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Loving the Foreigner

My name is Severin Lwali, I’m from Kenya and I came to the US as an international student and my journey of coming to know Jesus was really impacted by another international student. See, when I came, I was already a believer, but I became a believer because my oldest sister went to India as an international student where she came to know Jesus and was discipled. When she came back home and she re-entered back into Kenya, all she could do was share Jesus Christ with me all the time.

Eventually, I gave my heart to the Lord; I became a follower of Jesus Christ. When I came to the United States, I was looking for a campus ministry. I was looking for what I could call a spirit filled campus ministry that was living on mission on a secular campus, and I found a group that was called Chi Alpha and they essentially just loved on me and they served me and then they continued to just share Jesus Christ with me every day through our regular meetings and then they discipled me.

But the impact of a community, a community that is loving and serving, proclaiming Christ and discipling really moved me from friendship to leadership. They gave me opportunities to lead, to lead small groups. They invited me to be part of the worship team. I was a small group leader, I was on student staff, I was president of our campus ministry, so they continued to put me in positions where I had to learn how to lead and own my faith and eventually in graduate school, I was leading the international student ministry.

Today on our campuses, we have, like me, about 1,043,839 international students and these international students are from many different countries, majority being from China and India, South Korea, Saudi Arabia, being at number four. Vietnam, Taiwan, Japan, and it breaks down as you go on, but the question that I try to ask many times is, for example, with Saudi Arabia being number four, when is the last time you waltzed into Mecca and shared the gospel of Jesus Christ with a Saudi?

On campus, we have the opportunity to do that. See, the Bible says, Paul writing, talking to people in Athens, and he says that from one man God created all of us and he determined the times and places where we should live and he did it so that perhaps they would seek God, perhaps that they would feel their way toward him and find him, that God is actually not far from each one of us.

Act 17, God brings him here to know him, perhaps reach out to him and find him and that’s the intent of God. Every one of the international students is here to know God. I went to graduation ceremony because I knew some friends were graduating and I remember sitting in the nosebleed section watching the graduation ceremony and there were two students that graduated that I knew, and as they came up I had this conversation with the Lord and essentially, it went down like this.

There was a student that came forward, and I remember specifically the Lord telling me, “Do you know that student?” I said, “Yes.” He says, “He came here without me, and he’s leaving without me.” To which I had no good response, I didn’t know what to do with that. The very next student came along and the same conversation, the Lord asked me again, “Do you know that student?” And I hesitated and I said, “Yes,” because I wasn’t sure where this was going, but I knew I had no good answer for him and I said, “Yes,” and he said, “Well, he came here knowing me and he’s leaving without me.”

In that moment, God put into context for me Act 17:26-27, that God has brought the international student here for that specific purpose, that they would reach out to him and find him and know him and the way they get to know him is if we welcome them, if we love and serve them, if we share the good news of Jesus Christ with them, and if we disciple them. Therefore, it is important for us to all welcome the international students.

It’s not just a simple, “Welcome to America.” What needs to be the driving force behind that is a kingdom of God welcome, that has at its heart that God has brought them here to experience his love through you, through you and me.

In the scriptures, the Bible tells us a lot about internationals or strangers in Leviticus 19. It says that, “When a stranger so joins with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. You shall treat the stranger who so joins with you as the native among you and you shall love him as yourself, for you are strangers in the land of Egypt. I am the Lord, your God.”

Years ago we had a great, very smart, beautiful, shy Indonesian girl named Anna. She came to our school where I was and one of her friends was a resident hall assistant in her dorm room, so she connected with Anna and invited her into the everyday of her life, her community, which that included her other resident hall assistants, her friends, people in the dorm, her small group, her bible study, campus ministry, large group meetings, her church, and her family.

Eventually, Anna experienced the love of Jesus Christ through community and she became a follower of Jesus Christ and she was loved, she was served, the good news of Jesus was proclaimed to her, and in a very vivid way through community, and she then was discipled. Anna herself started leading her own bible study with international girls and after finishing her second master’s degree, as if the first one was not enough, Anna felt called to go to China as a teacher.

