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Teaching at a Christian School
in a Communist Country

I love those moments, when reality just hits and I realize, “Holy cow, I actually live in China!Remember those days when we would dig a hole so deep in the sandbox we would say, “I’m digging a hole to China?” Now I get to work with students who can say, “I’m digging a hole to America!” I love those moments, when reality just hits and I realize, “Holy cow, I actually live in China!” Sometimes it is quite surreal — like when I drive my electric scooter to work, haggle at the market, give directions to a taxi driver, or order my food in Chinese. It is a fascinating experience, a gift from God, and a true call. From the moment I learned of the possibilities, I felt a calm and peaceful understanding that this is what I was supposed to do.

How the Coronavirus Has Affected Our School in Shanghai

woman with mask in Shanghai, 2-14-20February 14, 2020

Something changes every day as China tries to curtail this virus. They have taken this very seriously. We must wear a mask in all public areas. We must take our temperature and log it in a book  before we enter any public building, our school, or even entering our apartment complexes. All nonessential businesses are closed.

Classes were postponed. We conducted home-based, e-learning with our students. It may sound crazy but those of us who have stayed still feel as if we are safe here in Shanghai—if not going a bit stir crazy. We are all praying for a quick end to the uncertainty that this virus has brought and that we can soon gather together again on our campus here in Shanghai.

—Naomi

Many misconceptions about China exist, which I also had before moving here two and a half years ago to teach at Concordia International School Shanghai. While some of these misconceptions are based in truth, I have discovered that China is a vast country and no single description encompasses it. It is old world and new world all combined into one. You can be standing in a neighborhood with no indoor plumbing and a block away are multimillion-dollar sky-rise apartments. China changes in the blink of an eye, and everywhere we turn, we see evidence of that. The truth is that no matter how much research I did before coming here, nothing would have really prepared me for my new reality. From the moment I walked off the plane that first day, I saw a whole new world.

Let me first address the matter of faith in China, as I am sure this is on many of our minds. There are churches in China. That said, the government has some very clear rules about attending those churches in order to control what their citizens hear and know. If you are a foreign national, you may attend these churches. Chinese citizens however, may only attend Chinese churches, and authorities do check passports randomly. Gathering together in homes for worship and praise is also popular in the community for both expats and local citizens.

Holding a foreign passport is important in China. It grants many freedoms that everyday citizens do not have, including attending our school. All students who attend our school must hold a foreign passport. This has become very interesting as demographics of our school become less ex-pat families and more and more native Chinese speakers whose children were born outside of China.

The legacy they have left is lasting, and God has truly blessed us with a school that is thriving despite the many challenges that we encounter.Many may not know the history of Concordia International School Shanghai. I will not go into great detail; however, there are a couple of things you should know. As I understand it, over 20 years ago the Shanghai government built up a new area of the city called “Pudong,” and they wanted to attract foreign companies. To do that, they knew they would need quality western education for the families that would come. They liked the model of our sister school in Hong Kong and invited a brave group of teacher/missionaries to come and build their school. This was not an easy thing to do, and these wonderful people sacrificed a lot (including mortgaging their homes to buy the land). The legacy they have left is lasting, and God has truly blessed us with a school that is thriving despite the many challenges that we encounter.

One challenge in particular came just as I was arriving to begin my first year. At the end of the 2016-2017 school year, a Chinese language article reported that we taught Christian faith in every classroom. While true and good, the Shanghai Education Commission did not see it in the same way. We had to reassess how our ministry would move forward so that we could follow the regulations while still faithfully sharing the message of love as we are Called to do.

So, what is our new reality? As Christians in a Communist country, we have always and will always strive to respect our host country, all the while staying true to our faith and mission. That said, one thing that has not changed is that we intentionally hire Christian teachers. (We are always looking for great mission-minded Lutheran school educators and leaders to join our ministry.) We believe this is vital in making our faith visible, because now, more than ever, we share our faith through actions.

Our theme that year was “Wear Love,” and our verse was Colossians 3:14 (ESV), “And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.” It was a perfect reminder for what we needed to do. Our head of school often reminded us that year (and continues to do so), “Love them until they ask us why.”

I often returned to my public school upbringing and reminded myself of what I can do instead of focusing on what I cannot. I can share what I believe and why, while also presenting facts about what others believe. I can share that there was a man named Jesus and that I believe his amazing story is true. I can tell people that I believe Jesus loves them and that I am praying for them.

Concordia’s mission statement still states openly, for anyone to see, that, “…we view every student as a gift from God, entrusted to us by parents, and are committed in Christian stewardship.”Do we have to be mindful? Yes. Do we have to completely hide? No. Concordia’s mission statement still states openly, for anyone to see, that, “…we view every student as a gift from God, entrusted to us by parents, and are committed in Christian stewardship.” We are careful to respect our host country, all the while “putting on the full armor of God” so that in any situation we can be ready to stand (Ephesians 6).

There are so many things to love about teaching in China, namely, the students. They have such big hearts and such a desire to learn. Their ability to switch so fast between languages at such a young age is amazing. Parents truly value teachers and the mission of our school. I love the opportunity I have to explore the world — Japan, Thailand, Taiwan, and most recently Bavaria. It is a particular blessing to meet other missionaries and to help smaller Lutheran schools through the Asia Lutheran Education Association. Becoming friends with new people of all different cultures and backgrounds and even being a little spoiled with foot massages and an ayi (housekeeper) make this a truly unique experience.

One of my favorite women of the Bible is Esther. She too lived in a place that did not welcome believers with open arms. Yet, when the time came, she stood up for what she knew to be true. I pray that God grants me the strength to do the same and remember that just as Mordecai told Esther, “...who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:14b). So too, has God called me to be here in China for just this precise moment.

Naomi Vogt, a native of New Jersey and a graduate of Concordia University Chicago has been teaching kindergarten at Concordia International School Shanghai for three of her twelve years in ministry.

Photo courtesy the author.