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EveryInternational provides FREE video training to help you befriend and share your faith with international students and immigrants.


Hi, my name is Jovin and I am from Ghana. Like other international students, I too made that journey to the United States for a college education. You see, I was involved in a strong Christian community before coming to the US. So, I was looking for a place to grow in my faith after I arrived. I found a group of International students meeting for bible study that became family to me. This family became more than a place to grow, it became a place to serve; it became a place for God to grow my view of the world and develop me as a leader. What a journey it has been.

It’s exciting to meet many from different backgrounds and cultures. But it can also be overwhelming. How do you approach someone different from you? How do you initiate a relationship? How do you build rapport? How do you establish trust?

Is trust important to any relationship? Absolutely! Is trust important to your friendship with an International student? Even more so. We don’t build trust in order to share the gospel. We build trust because every international is made in the image of God. So, we enter our friendships with openness: an openness that makes room for someone different than you, an openness that welcomes someone into your presence and makes them feel safe.

As those friendships blossom, it creates space to share the things that are important to you. It’s a chance to grow in Christ-like compassion for your international friends and ask questions that create an environment of trust. Trust obliges us to act in the best interest of another person.

In his book, “Christianity Confronts Culture,” Marvin K. Mayers says that in matters of cross-cultural communication, the first and most important question that we should ask ourselves is the “Prior Question of Trust”: “Is what I am doing, thinking, or saying building trust or is it undermining trust? Does what I am doing, thinking, or saying have the potential for building trust or potential for undermining trust?”

Paul reminds us in 2 Cor 5 that “We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors…” As ambassadors, we want to represent King Jesus well in how we welcome and how we love the nations.

So the questions that a lot of people have as they welcome internationals are valid. How do I build trusting relationships? Do they trust Christians? What do our international friends believe? Will they still be my friend if they find out I am a follower of Jesus? Are they interested in spiritual things? How do I introduce them to Jesus? Does my friendship matter? Will I break trust?

Jesus was not afraid to cross barriers or cultures. In fact, He had several spiritual conversations with people different than him. He asked very challenging and intriguing questions that always left the door for dialogue. In John 4, He builds trust with the Samaritan woman. Suddenly she is sharing stuff with him that she probably doesn’t tell everyone. The kind of safe space that Jesus creates, makes her open to the invitation Jesus had for her.

I remember meeting a young woman from the Middle East on campus. She was here for a year to study English. We quickly struck up a conversation, which led to hearing more about her struggles of missing her family. Before I knew it, I found myself inviting her home for dinner that evening and she said yes.
A random person becoming a friend… And it all began with asking her a question…

Many of the things that cause you to trust another person will also have a trust-creating impact on people from other cultures:

There’s a book that has been very helpful for me and its Cross Cultural Servanthood by Duane Elmer. I will share some highlights of what was helpful for me as I got to build relationships with Americans and international students.
For the fullness of learning to happen, it is important that we learn about, from, and with. It is easy to think that once we learn about someone we know them. Serving others is unlikely to happen unless we learn from and with them.

One of the things I realized quickly was that Americans are very good at learning about someone. At least in TX, where I live, you can easily strike up a conversation at the grocery store or in any line.

  • Learning about includes learning basic information needed to cross cultures
  • Questions like Where are you from? Where is home for you? What are you studying? Are great ways to learn about.

I had never met anyone from the Maldives. But then I got to pick up an exchange student at the airport as she arrived to study law. Needless to say we had a fun drive as I learnt more about the Maldives and her heart for her country. I found myself looking up more things about the Maldives in the days to follow. This experience caused me to gain some new knowledge.

Unfortunately, the danger of only learning about is that learning can stop because you have just enough knowledge to get by.

So this is were Learning from comes in…Learning from:

  • Goes deeper and begins to shift from just information for yourself to the other. Learning from humanizes the other. It is investing in a genuine friendship. It honors them and invites them to speak openly and honestly with us. It’s where you ask and don’t assume. It’s also where this allows them to really tell you what you need to hear?
  • Eg. Tell me about your family. What are holidays like in your culture?

For example: Chinese New Year is a very important holiday. What would it look like if maybe you learned from Chinese students by inviting them to teach you about this special time? Maybe celebrating with them, letting them teach you to cook something?
My friend Rachel taught me the value of family whenever she reminisced about her family dinners during Chinese New Year in Singapore. So, one year she decided to recreate this meal with a few friends. As we all sat around her table with massive amounts of food, the laughter, joy and the blend of flavors gave us a glimpse of why this holiday held such special meaning to her.

So, to build trusting relationships is to make real friends. What do you do with friends? You hang out with them, you get to know them, you invite them into your life.

Learning with:

  • This is where Shared experiences forge a bond and establish a foundation of trust.
  • It is authentic sharing, partnership and mutuality. Moves from we-they to us
  • You will be surprised at how God will open your heart to his heart for your friend and their culture.

It all began with a phone call. We had met Shruti at an international student information fair. One of my friends made a call to thank her for stopping by our table and to see if she needed anything. She replied that she was living with her brother, so she had all she needed. But then she stopped and said: I have enough groceries but I would love some company. Would you like to come watch a movie with me?

