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LEA is looking for writers

LEA is looking for writers in front-line ministries for articles in future ShapingtheFuture magazine pieces. If you would like to write, contact ed.grube@lea.org (do not reply to this publication) to express and discuss your interests.


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Books by Dave Kohl:

Chinese Architecture in the Straits Settlements (1986)
A Curious and Peculiar People (2006)
DragonTails – Memories of the Golden Age of HKIS (2007)
Lutherans on the Yangtze (2014)
Women and the Mission (in preparation)


other STF links

What Will We Do? (Feature)

Preparing Our Students to Witness (MIDnet)

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chinese studentChinese Students
in U.S. Lutheran Schools

Lutherans have ventured far afield to establish elementary and high schools in domestic and foreign mission fields including India (1895), China (1913), Latin America (1928), East Asia (1950), and New Guinea (1966). First venturing into the realm of international education, Missouri Synod missionaries and local expatriates founded the first English-language International School in Hong Kong (HKIS) in 1966. A third of that initial HKIS staff were called LCMS teachers—experienced graduates of a Concordia at River Forest, Seward, and St. Paul—supplemented by local Asian and European teachers.

Faith is displayed in academics and lived out in daily classroom procedure. Sister schools have opened in Shanghai, Shen Zhen, and Hanoi.

Until the turn of the recent century, these overseas developments have usually only been of distant interest to most North American Lutherans. Until the turn of the recent century, these overseas developments have usually only been of distant interest to most North American Lutherans.

In a recent development, at least 15 Lutheran schools in the United States are welcoming an estimated 330 students whose families remain in China. With globalization, relaxed student immigration practices, and the keen desire of Chinese parents to help their students become proficient in the English language, school-age students as young as 12 are being sent to America without their family. They have become known as parachute kids. The youth generally live with host families connected to schools or congregations and participate in most classroom and community life 8,000 miles from their parents, siblings, and friends. Many of the estimated 23,000 such students hope to graduate from an American school and eventually get accepted into U.S. colleges.

Desirous of a quality experience for their students, Chinese parents may pay as much as most college tuitions to American secondary schools. Beginning in the 1990s, and accelerating after 2008, these students have been finding their way to Lutheran schools — mostly congregational elementary schools from Oregon to Wisconsin and Maryland, and community high schools from California to Illinois and New York to Florida. There are residential high schools in Wisconsin and Missouri. Some Chinese family members temporarily move to America for their student to attend a particular school while living with at least one parent or sibling.

Typically, Chinese students are enthusiastic about all things American—speaking good English, visiting places seen in American films, owning name brand American products, and making friendships for networking (guanxi). With understandable trepidation, they are keen to experience American-style education and new situations.

It must be said, up front, that while no direct proselytization is to be done, by mutual signed agreement, the overall experience provides ample opportunities in daily Christian witness. This unforeseen development is a bonus opportunity for Lutheran schools, and a reverse mission opportunity—the mission field is coming to us!  It must be said, up front, that while no direct proselytization is to be done, by mutual signed agreement, the overall experience provides ample opportunities in daily Christian witness through life style, classroom management, involvement with church-related activities, and family interaction.

While a school will certainly be mission-minded, the word mission needs to be paraphrased in this instance for international political considerations. Teaching and living out a biblical perspective promises an atmosphere of kindness and respect and a learning environment with Christ’s message of hope and purpose.

For any school considering including foreign residential students in their student body, there are several factors to contemplate:

Housing and community

Welcoming residential students must include a quality home-life for these visitors. Most congregations and community high schools arrange for housing with vetted members of the Lutheran or larger Christian community. Ideally, that household includes other students, although not necessarily of the same exact age or grade level. A private room is generally standard. Householders must be friendly, open to the variables of a new family member, and flexible. Some situations may call for a change of housing for various reasons. It is advisable to arrange several potential homes for each student as backup.

Becoming part of an American family also means compromise and understanding, while adhering to long-established household procedures and manners. Manners and etiquette will differ. Food is a major topic. As host, it is desirable to expose these guests to a variety of American foods. Openness to learning about Chinese diet is also instructive (although skill with chopsticks is not required).

Students may arrive with clothing and equipment they hope is fashionable, but the host may help with the process of learning American dress and manners. Everyone is in loco parentis. Involved householders will include, or at least invite, their guests to most church, school, and community activities.

While the students come for an immersion experience, they also usually require some contacts with their own culture—other Chinese students, e-mail and social media, Skype, etc. It is often advisable to explore local Asian or Chinese communities, even the local Asian grocery, or local university student group. Immersion should not be isolation. Some students will thrive on independence, while others may experience homesickness, often away from home for the first time. They are their parents’ pride.

