International student risks it all to study the Bible

A student from China is chancing her safety to receive a seminary education.



A student hailing from China sits in front of Talbot east, where she attends classes that will help her minister to her church back home. If discovered by the government, her enrollment at Biola could put the lives of herself, her husband and daughter in danger. Tomber Su/THE CHIMES

Jackie Grade, Writer

The concerns that cross many Biola students’ minds as they pack for Biola are whether they will have a car on campus, enough meals in the caf or the right back to school outfit. Lisa* is more concerned about the long-term safety of her friends and family back home due to boundaries the government has set up that are best not crossed. Though it’s illegal to share the gospel in her home country of China, Lisa came to Biola to learn how to do just that. Yet she will return to a place where proclaiming Christianity can create personal safety issues.

An insatiable desire to learn

Having taught theology for seven and a half years at her government-run church in China, Lisa still yearned to know more for the good of teaching her congregation. But the availability of books and theological information in China paled in comparison to the myriad of possible texts America stocks on its bookshelves. She compared herself to a dried sponge, yearning to absorb every cell of water — every word in her books.

“When I don’t need to sleep, when I don’t need to eat meals, I want to read the books and take notes. I want good information to equip myself,” Lisa said.

"It was a kingdom investment"

Greg Leith, director of strategic alliances, as well as Ryan McDuff, external relation liaison and volunteer specialist, happened to meet Lisa a week and a half before the fall semester’s classes started. When she explained her reasons for coming to America combined with her deep desire to attend Talbot, McDuff and Leith joined forces to make her dream come true.

“I haven’t seen an interdisciplinary group work so fast to overcome so many obstacles,” Leith said.

In record time, the group gathered together and sat down with Lisa to hash out every possible hindrance for enrolling this fall. The list was lengthy: The Chinese government does not want its citizens to study theology outside of its control, Biola had already closed the application process, she had no place to live, tuition scaled higher than what she was ready to pay, a language barrier prevented perfect conversational comprehension and the troublesome list continued to grow.

Lisa repeated two words during her prayer over all of these hindrances: peace and happiness.

“In China, I had peace, but I did not have happiness,” Lisa said.

McDuff stated that during the interdisciplinary meeting, Lisa's list miraculously dwindled down as each person offered to help in his or her own way. For instance, the housing department helped find her the only house available to a Biola graduate woman. Ruby Women, who dedicate their time to involving women at Biola, volunteered to furnish her house with more than Lisa said she even needed. A bed, a couch, a bike and pots and pans were quickly found and brought to the apartment.

“It was a kingdom investment,” McDuff said.

Equipped to return

This semester, Lisa was able to enroll in the English Language Studies program at Biola in order to better her English as she looks forward to her next semester of pastoral care and counseling.

Lisa didn’t come here to study at Talbot and stay in her Fullerton house permanently, however. She came in order to further her ministry in China. More specifically, as she studies pastoral care and counseling at Talbot, she intends to focus on working closely with parents of families.

“In China, everyone pursue[s] money. Many young parents don’t know how to educate their children. Children are not good because of parents,” Lisa said.

She will stay here for the next three years as she finishes her Masters but hopes to return to China during the summer and winter to continue ministering to her church back home.

Each time Lisa treks back to her home country, she risks her own safety. She made the decision to leave her husband behind in order to preserve his safety of remaining in China. 

New scholarship launched

Due to stories such as Lisa's, Leith stated that President Corey will offer a new scholarship geared to help fund students’ education at Biola from countries where the gospel is restricted.

“People here won’t get killed preaching the gospel or risking their lives. Lisa prayed, ‘Even if it means my life.’ That’s high stakes education,” Leith said.

For Lisa, the high stakes are worth it when she considers the trade-off.

“My happiness is attending Biola. God has fulfilled this completely,” Lisa said.

*Name has been changed for student's safety.

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