A wonderful feature of our church today, which those who were around 150 years ago would have found astonishing, is how international our church is. This has been particularly the result of the enormous growth of international students at Birmingham University which sits on our doorstep. This trend started in the 1970s but has grown especially rapidly in the past twenty years. First came some from Africa and from India, and then, starting in the 1990s, many others from East and Southeast Asia, and particularly from China.
Most of the early international students here were Christians, keen to share fellowship and teaching during their time in the UK. But almost all of the Chinese who came had no Christian background. Two of the first visitors to our church, just to have a look, said, “Please can you tell us what is in the Bible”. So we did. A Bible study group for Chinese students was started, and has continued ever since, with a constantly changing enrollment. One of the first joiners invited his friend to come along to church: “It doesn’t cost much, you just have to put something small in the bag”. (Glad to say we have now done away with the Sunday offering bags!)
Explaining the Bible to those with no background was an interesting challenge, as they came with many great questions. It was enormously faith-growing for those of us involved. Over the years, a steady trickle of Chinese students and visiting academics became believers and joined our church. A few of these were baptised in our church before returning to China. We praise God for the way he has been reaching the nations as the nations came to our neighbourhood.