Big brother is watching: Social media and communication in China

In recent months, news articles have pointed out developments in censorship and communication in China, and I have been asked many times for advice on how to communicate with Chinese people, both here in Australia and in China. There is no easy answer to these questions, but let me try and lay out some of the known facts and then consider what options are available.

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Pre-Return Seminars

Every year around thousands of Chinese students come to Australia. It’s wonderful that many are open to the Christian message and respond to Jesus. However there are many challenges to being a Christian in China and research shows that 50-80% of those who believe in Australia will lose their faith after returning to China.

Chinese students are often unaware of how difficult returning to China will be particularly when it comes to family expectations, work pressure and settling in a Church. Our pre-return training starts by highlighting and discussing these issues from a Chinese perspective then strategising appropriate ways to face these challenges and prepare for them. These seminars are about prayerful dependance on God not simplistic answers. The seminars provide a safe space to talk opening about fears and challenges and prayerfully prepare for what is ahead.

These seminars are designed in modules so they can be run together or over a period of time. Each session can take around 90-120min allowing for discussion time. Seminar topics include:

  • An introduction to being a Chinese Christian and thinking about returning home
  • Family expectations
  • Work pressure
  • Finding and committing to a Church

These sessions are normally conducted in Mandarin to help the students talk about the issues in their mother-tongue.

Our presenters have experience of living in China and working with Chinese students. We are also able to include content from Chinese returnee workers from China.

If you have a group of 5 or more Chinese students and you would like to host a pre-return seminar or series of seminars then please contact us.

What does it take for Returnees to Thrive – Part 2

In part one of this series we considered the importance of discipling Chinese students as Chinese believers who are prepared to live in a Chinese context (contextualized discipleship).  In this second part we consider the need for pre-return training to prepare returnees for the issues they will face on returning home.  Experience has shown that there are four key topics that need to be addressed:

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Understanding Contextualised Discipleship

We have pointed out that in order to thrive in China, Chinese returnees must be discipled as Chinese Christians who are prepared to live in a Chinese context.  This is called contextualised discipleship.  Below are links to two resources we have found that explain this important idea.

What is discipleship?

This 12 minute video from shows Tony Payne from Matthias Media giving a good explanation of Christian discipleship.

What is contextualisation?

What is the importance of considering culture and contextualisation when doing ministry with Chinese? In this podcast Australian Sam Chan and American Jackson Wu discuss these issues .  Note: this podcast talks about some complex issues so you may want to listen to it a few times in order to follow their arguments.

What does it take for Returnees to Thrive? Part 1

Stuart Bullington has been working with Chinese students in the US, Asia and the UK for more than 20 years. He suggests that students need to be prepared in three ways in order to succeed when they return to China[i]. Firstly, they need to be discipled as a Chinese believer (contextualized discipleship). Secondly, they need to receive specific training in order to understand the issues they will face on returning home and to develop coping strategies (pre-return training). Thirdly, they need to be introduced into networks of churches and other believers in China (networking). In this article we will consider the first of these – contextualized discipleship.

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Introducing the Church in China

It’s been a while since we’ve been in contact. During the last year we have been busy putting together some resources that we think you will find very helpful. In 2017 we hope to begin sending out monthly newsletters like this to let you know about some of these resources.

We see Christian Chinese returnees serving God in China as they thrive in their personal faith, participate fully in the body of Christ blessing their families, communities and the world. However, we are deeply distressed to hear that up to 80% of Chinese who believe in Australia leave their faith on returning to China. With God’s help we want these returnees thriving in their faith and being a blessing to those around them.

Last year we became aware that many Chinese Christians return to China with almost no understanding of the church situation there. A lot of their early struggles come from a lack of understanding and unrealistic expectations. We have produced a short introduction to the Chinese church and it is available on our website in English and Chinese.

