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

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to open your door to people from around the world? It’s easy to think of the differences between us — differences in religion or in language, in the foods we eat or the values we embrace. These differences can cause confusion, distrust, or even fear.

But in taking the risk of new relationships, we can open ourselves up to both give and receive the most surprising and incredible blessings!
More than 20 years ago, my family started welcoming international students to our home. At that time, my husband and I had five-year-old twin daughters and a two-year-old son.

Our first student was from Algeria. He arrived with a novel gift, a fascinating rock formation from his homeland. As we got acquainted, he told many stories of life in Algeria. Our girls listened eagerly, soaking it all in. One day they came to me and announced that it was their turn for “Show & Tell” at school. While other students brought dolls, trucks, or stuffed animals to share, they chose to bring that rock and talk about life in Algeria!

A year later we had an additional student friend from Taiwan. One day she contacted me to say it was the week of Chinese New Year and she was homesick. I told her that we had never celebrated this holiday but if she would tell me what to do, we would have a party. She told us to dress in red. That was easy! She and her roommate would make pork and vegetable dumplings along with hot and sour soup. She asked me to make a salad. That was easy too! A few days later we gathered for our celebration. The food was delicious and we sat at the dinner table listening to stories. Again, our children were fascinated.

The following day, I was preparing lunch and my son was going through a picky eating stage. After he rejected several standard American lunch options, I looked at him in frustration. He shrugged and said, “Just give me dumplings…and that soy sauce.” Who would have known? My three-year old preferred Asian food!

As time went on, we befriended students from Germany, Japan, Australia, France, Iraq, Pakistan, and more! Though we had differences to navigate together, there is one important thing we have in common — we are all made in the image of God and every soul has value in His sight!

So how do you get started offering friendship to international students?

First, know that the loving friendship we offer is not limited to any one age group or life status. Singles, couples, and families all make great friends. American classmates and older career mentors are valued. Babies are a blessing as well as senior adults. Students miss their extended families and some cultures place high value on age. There is a place for you, no matter what your age or stage of life!

Second, look to God. Ask Him to direct your steps, ask Him for Divine appointments. We are joining His work, sharing His heart for the world. Seek to be led by His Spirit!

Where will you meet these students? There are many possible places! You can meet them on your college or university campus…in classes, in the dorms, or in a club. At nearby apartment complexes. At the grocery store. When you are out for a walk. At bus stops or on public transportation. I used to take a daily walk that went directly by two bus stops and met many international students on my walks!

You might also want to explore some partnerships. Find out what local ministry organizations are doing on campus and how you might join them. Or talk with college administrators in the international office. They may be open to working together as well. Keep watch for God’s surprises as He prepares the way for you.

Third, as you welcome and invite international students into your life, offer genuine hospitality. Webster defines hospitality as “the friendly reception and treatment of guests and strangers.” This is modeled throughout the Bible and is even a requirement for elders of the church.

But remember, hospitality is different than entertainment. It doesn’t require a perfect home or an elaborate meal. Hospitality seeks to minister to others. It is offered with humility.

I once met a man who said he would like to befriend an international student who wanted to play golf. Golf?! But in God’s provision, I had just met a student who wanted to learn to play golf! I introduced them to each other and a wonderful friendship developed. They played golf together every Friday for four years and the student became like a son to him. Was that hospitality? It may be a little different than you would expect, but God used it! They shared their lives together and had wonderful conversations while walking across a golf course.

Do you wonder how YOU might show hospitality to an international student? Look for ways to include students in your daily life. For example, go grocery shopping and then cook an international meal together. Celebrate a birthday or holiday. Meet on campus for coffee. Drop off homemade cookies at your student’s dorm or apartment. Go for walks or hikes. Play a sport together. Many things can be done inexpensively. Instead of going to a movie theater, stream a movie of interest to you both at home where you can pause it whenever needed to answer a question or talk about what you are seeing. Or instead of going to a professional ball game, go to watch children play in a sports league. Invite your friend to join you in decorating the Christmas tree or in attending a musical. Visit historic sites in your city or attend a heritage day parade.

Friendships are like fingerprints. No two are exactly alike. Students will have different interests and needs. Talk together to find things you will both enjoy. In many cultures conversation is entertainment. A home cooked meal and an evening of conversation can be a wonderful gift to a lonely student. Students will often reciprocate as well, inviting you to a meal at their apartment or out to dinner. Enjoy the gifts of friendship they offer to you!

Though your cultures may be very different, don’t stress over making a mistake. Ask God to heighten your sensitivity. Be real and open. Speak clearly and listen well. You are in a learning process, but so is the student. Trust will increase as students sense that you care for them.

We once offered friendship to a student from Afghanistan. But when we met him for the first time, we discovered that though he was born in Afghanistan, he had only lived there a few months. His extended family and heritage were from India. Further, soon after leaving Afghanistan, his parents moved to Germany where he was raised. So he actually considered himself German! No one can train you to befriend an Afghan-Indian-German student. You need to learn from him what he thinks and believes. Even students who come from the same culture and practice the same religion may believe quite differently so approach each student as a unique individual created by God and enjoy the process of learning about each other.

Ministry to international students can start with any follower of Christ who begins to pray and to seek out opportunities. But it can also begin through a church with pastors, elders, key leaders, or influential volunteers. It does not matter how big or small your church is. I have been coaching churches in international student ministry for 25 years and there are many ways to get involved.