At a school where we were, we started receiving an influx of Chinese students, as many of the campuses across the US were also experiencing and we just continued to love and to serve them, proclaim Christ to them, and for those that became believers, we discipled them. In one semester, 18 Chinese students came to be followers of Jesus. We knew that that was God at work and it was an answer to prayers as well, but 18 students was a lot of students to give their hearts to Jesus in one semester. It’s taken us years to be able to even get to that number. You could be three years before we see 18 students.

But for each one of those students, we always interviewed them if they knew the reason for why they were becoming believers and for every one of them that we ask, part of their testimony was that they said to us that they had a teacher in China and this teacher loved and served them. She essentially proclaimed Jesus Christ to them through life, doing life with them. In a classroom, she lived out an example of being Christlike.

She invited them to her apartment and they ate and they spent time with them and she introduced them to her friends and some of those friends were my wife and I, because she had a picture of us and she told those students, “When you come to the US, make sure you’re getting plugged into a campus ministry because those people would love you.” Every one of those 18 students was coming to know Jesus because of Anna, because Anna was loving and serving them.

Now I know I’d never be able to have the same impact on those Chinese students as Anna did, and it made it easier for them to become followers of Christ when they came to the US because of what Anna did. We’re supposed to love the foreigner as you would yourself, and Anna did exactly the same thing with the international students in China.

The other scriptures that talk about internationals in the Bible is 1 Kings 8:41-43 and it gives us a reason for why God wants us to love the foreigner in our midst. This is a very epic moment in the history of Israel, Solomon praised the heart of God back to God in regard to the foreigner, and so he asked the Lord essentially, God, hear the prayers of the foreigners that they have essentially welcomed and their point is, he’s asking God to do that, and he says, “So that all the peoples of the earth may know God’s name and fear him as do his own people is Israel.” Through welcoming and loving the foreigner in your midst, God was extending the offer of salvation to all nations. That’s 1 Kings 8:41-43.

I love playing soccer with international students every week and during those times, I typically have some of the most candid and intense conversations about faith with my Muslim, Hindu, Orthodox Christian friends, and Max was one of those students and I connected very well with him. I came to find out he was already a follower of Christ and he quickly became one of our student leaders. He was a very mature Christian during his master’s in public health, and Max loved Jesus so dearly.

His life example to other international students was so powerful and contagious, he was a core part of our start to ministry on our campus as one of our leaders. Max, one day, I got to sit down with him at a coffee shop just asking him, “How have you been,” and Max told me, “Well, I finished my doctoral studies at John Hopkins,” and he said, “I’ve got something to share with you. You know what? I had to do my defense of my dissertation and you would think that that would be stressful for me, but the most stressful part for me was that ten minutes,” he said, “of acknowledgments when you acknowledge all the people that invested in you, helped you get to where you are.”

He had a challenge because he was at John Hopkins where it’s all scientific and even the mention of God and the name of Jesus and you being a Christian is not necessarily a really good thing for you. “Makes life very difficult,” he said. He wrestled with it and he came to the conclusion that he would not have Jesus be ashamed of him in front of God if he’s ashamed of him right now in front of men, so Max went ahead and told them, “This is the reason why I studied and research Malaria. God loves the children of Laos, God gave me the brains, God gave me the ability to be able to share, to learn and to make a difference in the world. I did this all because of God, and Intervarsity and the Baptists and the Catholics, all these people and even Ki Alpha, they helped me get to where I am and I want to acknowledge them.”

After he was done, one of the professors that was in the room asked him to meet him in his office. He didn’t know he was there and this professor was a Nobel laureate, so Max was really scared, so he went into the office and the professor was actually pretty pleased with his presentation. Max, not knowing whether he was a believer or not, the professor went ahead to say, “I really appreciated all your comments. I’d like you to come to a conference with me in Germany.”