Thriving Turtles has been working with the team that produced a recent issue of the ChinaSource Quarterly Journal titled “A Call to Partnership in Chinese Returnee Ministry.” As the various authors point out, providing the support that Chinese students and returnees need calls for new levels of collaboration between churches in China and those who evangelize students in the West, as well as improved local collaboration among those involved in student ministry in host countries, especially between ethnic Chinese and non-Chinese. This approach expresses the unity of Christ’s body, enables non-Chinese ministries to provide more culturally-appropriate discipleship, and has the potential to build a seamless network of support and encouragement to new believers returning to China.??These articles can be very helpful in developing your understanding of Chinese Returnee issues.  This edition is available for free download at:

If you know someone else who is ministering to Chinese and may find our resources and services helpful please forward this email to them.  They can sign up for these newsletters via the link on our website or by following us on Facebook or Twitter.

We look forward to working with you as you minister to Chinese and prepare them to thrive back in China.


The Thriving Turtles Team

Survey of Chinese Students in Australia

By David Xing, November 2016

In April 2016 Thriving Turtles conducted a survey amongst Chinese International students at four universities in Sydney: The University of NSW; The University of Sydney; The University of Science and Technology (UTS); and Macquarie University. The survey was targeted at Christian students who were recruited through on-campus Christian ministries of AFES FOCUS, Power to Change and Mandarin Bible Study groups.

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A call to Partnership in Chinese Returnee Ministry

In September 2016 the China Source Quarterly Journal was devoted to the issue of helping Chinese Returnees thrive as Christians after returning to China.

Living in another country can be a life-changing experience. The longer the stay and the greater the immersion into that country’s social life, the deeper and more lasting the effects. Adapting to the new culture, making foreign friends, learning a new set of behaviors, and speaking in a foreign language shape the identity and values of sojourners in ways that can never be undone.

The changes that overseas sojourners experience may go beyond the necessary adaptation to a new language and culture; for many, the experience creates an openness to new ideas, new values, and even a new way of understanding life.

When the time finally comes to return home, the newly-arriving returnees often discover that the behaviors, identity, tastes, and values they acquired overseas do not transfer easily into the home culture. Many of the changes they experienced, including some that are highly valued, must now be reversed for the sake of fitting in.

Now what if, among the many changes experienced in a foreign land, some of the sojourners have converted to the Christian faith? This is certainly the case for thousands of Chinese students and scholars who have studied abroad over the past three decades. For those yet to return, how will their faith, acquired while overseas, and often learned from Westerners in a foreign language, be brought home to become part of their daily life in China? Will these new believers, as returnees, view their new faith as one of the changes that “must now be reversed for the sake of fitting in”? Or will they discover how to be both Chinese and Christian, finding their places of service in the churches of China, perhaps via returnee fellowships made up of others who, like themselves, came to faith while studying abroad?

You can read all the articles here.  We’d like to draw your attention to the following articles that are particularly helpful:

The Need for Chinese Students to Prepare for Their Return

by Stuart

This article is a good summary of many of the issues that Chinese Returnees face.

Returnees Committing to Church in China 

by Henry E. T.

This articles looks at the challenges for Returnees in committing to a Church when they return to China.

Returnee Ministry at Home and Abroad

by Lydia Song

This article looks at cooperation between China and western Christians in helping returnees to be a blessing to the Church in China

中国教会简介 (The Church in China – An Introduction)

This is a translation of the article The Church in China – An Introduction.



耶稣升天之后,使徒和信徒开始了早期教会活动。新约中的《使徒行者》记录了这段历史。 到了一世纪中晚期,基督教会遭到来自犹太人和罗马帝国的逼迫。直到公元312年当时的罗马皇帝康斯坦丁成为基督徒并建立罗马教会ii,逼迫才停止。基督教由原来的非法、被逼迫转而成为合法、受保护的国教。教会也不再躲藏,转而在罗马社会中占有非常重要的地位。 罗马统治了西方社会也影响了从中东到英国的社会和文化。公元1054年iii,教会在政治上和神学上产生了分歧,导致教会分裂。西罗马教会继续接受罗马的统治,被称为罗马天主教会,而东正教会在康斯坦丁堡(位于土耳其)确立了统治地位。这些教会都宣称自己直接受权于上帝。圣经只有拉丁文或希腊文的版本(当时禁止翻译成其他通俗的语言),也只能让经过特殊训练的神父阅读。

