By Mallory Schlabach, Editor in Chief
Ryan Campbell wants to return to China and spend the rest of his life there. He spent 15 months in China teaching English at Wuhan University of Technology in 2002 after he graduated from ACU and fell in love with the country and its people.
Ryan, a third-year master’s of missions graduate student from Thousand Oaks, Calif., said all he can do is hope and prepare to go back to China.
“That is my prayer,” he said as he smiled, “that our Father sends me back to China long term. I can try to make all kinds of plans and preparations, but nothing seems to go quite as planned on my own.”
Ryan taught English by speaking in conversation with 40 students at the Chinese university in Wuhan.
“It was challenging to keep my students interested and make the lessons educational and entertaining,” he said. “But I always like a challenge.”
That of course, was not the real reason he was in China though, he said with an air of secrecy.
“I was there to tell people about Jesus. I taught English in the classroom, but I was really using it as a springboard to get my students interested in coming to my apartment in the evening hours to study about the Good Book, our Savior, our Father, my joy,” he said and paused. “Notice that I am phrasing all of these words in not so, quote-on-quote, religious terms, but safe terms; terms that won’t get me in trouble.”
He talks with a slow Southern drawl, something he is still surprised to hear others comment on since he considers himself a Californian.
As one of 50 students sent to China in the summer of 2002 through China Now, an organization that seeks to spread the Gospel through dialogue, Ryan would commit with three others on his team to stay in Wuhan and teach Chinese college students how to speak English for 11 months, the length of their school year.
From 8 a.m. to noon, Ryan and his teammates taught. In the afternoons they spent time hanging out with the students, meeting other faculty at the university and playing Ping Pong, a favorite sport of most of their students, he said laughing.
The late part of the afternoon was spent preparing a Bible study, and praying a few of his students would come.
“We met from 6:30 to about 8 every evening, but the funny thing was that most of the people who came were not my students but people I had met in life around the university,” he said.
Although he couldn’t actually teach from the Bible in the classroom, Ryan used a forum called the English Corner to tell his students about God.
“It was this incredible thing that they let me do,” he said, still in amazement of what he discussed. “They would let native English speakers choose whatever topic they wanted to talk about on a platform in front of students for 30 minutes uninterrupted.
“We could talk about anything because the Chinese students just needed to hear our English and be able to practice something when they went to their rooms. I always spoke about our Father, our Savior, true joy and a family in America, which is really the church.”
Before he left for China, Ryan said he wasn’t much of an evangelist.
“I was very bold in China, or rather our Father transformed me into a public evangelist while I was there,” he said. “Most of my Chinese friends came to know I was a Christian because of what I would tell them and talk to them about.”
Ryan and his partners led a house church in their apartment each week. After a while Ryan said he and his English partners would let the Chinese lead the church once they saw who was comfortable teaching and preaching about God to others.
“I immersed my friend Jim, um, I forget his Chinese name, in Christianity,” he said wrinkling his face as he tried to remember his friend’s official name. “Jim became our preacher, and then my friend Fu Qiang, a mean Ping Pong player, led us in the Lord’s Supper and eventually co-led the house church.”
Ryan’s friend Daiyan, and his girlfriend while in China, was the worship leader at the first house church. She eventually helped run a house church out of her own home once he and the other missionaries left for the summer, he said.
After traveling around the world many times on mission trips before arriving in China, Ryan said he was expecting a warm welcome from the people, although he wasn’t expecting to be so loved.
“If this knowledge I have, of how wonderful it is in China, could get out to the public at ACU or Abilene, college kids would be flocking to places like China after they graduate because it is such a wonderful life over there,” Ryan said. “Not only are you given automatic validity because you are a Westerner, but you are treated as a celebrity. They look up to us and value what we say.”
He is looking for a team of Christians that want to serve in China, but said so far, he hasn’t found students willing, much to his surprise.
“I want to live there in the normal Chinese way of life: thinking, speaking, eating, reading in Chinese,” he said. “Just functioning as a Chinese. What draws me to China is the need. The people are like blank slates in China. They have no previous knowledge of Jesus or of denominationalism or church strife. They don’t even know what church is.”
While many Chinese Christians may not know the American meaning of church, they do know what the Bible is now.
“There are increasing signs that Chinese people are having more and more access to Scripture,” said Larry Henderson, missions coordinator for Asia.
Looking at an e-mail he had received earlier in the morning from a Chinese friend he read, “The Bible has been on the top 10 list for this Web site that has hundreds of thousands subscribers.”
The Web site, www.douban.com, lists the Bible as No. 5 on the list.
“This is all new. You’ve no doubt heard about people smuggling Bibles into China; you don’t have to do that anymore,” he said.
“They are not available in every store like they are here, but Bibles are printed in China and they can be found. The government thinks it is better to fight something that they know instead of something that they don’t know anything about.”
While Article 7 of the revised Regulations on Religious Affairs requires all religious materials including Bibles, Korans and other sacred texts to be published by state-sanctioned organizations, it at least permits religious groups to publish religious material, a change from the past decade.
Read about an ACU student from Hong Kong’s experience with Christianity next week in Part IV.