Heading Home with Jesus - A Review

“Are you a straw in a bundle of straws or a ripple in a pond?”

According to Chinese sociologist Fei Xiaotong, Westerners perceive ourselves as straws: bundled with other people in our communities, but remaining distinct and separate individuals. Chinese, on the other hand, believe each person affects others like ripples intersecting and overlapping in a pond.

In Heading Home with Jesus, author Debbie D. Phillip quotes Fei Xiaotong to illustrate the cultural misunderstandings that arise when Western Christians minister to visiting Chinese students and scholars. Often the Chinese may appear to have converted without sincere changes of heart or without committing to their new faith. Alternatively, the Western ministries may fail to prepare new Christians for maintaining and practicing their faith when they return to their homeland.

In response to these daunting challenges, Phillip proposes an alternative to short-term ministry: discipleship. It is not enough for Western Christians to convert their Chinese guests. To overcome the barriers to practicing Christianity in China, Western ministries must train new converts during their visits--and continue supporting them after they return home. To properly disciple new Chinese believers, Phillip urges readers to transition from serving their guests to teaching new believers to serve others.

Philip identifies five key areas for better ministering to Chinese visitors: needs, context, people, change, and implications. Part 1 of Heading Home with Jesus covers the unique challenges faced in ministering to the Chinese in the West. Part 2 gives an overview of Chinese society, education, and culture, analyzing how these factors have affected how Chinese perceive the world and themselves. Part 3 shares testimonies from converts after their return to China, including some who fell away from the church and others who strengthened their faith through trials. Part 4 examines the trends in Chinese conversions, based on 19 testimonies contributed to the work.  Part 5 recommends practical steps for discipling Chinese converts.

The strength of this book lies in its firsthand accounts from Chinese converts. Their stories vividly reveal the heart of cultural misunderstandings between Western believers and Chinese visitors. In Part 2, for example, Ping, a Chinese student in Britain, “had been reading the Bible with a British Christian. Ping did not yet believe but when the lady asked her if she believed, she said ‘yes,’ because to her that was the kind and proper thing to do…”

In other words, Ping’s “conversion” was actually a good-hearted effort to save face for herself and her friend. Philip points out that, outside the family, Chinese believe “one should never become too indebted to someone… [Chinese students] might feel more comfortable accepting help if they can give something in return... On the other hand, when Chinese students experience the kindness of Christians who are strangers but expect nothing in return, this can be a great witness.” This story and others like it help Western readers to empathize with Chinese perspectives and concepts that tend to baffle us, as well as giving hope for greater openness and understanding in the future.

Heading Home with Jesus will both inspire and equip Christians seeking to improve their ministry to visiting Chinese. Even seasoned veterans will benefit from reading its testimonies and sharing the author’s experiences.