The current generation of Chinese youth is well versed in consumerism—almost infatuated with American brands and logos. They may arrive with credit cards and large budgets. Moderation may need to be taught or modeled. They will most certainly have pre-conceptions about America and its ways that they have learned from movies, popular music, and social media. It is the role of hosts and schools to expose them to actual American living. Guidance in distinguishing image from practice is assumed.

Instructional Program

All schools mainstream international students into regular curricular expectations, with the usual caveats for skill or pre-requisites. All schools mainstream international students into regular curricular expectations, with the usual caveats for skill or pre-requisites. The host student body should have been prepared for this opportunity. Their interest and attention can be infectiously positive. If the faculty and student body are enthusiastic about their visitors, good relationships will quickly develop. Adults in the school should be watchful to see that quality social and academic links are established early, perhaps through pairing with one or more “buddies.” A school’s atmosphere nourishes respect, cooperation, behavioral standards, work ethic, clear communication, and focused purpose.

Most Chinese students sent abroad are high-achieving, intense, and focused. The majority are the result of China’s one-child policy, and may be under extreme expectations to succeed as individuals and as representatives of their families. Failure would be a traumatic option. The drive to succeed manifests itself in intense study and also through involvement in sports or the arts. Schools and families should provide varied wholesome experiences, a bit of tourism, and cultural and local activities to break up long weeks of routine schooling. These children of a different culture will also have much to teach their classmates, teachers, and hosts. Invite them to do so in word and deed.

English as a second language programs are targeted instruction specifically to aid non-native speakers in grammar, vocabulary, and conversation. Schools with larger Chinese populations offer a course or provide a staff member certified in ESL. Other schools provide an after-school program that supplements the standard school day. Any school working with these students should engage in some type of specialized language program. While one major goal is for the visitors to speak daily with American-born speakers (peers and adults), most benefit from supplemental focused work with a specialist. Students at this age learn quickly, but the school cannot rely solely on osmosis or mainstreaming alone for quality language acquisition.

And they are still kids, with every possible foible. Behavior is generally not a problem, unless a student is discouraged, confused, lonely, or has other adolescent issues. They are under pressure to succeed and may act out. Extra Christian understanding and consistency are required.


Christian witness manifests itself in daily interactions, in school policy, and in community relations.A school considering this type of witness program should actively explore its resources before bringing in foreign students. The full staff, the congregation(s), and the vast majority of the student body should be welcoming, ready to be patient, helpful, and supportive of these guests. The reputation of Lutheran schools requires that everyone put their best foot forward and be willing to reach out to make the extra effort in “friendship evangelism.”

Christian witness manifests itself in daily interactions, in school policy, and in community relations. These astute youth can easily distinguish what we say from what we do. They will believe what they see.

Any school considering foreign students needs to aid in obtaining F-1 or J-1 visas for their prospective students, involving inevitable advance time and paperwork. Although there is a definite financial benefit to enrolling foreign students at full tuition, conscientious school leaders must realize the immense commitment and responsibility for the educational, physical, emotional, and spiritual welfare of guest students.


Several Lutheran schools have been approached by local or international Chinese,  seeking a quality education on a case-by-case basis. Many schools report that they have not assertively recruited students but have received referrals, based on good reputation.  In several communities, another private and public school may already serve foreign students. These experienced institutions may offer advice and coordination, mentoring newer schools in their fledgling efforts into this venture. Similarly, Lutherans schools who have experience with Chinese students should become mentors to other schools interested in starting programs. Additionally, there are several international agencies in the business of recruiting students from China, aligning them with schools in America. They are competitive commission-based businesses, and they should be vetted.

Three Lutheran schools currently provide a “summer camp” experience of 3–8 weeks. Most welcome students typically for a semester or year, while the expectation for other pupils is attendance through graduation.

Some examples: Crean Lutheran High School in Irvine, Cal., serves only students who live locally with their own families. Their student body of about 800 is 23 percent foreign. In Concordia, Mo., St. Paul Lutheran High School enrolls about 15 percent Chinese in their student body, who live in dormitories with other foreign and American students. Fox Valley Lutheran High School in Appleton, Wis., graduated 22 Chinese students in 2015, all of whom lived with host families.

If this is an emerging trend, more Lutheran schools may find an opportunity to diversify their student bodies while participating in this dynamic moment in Lutheran education and outreach.

Dave Kohl is a 1968 graduate of Concordia University, Nebraska, and holds master’s degrees from University of Illinois (Urbana) and Hong Kong University. He is a published author and his articles have appeared in The Lutheran Layman and Concordia Historical Quarterly.

Photo © iStock/Christopher Futcher.