In 2012, after having served in the Philippines and the UK with OMF for 29 years, Margaret* and I joined the OMF Diaspora Returnee Ministries (DRM) Field. We began work in Manchester supporting a local programme called English Corner, teaching English, building friendships and sharing the gospel with some of the 7,000 Chinese academics who study in Manchester and then return to China.
We quickly realised that our Chinese friends were very keen to meet British people, explore their culture and learn about Christianity. A year later we shared a ‘dream’ with our vicar. Could we bring a group of Chinese academics out to our church in Marple, a town about 15 miles from the centre of Manchester, for a home stay weekend with local Christians? An immediate ‘yes’ from the vicar set us thinking.
Initially, some church members were concerned about how the weekend would work, as they didn’t speak Chinese. However most of the visitors have some English and we reassured them that genuine care and friendship would overcome the language barrier.
So on a Saturday afternoon in February 2014, an excited crowd from church gathered in Marple station ticket office to wait for the train from Manchester. Our Chinese visitors were greeted with handshakes and hugs and then whisked away in hosts’ cars to All Saints Church where they would be welcomed for their home-stay experience.
Twenty-six families and individuals from church had eagerly signed up to accommodate the group of 55 that included academic visitors and young bankers, as well as 11 children and two grannies. After a cup of tea and cake, hosts and guests were formally introduced to each other. The ‘getting to know each other’ stage happened during a variety of activities, which included Chinese dumpling-making, calligraphy, a Chinese language class and games including ping-pong. The dumpling-making session in the vicarage proved to be a popular activity with young and older folk alike and the finished dumplings were a welcome addition to the buffet meal. Meanwhile local children, Chinese children and their parents as well as ‘ young at heart’ church members, spent a happy, noisy hour with a Wii console
and then had fun with a large multi-coloured parachute.
Sunday was an opportunity to accompany our guests to one of the church services. As the children joined in with the Kids’ Church, it was obvious that friendships had formed quickly the night before. For most of the visitors, this was their first time going to a church and several were clearly moved by the worship and message.
Over coffee after the service we heard that some guests and hosts had talked into the small hours of Sunday morning as the visitors plied hosts with questions about the Christian life and beliefs. After Sunday lunch with host families there was time to relax or have a walk before heading back to the station. The forecasted showers had stayed away until everyone had gathered at the station and then a beautiful double rainbow appeared above the opposite platform! One host later commented ‘I’d shared with Rebecca over lunch how God had spoken to me through rainbows on many occasions and then over the platform a double rainbow!’
So the ‘China comes to Marple’ programme was born and for the last four years a group of 50+ has visited our church. It has helped local Christians and Chinese visitors connect and build friendships.
It has also helped develop English Corner by involving local Christians and churches in the opportunities for serving and reaching these friends from China.
One Marple host summing up her experience said ‘what an amazing weekend. God’s blessing was on the whole weekend. This is what it’s all about- fun, friendship and sharing stories of what God has done in our lives – so natural.’
Whilst speaking Chinese (or Thai, Japanese or any other language) can be a massive help, we have seen that Christian love, hospitality and friendship can transcend language barriers. So saying ‘but I don’t speak Chinese’ shouldn’t stop us from being involved!
How can I get involved?
Manchester English Corner runs on Tuesday and Thursday mornings and we always welcome more volunteers. Similar programmes happen around the UK and often need help. If you are keen to explore ways of being involved by praying, hosting or arranging a home stay contact the DRM team:
Friends International run Globe Cafés for internationals students. friendsinternational.uk/
Host UK are keen to find more hosts to offer occasional hospitality and friendship to international students. Opportunities abound and volunteers are needed.