到公元1500,教会自行添加了很多额外有悖于圣经的传统和惯例。 在1500年代,马丁●路德等人开始改革教会,回归圣经教导。然而他们却遭到教会驱逐,从而建立了新的教会,也就是新教。

这些事件最终确立了现今的基督教三大分支:罗马天主教、东正教和新教。天主教和东正教都有各自的单一领袖和清晰的分级制度,这两个分支各自也相对统一,其教会遍及世界。 新教秉承最终权威来自于圣经而不是人,这一点导致在教会管理和神学观点上的进一步分歧,也就产生了不同支派(例如国教、长老会、浸信会等)


公元635年iv,一个叫 阿罗本(Alopen)的聂斯脱里派(景教,Nestorian)教徒(天主教的一个分支)来到中国并在长安见了唐朝皇帝唐太宗 (唐太宗李世民)。 他向皇帝展示了一本亚述(叙利亚),语的圣经,皇帝看不懂,就叫他留在中国,翻译圣经并讲授基督教。西安的石林里有一块刻于公元781年v的石碑,记录了基督教的福音如何在公元635年传到了中国。不幸的是,唐太宗死后,之后继任的皇帝不喜欢景教教徒,公元845年vi ,景教教徒被驱逐出中国,中国的信徒也被迫放弃信仰。

1245年到1253年vii间,教皇伊诺森四世(Pope Innocent IV)差派方济会宣教士(Franciscan missionaries)到中国,之后耶稣会士(the Jesuits)在1580年代viii到达中国。 这两组人都是罗马天主教的分支。 耶酥会宣教士大多是科学家,工作效率很高,他们为了方便直接交流而花时间学习中文。利玛窦(Matteo Ricci) 和南怀仁( Ferdinand Verbiest)是很有名的耶稣会宣教士,甚至为当时的皇帝当参谋和教师。

第一批新教宣教士于1800年代ix早期到达中国。当时进入中国非常难。根据皇帝的法令,只有外国商人才能进入中国。而且也只能每年住在广州几个月,剩下的时间住在澳门。 澳门当时是葡萄牙的殖民地,只允许天主教的宣教士进入。早期新教宣教士只能为商人做翻译才能进入中国。这一点后来也使中国人误解新教宣教士的工作,把他们和不诚实的商人联系到一起。

两次鸦片战争和随之的不平等条约签订后,中国开始向外国人敞开大门,宣教士可以住在中国、传福音、建立教会。很多早期教会很大程度上依赖外国宣教士的支持和管理。其中一个非常有名的宣教士是戴德生(James Hudson Taylor),他建立了中国内地会,有1000多名西方宣教士通过该机构在中国内地侍奉。 1800年代晚期到1900年代早期,中国经历了内战、自然灾害以及很多其他问题,处境非常艰难。为了将福音带到中国这些宣教士也经受了很多磨难。到1949年为止,中国的新教教徒不到一百万人。

经历多年内战之后,1949年毛泽东宣布新中国成立。不久之后,包括宣教士在内的所有外国人都被要求离开中国。留下中国教会自行发展。1951年,吴耀宗 发起了三自爱国运动(TSPM, Three Self Patriotic Movement)x, 代表政府管理教会。“三自“ 代表的是“自治”,“自养”,“自传”。 三自爱国运动的目的是让中国教会脱离外国影响,让教会与政府的政策保持一致。

1966年文革开始, 三自爱国运动被禁止,教堂被迫关闭、接受搜查、挪作他用。三自运动的领袖和牧师被捕,送到劳改营进行劳动改造。教会从公众的视线中消失,但是勇敢的基督徒继续私下聚会鼓励彼此。 这些“地下”教会遭到逼迫,基督徒不得不隐藏信仰,生活很艰难。 圣经、赞美诗和所有基督教书籍都被没收焚毁。基督徒背下部分圣经,在聚会中背诵整篇经文来彼此鼓励。 尽管不为公众所知,教会在这一时期仍然继续增长扩大。

1978年邓小平成为中国领导人,开始实行改革开放政策。1979年,在丁光训的带领下三自爱国运动重新开始。1980年中国基督教协会(Chinese Christian Council, CCC)成立,联络三自爱国运动和新教教会。这两个组织被成为“两会”xi。其功能就是代表政府来监管教会。1980年代,教会慢慢回归教堂开始礼拜。牧师从劳改营中释放,有些人开始作为三自教会牧师侍奉。中国基督教协会也开始办培训课程培训新牧师。

