With approximately 250 million people living as expatriates in foreign countries there is a great need for Christian fellowship as many people find themselves outside of their comfort zones. Thankfully, international churches offer enormous opportunities to fill this gap by connecting expats to the Body of Christ.
International Churches (IC) or International fellowships (IF) are English language speaking churches specifically designed to reach expats from many different nations who are working or studying abroad.
In recent years Pastors Neville and Dorothy Johannie, who are originally from Port Elizabeth, have led International Churches in Germany, Dubai and more recently in Suzhou International Fellowship (SIF) in China. The couple left South Africa in 2008 on a mission to lead an international church in Germany and have continued to minister to expats ever since.
Asked about the unique challenges of their ministry, Pastor Dorothy said: “Congregational faces of international churches are forever changing as people come in and leave all the time. In that sense we must be flexible to adapt to new people and cultures all the time.”
Pastor Neville says the faithful support of diligent volunteers plays a vital role in their ministry to believers from different parts of the world at SIF which is the only international church in the city of Suzhou which is situated to the west of Shanghai.
“Mentorship and leadership are thus crucial for sustaining the general church operations”, he said.
He said it was important to identify and train volunteers quickly to ensure that their own roles as senior pastors are filled once it is time for them to leave China.
Transport is a major challenge they face in Suzhou due to the church’s out-of-the way location and limited public transport facilities. The government of China provides international churches with the use of buildings for fellowship but by law only allows expats to attend their services. Chinese nationals who are Christians are supposed to attend government sanctioned and registered places of worship. A notice board at the SIF site stipulates that only foreign passport holders may attend the service.
“Communist China is spiritually hungry. Even though there is a strong heritage of Confucianism and Buddhism there is still a great search for the truth especially amongst the younger generation,” said Pastor Neville.
He said house churches are booming and contribute towards two thirds of the Christian population in China.
The Johannies say that SIF is a vibrant church with a young congregation many of whom work or study in Suzhou. The church has a children, men’s and women’s ministry as well as weekly Bible study groups. They also often meet for fellowship at parks or restaurants to stay connected with their members. The church strives to be a soft landing pad for incoming expats and a rocket launching base for outgoing disciples.
The couple are currently in South Africa till later this month. For more information please contact Pastor Neville Johannie at firstname.lastname@example.org ,