KNOXVILLE — Editors Note: Some last names have been removed from this story to protect individuals returning to foreign countries.
International students at Johnson University Tennessee are being offered the chance to share their personal experience with religion in a series of interviews hosted by director of international relations, Duan Hua and the Global Learning Center.
On Tuesday night students and faculty gathered to hear students Zoya Kamil, Jimmy and Sarah speak with senior Emma Riley in the series of interviews titled “Religious Practices and Christianity in my Home Country.”
Hua said the interviews were started out of an effort to increase understanding of different cultural backgrounds in the campus community.
“To reach the goal of bringing the Kingdom of God among all nations, that’s our primary goal for this specific series,” she said. “I think the students enjoyed this opportunity to share with the whole campus community about their religious experiences in their home country and bring a better understanding between our international students and the whole campus.”
Riley, who works as Hua’s assistant, said she wanted to be a part of facilitating the interviews because of a long standing interest in intercultural studies.
“One of the reasons I really appreciate Johnson is that it values intercultural studies and its internationals students so much,” she said. “Being a part of that seemed like a very worthwhile thing.”
Zoya Kamil is an undergraduate student at JUTN studying public health. She is originally from Pakistan but moved to England with her family when she was a teenager.
Kamil said she was excited to go to school with her friends in England but realized she couldn’t because she didn’t have her citizenship and would not receive any loans.
“My family and I prayed a lot over that,” she said.
Kamil said that by chance JU President Weedman came to her father’s resource center and, from their encounter, she decided to attend JUTN.
Kamil explained how different the Presbyterian church her family attended in Pakistan was from the church she attends now.
“It’s much more strict,” she said. “Head covering is a big deal, if you don’t have your head covered an elder will tell you to cover your head.”
She said that perceived disrespectful treatment of the Quran by some people in the United States makes many angry in Pakistan.
“They have a shelf above their heads that they put the Quran on, they don’t even turn their back to it,” she said.
Jimmy and Sarah are both international students from China.
Jimmy is pursuing his Master of Arts in Educational Technology at JUTN and Sarah is a part of the MAP program.
Sarah said that she hopes to become a full-time Chinese language teacher in America. She said she found out about Johnson from a graduate at JU that she was working with in China.
“It would be great to know teaching from a Christian perspective,” she said.
Sarah said her mother was a Christian but she didn’t know until she was much older.
“I thought that my family were atheists,” she said. “Many people [in China] think there is some god but don’t really believe it, they just think there might be.”
Jimmy said that his grandmother is a Christian.
“Every Sunday no matter the bad weather she [goes] to work in the church,” he said.
Jimmy said he is an atheist. He said he has been asked since coming to Johnson why he is not a Christian.
“Because I cannot see him and cannot feel him,” he said. “This does not mean I reject god but I just cannot feel him. Maybe I will feel him sometime in the future.
“Some people will say religion is a trick, they don’t believe in any god they just believe in themselves,” he added.
Sarah explained that even though communism is taught in Chinese schools there, religion is still a part of every day life in China.
“If they are in trouble they will go to the temples and ask for help, we also have the church so the lifestyle and the school life is very different,” she said. “We remember our ancestors and the things we practice are tradition even if we do not believe it is still religious.”
Sarah said that a high school classmate led her to Christ after a health scare.
“In the beginning I avoided talking to her but I was also amazed by what she’s doing,” she said. “I sit beside her and she always tried to have conversation with me so I think she cares about me. Everybody is focused on learning but she cares about me. We got closer and she shared with me the gospel.
“Two months later I got very sick, I was so surprised but the doctor told me it was possible I had blood cancer. So at that moment I started to think about life and what is the meaning of my life. I thought about my friend sharing about Jesus and how he died for us and also wants to give eternal life,” she added.
Sarah said that her friend’s mother came to visit her in the hospital and asked her if she wanted to accept Christ.
“I thought if there is a God he can save me,” she said. “It really touched my heart and I accepted Jesus as my savior and even the next day I felt like I had peace in my life.”
Sarah said she recovered from her illness in the hospital two weeks later.
Jimmy said that even though he does not call himself a Christian his time at JUTN has led him to respect Christianity.
“Although I am not a Christian I really appreciate the principles that the Bible brings to you,” he said.
Students, faculty and staff are encouraged to attend the next two interview sessions in the Global Learning Center on April 4 and April 18.
International students interested in participating can contact Duan Hua at DHua@Johnsonu.edu or Emma Riley at Emma.Riley@Johnsonu.edu.