He went to Germany, came to find out that this was a conference for Nobel laureates and he was the last guy to make the presentation, so no pressure. Again, Max is trying to find out, “Will I acknowledge Jesus in front of all these people who do not believe in God, and their language is science?” So he does, shares with them, same thing he did at John Hopkins and he gets a standing ovation from all these scientists. Very well accomplished scientists.

Following that meeting, somebody meets up with him, says, “Can I have lunch with you?” He came to find out that that’s the former chancellor of Germany. Since then, Max has met with presidents and other scientists and he’s connected God and science in a way that I never could, and he’s met presidents and people that I’d never be able to have access to. That’s what happens by reaching out to international students. The scope of what they can do and the people that can be reached is immense.

When it comes to reaching international students, many of you may say, “I’m not good at reaching international students. I don’t understand the cultural nuances related to the variety of students represented on the campuses. I don’t know what they like, what they don’t even like. I’m afraid of making a mistake,” and truth is, you can get some training on this, but the question to get to the core of this is, have you ever tried Jesus?

Here’s what I mean. Have you ever tried giving Jesus a chance to love international students through you? Jesus does amazing work with them and God can use any one of us. Bottom line is that if we love them as God would have them loved, then we will impact their lives. I’ve come to know that internationals are very forgiving of you making mistakes as long as you love them, as long as they can sense that you really do care for them.

To be a child of God, means understanding that God’s mode of operation, his MO is to redeem those that are not, essentially, in the Father’s house. The marginalized, the orphan, the widow, the alien, the stranger in our midst.

I’d like to juxtapose the welcome experienced in the scriptures, as we just shared, with the experience of many international students. I use the image of a hallway. A long, beautiful hallway and it’s, for me, I always used to imagine being in classes and between classes this really lively, loud chatter in the hallway and everybody with their backpacks is talking to each other, it just seems so much fun. As the international, I would be looking from the outside, wanting so much to be a part of that conversation but I just was not welcomed into those conversations. I desired that so much because that is the biggest gap in my life, having left everything I know to come into a new place.

And if you go back to that image of the hallway, at some point a bell rings and everybody knows where to go. They go into different doors and suddenly the hallway’s empty and you’re by yourself. That’s the experience of international students. They’re lonely, they’re left in the hallway all by themselves.

When we look at that image and you juxtapose that with what the Bible says about bringing them in and loving on them, it’s a significant difference.

I’d like to, in lieu of the scope of our heart for the nations, I’d like to maybe expose one thing that bothered me as an international and I continue to share. Why is it so much better to love and serve, for example, Kenyans like me, when they’re in Kenya? Why is it so much better to proclaim Christ to the Chinese while they’re in China? Why is it so much more fulfilling to disciple Saudis in Saudi Arabia if you can get into Saudi Arabia as a missionary?

So if the nations that God has strategically brought to us is supposed to be reached, then you and I have to be engaged in reaching out to them. Essentially, do not show up only for the adventure of the mission trip, but live out the mission of God everywhere.

We have the potential to transform nations profoundly right here if we all engage and preach in reaching the nations at our doorstep So I’d like to encourage you; God is looking for people like you. When I came to the US, I was looking for people like you and I found them. They loved on me, they welcomed me, they served me, they brought me into community, and then they moved me from friendship to a place of leadership. They took risks with me and I am where I am today because of that and because of those people, I’m impacting many other nations.

I make an invitation to you to do exactly the same thing. Love and serve, proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ too and disciple international students. Believe beyond your experience and welcome the international God has brought to your doorstep.

Loving the Foreigner


Severin encourages us to live out God’s mission everywhere, not just on mission trips. With zeal for God’s glory among the nations, Severin will challenge you to love, serve, and disciple international students right where you are.

Severin encourages us to live out God’s mission everywhere, not just on mission trips. With zeal for God’s glory among the nations, Severin will challenge you to love, serve, and disciple international students right where you are.