many East Asian people profess faith in Australian churches, you can probably figure out how important the returnees’ ministry is.
Returning students face reverse culture shock in every area of their lives. Firstly, there is the pressure from their families to get married, especially for females. Christians are pressured to marry non-believers and if they don’t, parents blame Christianity for brainwashing their kids.
Secondly, there is the pressure of worshipping work and money. Their family has spent a lot of money on their children’s overseas education and when they come home, they expect them to find a well-paid job and start building a secure future. However for Christians, their priorities have changed: they don’t see career and money as the most important thing in life. This widens the gap with their unbelieving family. Generally speaking, the work culture in my country is very anti-Christian. Companies expect their employees to work whenever they are needed: long working hours and on weekends is very normal. The work ethic is also really poor – there is a lot of cheating, faking, bribing and drinking involved. If you refuse to take part in those things, you will be seen as weird and have fewer opportunities to be promoted.
Thirdly, we have to fight the common mentality that “the grass is always greener on the other side”. Returnees face many pressures when they come back, so they tend to idealise their lives overseas. They believe that their lives would have been worry-free forever if they had remained in their second home country in the West. This unhelpful mentality makes them believe that nothing is good in their country. However, they forget that their life overseas was mainly in university and church, which is relatively simple and responsibility-free.
It was God who brought me to my returnee ministry leadership role in 2010. I came back to my country after studying at a Bible college without any plan of doing Christian ministry. A friend of mine took me to a Returnees Ministry fellowship group and their leader was immediately interested in taking me on board. He and the team started praying for this. At that time, I was looking for a job so I asked them to pray that I might find one. However their real prayer was this – ‘Lord, if C* is the right person to serve with us, please stop her finding a job.’ God stopped me from finding a job and brought me to my role in Returnees Ministry.
This ministry is a fellowship that provides a secure and understanding environment for people to share their struggles and find mutual comforts. By studying the Bible in our language, we help them to deepen their understanding of following Jesus – giving them the right perspective of suffering and the eternal hope. Many of them who received Jesus in Western churches have not fully understood the gospel, so they are just new Christians or maybe not Christians at all. Their reasons for believing in Jesus are that Christians overseas were nice people and church was a friendly place. With such understanding of gospel, it is no wonder that when the storms come, their faith crashes. By walking alongside with them in these harsh conditions, the leaders try to model them how to live the gospel out in daily basis.
We are also trying to help churches to understand the special needs of returnees and equip them to be able to serve returnees better. Our goal is not to simply help returnees settle in a church, we want them to become little connections to help more returnees in their church in the future: to make churches more welcoming, more gospel-focused, more out-reaching, which are all good things that the returnee had enjoyed in their overseas churches. To me, the most rewarding thing is to see my sisters in the Lord, whom I look after, overcoming all the obstacles in life and ministering to newer returnees.
We have come back home, but our home does not seem friendly and welcoming at all. Yes, the reverse cultural shock is huge, but isn’t our God is bigger? That is my reason for living in my city – to accompany my beloved returnee friends travelling through the narrow road so that we can sing the victory song together – “I will sing to the Lord, for he has been good to me!” (Psalm 13:6)
* Name changed for privacy
Pray: Pray for the students returning to East Asia that they will withstand the pressures they face and come to realise the truth of the eternal hope they have in Jesus. Pray for C and her Returnee Ministry.