The steps are exactly the same! First, know that whether you are a big church or a small church, an older church or a young church, there is a place for you! Second, begin to seek God and pray for His leading and Divine appointments. And third, look for ways to come alongside students with genuine love and hospitality.

How might you do this? Do a bit of research to find out what is already being offered to students. Perhaps you can partner with another church or ministry. Or maybe you will see a gap that your church can fill. Also, cast a vision to your congregation and follow it with a survey to discern how God is prompting them.

For example, you might offer a practical service to students…like airport pickups, community tours and shopping trips, free furniture for their apartments, or a welcome party.

Or you may offer some type of relational opportunity like formally matched American friends who meet up with students monthly, or career mentors where a nursing student may be matched with a nurse or an education student with a teacher. Or you may offer an English conversation club with weekly meetings to improve language skills.

Another realm to consider is outings, socials, and gatherings. You could provide holiday meals in homes, or sightseeing trips, or even community serve days where you work together to meet a need. Some students will enjoy coming to church or you can also start a weekly

International Christian Fellowship with Bible discussions for students who are seekers or already arrive as believers.
Of course, you do not need to do all of these things! Just discern God’s leading and start with one. I have even seen churches that are not located anywhere close to a college or university discover creative ways to have a part. Keep watching for God’s surprises and leading as you pray.

International student ministry is a gift from God! It’s not just a gift to the students as we care for them, but it’s a gift to us who need them as well. It is an arm of discipleship for the church, a chance to grow in our ability to love the world as Jesus did.

Imagine what would happen to our churches if every believer spent a couple of years learning to love the nations — befriending a Muslim, a Hindu, a Buddhist, an atheist, caring for someone from Algeria, Germany, China, India, and Iran in a supportive setting right here at home. After a season of participation and equipping, these ministry partners could continue to love the nations in this way, or, they could spin off into any other area of ministry God calls them…reaching out to neighbors, co-workers, and family members more effectively because they would know how to cross cultures with wisdom, how to engage people of different viewpoints. This is God’s blessing to us and a gift that international student ministry brings to the church!

Sometimes college administrators would ask me for assurance that we would not proselytize in our relationship with students. I would respond, “If you mean that we won’t harass, manipulate, and pressure students to believe as we do, then I assure you we will not do that. God gave every person freedom to choose his or her beliefs and it is not our job to take that freedom away. But if you mean we will not speak of our faith in Christ, that we will not be who we are… that is not possible. We will share our lives and our beliefs with students just as we seek to understand theirs. This is how we build meaningful relationship across cultures. I believe that walls between people can come down and deeper understanding can be gained by open, honest dialogue better than by respectful silence.” In that statement they would agree with me. Their primary concern was in knowing that we would treat students respectfully even when we disagreed.

Sometimes we can be timid or fearful about sharing our faith, but we forget that God is at work! It does not all depend on us! God is communicating His love to students in many ways. Once after a party, a student from China told one of our volunteers, “This is the best weather I’ve ever seen at a party!” After puzzling for a moment, she realized he meant “atmosphere.” There was no religious activity at that party, but he sensed the love, the warmth, the unity among the people who welcomed him and this opened a door to further conversation.

In another setting where we were discussing our beliefs, a student asked me if Jesus was an American. Another student asked if God would be able to understand him if he prayed in Mandarin. These students did not know anything about the character and nature of God because no one had ever told them. It was a joy to answer their questions!

The Holy Spirit is often at work in ways we can’t even imagine. A student once came to my house shortly after arriving in the U.S. As we sat down to visit, I noticed she was wearing a cross necklace. I said, “Shiya, tell me about your cross.” Grabbing her necklace, she said, “Oh! I am a follower of the Christian God!” In surprise, I asked her how that came to be. She told me that she was raised in another religion, but when she prayed she did not get answers to her prayers. So she started praying to the Christian God and He answered so now she followed Him. She eagerly started sharing the answers God had given to her prayers.

As we talked, I asked if she had ever read the Bible and she said, “No.” I asked if she knew anything about Jesus and she said, “No.” God had brought her to my doorstep so we could continue the journey she had begun with Him more than a year earlier. We studied the Bible together and she eventually made the decision to place her trust in Jesus for salvation. She was also baptized before she returned home. We continue to be in touch across many miles.

People often ask how long these friendships will last. That can be hard to say. Some will last just while a practical need is being met. Others continue while the student is attending school locally. But many will last long into the future. It is a beautiful thing to have friends around the world, friends from different countries and cultures, friends who will eagerly have the door open for you if you ever come their way! And we pray that many of these friendships will last into eternity.

And not only is it an incredible blessing to have international friends, but it is also a thrill to see followers of Christ come alive when they gain confidence and skill to lovingly interact with anyone God places in their path. The steps for getting started are simple… Know there is a place for you. Pray and seek to be led according to God’s unique plan for you or your church. And then join God’s heart for the world by offering hospitality to the stranger as He has directed.

“‘Not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit,’ says the Lord”! Zech 4:6. May we be anointed for this rich opportunity, and may we be filled with God’s love, power, and creativity, because when God comes knocking at your door, the world is sure to follow!

Building Friendships Across Cultures

Paula

Opening your door to people from around the world can be confusing or even scary. But it can also bring surprising and incredible blessings into your life. Paula shows many simple and fun ways you can get started.

Opening your door to people from around the world can be confusing or even scary. But it can also bring surprising and incredible blessings into your life. Paula shows many simple and fun ways you can get started.

Webinar: "Perseverance, Growth, and Change in ISM Over Four Decades" June 26th at 10:30 Central

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