1949中国基督徒的人数估计不到一百万人。而如今(2016)该数字大概在七千万到一亿之间xii。 其中大概两千八百万人参加三自教会,剩下的则去没有注册的家庭教会。





政府让家庭教会要不和三自教会注册,要不解散,因此家庭教会在官方上是非法的。实际上要注册很难甚至是不可能的。大多时候家庭教会只要满足三个标准就允许其继续xiv。 第一,教会规模要小,会众人数只能是30-40人;第二, 不能有任何外国人参与其中;第三,不能评论政治或批判政府。在另一层面上,当地政府的态度会影响该地区家庭教会的自由度。


家庭教会很难满足人们对教会的所有期待。没有经过培训的牧师可能讲道冗长乏味,甚至是毫无帮助,不符合圣经。在中国的很多地方,有音乐才能的人很少,聚会点可能需要把声音控制到最低以防打扰邻居(他们有可能会向警察举报教会)。在这种情况下,礼拜中敬拜音乐的质量可能会让人大失所望,无法受到鼓舞。再者,由于缺乏场地和合适的人,教会里可能没有主日学或儿童事工,家长们在礼拜中可能需要一直抱着孩子坐在自己腿上。可能40 个人会挤在一间客厅里,紧闭窗户来降低音量,甚至是在炎热的夏季也是如此。

这些因素使在海外教会待过的人感到很难适应,因为他们所期待的是由受过培训有经验的带领人所带领的成熟教会。 中国留学生经历的可能是直接表达出的关心和爱护。但是回到中国,国人并不习惯公开表达情感,而是以间接的方式表达爱与关心。这可能让中国的海归感觉不到关爱。


中国也有邪教存在,有些专门针对家庭教会。邪教成员会混入家庭教会,想方设法抢夺会员或者分裂教会xv。家庭教会无法去公安机构举报,而且因为家庭教会之间很少互相沟通,邪教成员能转到下一间教会开始新的循环。 因此,家庭教会在接受新成员方面可能会很谨慎。



如果你想进一步了解中国基督教历史中的具体人物和事件,可以在线访问“华人基督教史人物辞典”。英文:   中文:


[1] Daniel H. Bays, A New History of Christianity in China (Wiley-Blackwell, 2012), 7.

[1] Tim Dowley and Pat Alexander, eds., The History of Christianity, Rev Sub edition (Oxford, England ; Batavia, Ill., USA: Chariot Victor Pub, 1990).

[1] Patheos, ‘Religion Library: Eastern Orthodoxy’, Patheos: Hosting the Conversation on Faith, 2008,

[1] Bays, A New History of Christianity in China.

[1] Ibid.

[1] Ibid.

[1] Ibid., 12.

[1] Bays, A New History of Christianity in China.

[1] Ibid., 43.

[1] Ibid., 164.

[1] Ibid., 189.

[1] Louis Bush and Brent Fulton, China’s Next Generation: New China, New Church, New World. (China Source, 2014),’s%20Next%20Generation%3A%20New%20China%2C%20New%20Church%2C%20New%20World.&qid=1456715781&ref_=sr_1_1&s=digital-text&sr=1-1; Kukmin Daily, ‘China Will Have the World’s Largest Christian Population in 2030’, 22 June 2016,

[1] Kukmin Daily, ‘China Will Have the World’s Largest Christian Population in 2030’.

[1] Bush and Fulton, China’s Next Generation: New China, New Church, New World.

[1] Ibid.






The Church in China – An Introduction

A Chinese translation of this article is available here

This article is intended to be a brief introduction to the church in China for Chinese who have become Christians while overseas and want to understand something about the church in China before returning there.

A common misunderstanding by many Chinese today is that Christianity only came to China very recently. In actual fact the first documented arrival of the Christian faith to China is during the Tang dynasty in 635AD[i]. In order to understand what was happening in China, we must first understand what was happening to the Christian church in Europe and the Middle East.

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