Back in 2011, Teresa Jones’s response to an email changed her family’s life. For the next decade, it would affect numerous others. She signed up to host two international Chinese students in her home in Raleigh for dinner.
Back in 2011, Teresa Jones’ response to an email changed her family’s life. For the next decade, it would affect numerous others.
She signed up to host two international Chinese students in her home in Raleigh for dinner.
On a Saturday evening in September, she and her husband, Archie, got to know these two young women — Lixiao and Hua* — and the conversation moved toward spiritual matters.
“One of the young ladies [Lixiao] did not know much about the Bible but said that she had been going to church since she had come to Raleigh,” Teresa said. “She wanted to come to church with us.”
And the next day, she did.
The other graduate student, Hua, was not a Christian but became friends with the Joneses’ daughter, who was in seminary. Within two months, their daughter led her new friend to the Lord, and she was baptized at Fairview Baptist Church, where the Joneses are members.
“We just continued to invest in those two girls all the rest of that year, in 2012,” Teresa said.
That summer, the Joneses’ daughter moved overseas on the mission field. Soon afterward, Teresa and Archie had lunch with the two students.
“I was grieving the loss of my daughter,” Teresa said. “And so, I asked them if they would like to do a Bible study together.”
The young women agreed, and Teresa led them through the “Experiencing God” Bible study. Afterward, Hua said, “Oh, I want you to come do this with more of my friends.”
That was the start of the Joneses hosting a decade-long Bible study for college students.
A group of Chinese and American students — mostly women — began coming to Hua’s home for Bible study. A few months later, Lixiao wanted the Joneses to disciple some of her friends who were new believers. The Joneses decided to launch another group for them at their home.
“It was in March 2013 that we started that group,” Teresa said. “And when we finished, they wanted to do something else. And it just kept going from then on.”
The Joneses reorganized the two groups at their home — one with new believers or members, and the other with attendees looking for continued discipleship. While some Bible study participants believed in God, others were just curious about Him or wanted to use the study as an opportunity to practice their English.
“The majority that came to our house had never opened the Bible,” Teresa said. “Our church helped support us by buying Chinese Bibles.”
Teresa said that because it was many students’ first time hearing the gospel, “the biblical narrative was really important to go through slowly with each student.”
“There was no set agenda as far as the amount of material to cover, but just to cover the material in a way that they understood and were able to grasp it and ask questions,” Archie added.
Little did they know how their time sharing the gospel in their own home was part of God’s plan to later reach people across the world.
“I would love to tell you that all of them came to Christ, but they didn’t,” Teresa said. “Many seeds were sown. Many have moved back to China; many have moved to other parts in the U.S.… But we keep praying for them.”
An unexpected return to China
After two years of living in Raleigh, Hua moved to Atlanta, Ga., for her first job. She found a church and went to a weekend retreat in Alabama. While there, she met a man who attended another Chinese church. She discovered that he moved to the United States from China around the same time as her — and he, too, found Christ shortly afterward.
“A few years from that point, we found ourselves at her wedding in Georgia,” Teresa said. “My husband actually gave her away.”
The couple ended up buying a home and settling down in Atlanta. During some family visits back to China, Hua’s mother and sister accepted Christ from her witness. Hua remained committed to the Lord and taught Bible Study Fellowship to Chinese women in the area.
But when COVID-19 hit, Hua’s mother-in-law was diagnosed with cancer. Her husband wanted to move back to China to care for his mom. In the summer of 2020, the couple — along with their two little boys — moved overseas.
“The Lord really had to work in her life to bring her to that point because she did not want to leave the U.S.,” Teresa said. “The family dynamics have been difficult.”
Upon the family’s arrival, both of Hua’s in-laws told them not to talk about God and were not open to prayer.
But recently, that’s changed. Hua shared that her mother-in-law’s heart has softened — and she’s now asking them to pray for her through terminal cancer. In addition, Hua’s dad, who now has early onset dementia, accepted Christ.
In her most recent letter, Teresa said that Hua wrote “about how good God is and how she knows now that He took them back there so that they could share Christ with their families and their friends in China.”
‘What kept us going’
After hosting a total of 150 students at some point in their home, the Joneses transitioned the Bible study to meet online every Sunday night for two years during COVID-19. The group went through several video-based studies that resulted in some pivotal group discussions.
“Their hunger to know truth was what kept us going,” Teresa said. “And the fruit of that is two of them did receive Christ and were baptized.”
The two baptized were a couple — Weichang Yuan and Wendy Wang — who had faithfully attended the Joneses’ group for years, but never surrendered their hearts to Christ.
However, around that same time, the Joneses’ decade-long Bible study came to an end as North Carolina State University was not receiving new students on campus and many of the Bible study attendees had moved away or were plugged into a local church.
Recognizing the importance of discipleship for the new believing couple, Teresa and Archie met with them online to continue pouring into them from several states away.
In late spring of 2023, that couple moved back to North Carolina — and nearby the Joneses — because they could not find a solid Christian community.
The couple’s relocation has the Joneses considering reactivating the small group with a few other former attendees that live in the area. But ultimately, Teresa and Archie are leaning on God as to what’s next.
“[This ministry] was never done with any forethought, it was always responding to opportunities that were before us,” Teresa said. “And when it was over, we basically said, well, that season is done and the Lord’s brought that to an end. Now we’re looking ahead thinking, well, maybe there’s something else.
“I’ve felt like I’ve had a different assignment over the last year, but we still love the students and … connecting with internationals,” she continued. “So that’s kind of where we are as to how do we start this back? And where would the Lord have us go from here?”
For others considering starting a Bible study in their home, Archie had one suggestion: “The biggest thing is becoming accustomed to responding to what God is calling you to.
“It implies walking away from perhaps some of your agenda, some of your schedule, some of your plans. Having been through that process over the course of many years, we know and we’re very comfortable with the realization that yes, it is a whole lot more rewarding, encouraging and exciting to say ‘yes’ to God than to move forward with our own personal plans.”
*Name changed for privacy.
by Lizzy Haseltine, N.C. Baptist contributing writer