I got to tag along. It was a wonderful evening together as we watched a movie and then chatted till really late. This led to a friendship as she also joined our group of internationals. In her own words: “for it is here that I made my first friends, which soon grew to be as close as a family. The group extended their friendship, support, direction, and warmth – it became my ‘family’, my very own family to which I belonged.”

We went through so much together. I got to meet her family, learned a couple of Indian cultural dances and even better her mum taught me to make samosas from scratch. We had lots of conversations about life and our beliefs. There were many conversations and even early morning discussions about the Bible which led to her choosing to be a Jesus follower. It began with trying to serve her as an international student but as I learned from and with her, she became a sister. And today, I call her my Indian sister in Christ.

  • Communication is indeed hard work–even among those of the same culture. But if you make the extra effort to make sure others understood what you said, why you said it, and how you felt about it–that’s huge for building trust!
  • It takes humility, fragility (you could make a mistake) forgiveness (repairing trust)
  • Of course, we will make many mistakes along the way, but a sincere apology can help greatly to restore trust. At an event I hosted, my friend decided to play an icebreaker. While it seemed like a fun game, I found out later that someone was very offended by the game. As a host, I had to apologize and it did restore trust.

Meanwhile, it’s also useful to consider ways we could let other people down or ‘break trust’.

  • By demeaning their culture
  • By not believing the best of them
  • By displaying inconsistencies in conduct and lifestyle.
  • By not keeping your word and frequently failing to do things that were promised. I find that international students take you seriously when you make a promise. So watch what you say and mean what you say.

Marvin Mayers also said: “The most important step in entering a new culture is to build trust. Only when people trust us will they listen to what we have to say.”

Learning with is a great opportunity to have a spiritual conversation connecting to the gospel?

In the book I Once Was Lost, Don Everts and Doug Schaupp studied thousands of students to understand the process people took in discovering faith. They discovered that each student in this generation goes through the same five thresholds as they put their faith in Jesus.

That trust opens up doors for curiosity, openness, seeking and choosing to follow Jesus.

Trust is the kind of posture, where anyone can come and be curious about Jesus. Asking Questions and listening well are key ways for that to happen. Some of Jesus’ questions were: “Who do you say that I am?”; “What do you want me to do for you?”;
“Why are you so afraid?”; “Why do you ask me about what is good” Take our example of learning with. Some questions in our context could be: What is your spiritual background? Tell me more about faith in your culture. What has been difficult about adjusting to American culture? What do you do when you are sad? Why do you think America is a Christian country? Why is that? Can I tell you my story of faith?
Look for the Holy Spirit’s leading in everyday conversations with your friends and respond to those promptings with good questions that will help initiate a spiritual conversation.

It is important that you also listen well as you ask questions. If we listen well, the better information we will receive, understand and learn. So here’s a couple of tips for good active listening:

Pay attention
Be present to them. Non-verbal communication is so important in crossing cultures. Show that you are listening. Your body language and gestures can show how you are listening. Eg. Nodding, looking at them, facial expressions like a smile, verbal responses.
I joked with an American colleague of mine that there are some standard words you hear people respond with in a conversation. Words like “O really, wow, that’s amazing, fantastic, so awesome.” And while I was sharing this thought, he responded with at least 3 of these words proving my point. Positive reinforcements such as these are great but be sure you listen to the context before you respond.
Paying attention helps us remember. Remembering things they have said also makes your international friends feel valued. Provide Feedback
What it does not mean is analyzing what they are saying. What it does mean is that you to reflect on what is being said and to ask questions. You do this by paraphrasing, clarifying or summarizing.
By Paraphrasing: Sounds like you are saying… What I am hearing you say is…
By Clarifying: you ask what do you mean when you say?
By Summarizing: This is capturing all that’s been said in a brief sentence. Eg. I am glad to hear you are making more international friends by getting involved in some student organizations. As you build trust, it gives room for you to share your life and faith.
So if you don’t see immediate spiritual fruit, don’t be discouraged. Always remember that your friendship is based on mutual respect and a commitment to each other.
Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians 3:6 that he “planted the seeds, Apollos watered them, but God made them sprout and grow.”
You are a part of their story so whatever role you play in their spiritual journey, it is God who will bring life to it. As we continue to show the love of Christ and reach out in understanding, God will allow us to build trusting relationships with internationals, and many of their hearts will ultimately be touched for eternity.

As Matt 5:16 says “Keep open house; be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you’ll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven.”

Building trusting international friendships takes time. So be patient, be yourself, ask questions, listen well. Trust God with the process as you learn about, from and with your international friends.

Establishing Trust


Do you want to build a friendship with someone different than you, but you’re not even sure how to approach them? Perhaps what’s holding you back is wondering how you can build trust. Jovin shows the ways in which you can gain — or lose — trust with an international.

Do you want to build a friendship with someone different than you, but you’re not even sure how to approach them? Perhaps what’s holding you back is wondering how you can build trust. Jovin shows the ways in which you can gain — or lose — trust with an international.