April 1990. There I was, a 24 year old with a suitcase and a duvet, Dvorak’s New World Symphony ringing in my ears, full of dreams and trepidation, flying alone from Shanghai to Japan to start a new life. Now, in November 2003, at 38 years old, I was returning home, bringing with me my wife and daughter, along with the blessings of my pastor and his wife, and the brothers and sisters. I was an overseas-returnee.
Over my thirteen and a half years in Japan, approximately 5000 days and nights, I had gained so much – and lost much too. Some would say that we were returning with a lot; yet my wife and I were well aware what kind of people we were, and how God had called us. No matter how difficult our lives had been, we felt we had been richly blessed by His grace. And we were convinced that, whatever lay ahead of us, “All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.” (Ps. 139:16), and that our paths would surely “overflow with abundance” (Ps. 65:11).
It was after ten years in Japan that the idea of returning home had begun to simmer in the hearts of my wife and myself. Every time we listened to our pastor and his wife sharing about their missionary journey back home, the idea became one notch more firmly established in our minds. We began to pray, looking to God for His will and His timing.
The three years that followed were a time when I experienced immense trials and challenges in my family, life, and career. I really appreciated the way that the pastor and his wife, and the brothers and sisters accepted us with perfect love and helped us walk through our crises.
After praying and waiting for three years, finally, in March 2003, we made up our minds.
And now, in the blink of an eye, it seems, we have been back in Shanghai for 3 whole years. We have found a very accepting church and begun serving in the music and translation ministries. Even more wonderfully, we have discovered a fellowship for returned Mainland Christians – the Returnees Fellowship. Our same backgrounds and similar experiences on the journey of faith and the decisions about returning home, along with plenty of different activities, have gradually made the Returnees Fellowship our spiritual home as well as a channel for helping many overseas-returnees to come to faith in Christ.
As co-workers in the group, my wife and I were surprised to learn that the same trials and challenges we had encountered in Tokyo were being met by other members of the fellowship. And so the counseling and encouragement we had received in Tokyo became testimonies that could, in turn, be of help and encouragement to them! “Such is your good pleasure!” (Luke 10:21)
We have also observed how Shanghai, the city with the greatest developmental potential in the 21st Century, is growing at supersonic speed, in the process attracting human resources, technology and money from all over the world. For this reason a powerful elite are emerging to become the shining lights of Shanghai. At the same time, for each member of the elite there are the many weak and needy living under the shadow of the powerful, and neglected amidst all the hustle and bustle.
Even among the elite, there are many caught up in situations where opportunity and taking a gamble are synonyms, and where there is little difference between aspiration and greed. While the media and thinking people may call out for the application of conscience and justice, yet their advice is not heeded. So, if you do actually obey the traffic signals, you may never get across the street, and unless you struggle to stake out your own rights, your rights will be eliminated altogether. All this calls to mind one of the verses from Proverbs: “where there is no vision, the people are unrestrained” (Prov. 29:18)
On the other hand, we were also surprised by the astonishing movement of the work of God. It is almost unbelievable that the Chinese translation of “The Biography of Hudson Taylor” was published by People’s Daily Publishers. Compared with the English version, only one word has been altered (the ‘Boxer Rebellion’ is changed to the ‘Boxer Movement’). The best-seller “Following in the Steps of Jesus Christ” was published by Shaanxi People’s Publishers; and more and more books on spiritual growth are gradually being the favored by publishers.
Even more exciting is the fact that with the government-led reforms and opening up, churches are also developing, and their voice is being heard outside their own walls. Numbers of overseas missionaries, overseas-returnees, Christians from Hong Kong and Taiwan, have set foot in China as pioneers and soldiers for Christ.
In a church in Fuchow, I was privileged to lead a regular weekend service. Unbelievably, nearly 1 thousand people attended, over 80% of them young adults! The old church building is long and narrow, and there was an annoying echo in the sound system. Yet, standing on the podium, one could literally feel the movement of praise resonating backwards and forward like waves!
We have been back here for 3 years. God has allowed us to listen, to see, to experience and to participate. In the process He has raised the level of our family’s spiritual lives, making us more responsive to His will, and is giving us a clearer direction for our ministry. I thank God that as I am about to enter on the second half of my life, I have had such an opportunity to examine myself!
Therefore I would like to challenge overseas brothers and sisters:
1. Believe that God has a plan for you, and you only
2. Pray that you may know the timing of this plan
3. Equip yourself and be prepared for the accomplishment of God’s plan for you.
Finally, I must give my thanks to our beloved pastor and his wife. As they shepherded the flock, they kept reminding us of the vision of ‘a Chinese gospel preached by Chinese people’ and that ‘you must return to your home country’.
Wherever we are, may we all be good seeds.
The author was from Jiangsu, was baptized in Japan in the 90’s, and is currently working in a company in Shanghai.