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Producing Lifelong Laborers


It is a great privilege and joy to share some of the things the Lord has been teaching me in the last four decades of ministering among international students. Here are the essentials in preparing them to return home and be faithful disciple makers. 




We model and teach them what it means to be in Christ through repentance and faith in the only Savior who sacrificed his life by taking our place of judgment and shame on the cross.

We model and teach them how to follow Christ by worshipping Him, listening to Him in the Bible, obeying what He says, praying for self and others, giving and receiving encouragement from other believers, sharing the good news of the gospel with the lost, helping new believers to grow in Christ and helping meet the needs of humanity.


The fragrance of Christ is smelled when the character of his followers is conformed to the image of Christ. This is most clearly exhibited in what is called the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23. Any verbal witness to Christ without the demonstration of Christlike attitudes is not respected. Therefore, character development becomes a major objective of the discipling process. 




We model and teach young disciples to do with others what has been done with them. This way the gospel goes out to the nations by a multiplication process. 




After settling into the job market back home, culturally the next priority is often to get married and start a family. Most international students do not come from Christian backgrounds and therefore have not experienced the model of a Christian family they can emulate. How will they find a godly spouse? How will they conduct their marriage when the Bible conflicts with some values in the culture?


We can begin the training process by praying with them about the marriage matter. Then we want to expose them to committed Christian families while they are students. They can spend a weekend with them or longer if that is workable. They will observe how this family functions with biblical values. 


When Kok Kian was graduating with a Master’s degree in Hawaii, I suggested he spend two weeks with Kamel and Badia, a Lebanese couple in San Jose, California, before he returned to Indonesia. The couple was of a different culture, Kamel was an engineer in a High-Tech company, they were reaching out to not-yet-believers, having Bible studies and had two hearing-impaired daughters. It was a multiple learning situation to be with this family. Kok Kian spent extra money to fly to California, before returning to Indonesia. When I visited him in Jakarta on several occasions, invariably he would mention what a profitable time that was with Kamel and Badia.


Not all the training has to be done here. Enough disciples have returned over the years that they are creating atmospheres in which younger ones can find help and growth. In Jakarta Indonesia, there are five lay couples, mostly overseas graduates, that meet for several hours once a month over lunch just to work on developing more godly marriages. Outside of that they are discipling other people while in the working world.






How does a returnee navigate the business or professional world he or she has never been in before? How do they apply for jobs in different countries, relate to bosses in culturally acceptable ways and deal with corruption and immoral practices? 


Several years ago, we invited two Chinese Malaysian businessmen who had come to Christ in New Zealand and Canada respectively, to speak at our International Students Discipleship Conference in Colorado Springs. The idea was to expose the students to Asian role models of what the students would be doing in the future. These men were classic examples of being business and professional people, learning to do a good job in their professions yet still carrying out their vision of making disciples of Christ in the marketplace. 


When some Indonesian students at the conference saw what these men had to offer, they asked if they could go to Malaysia that summer and be interns under them. They did and profited greatly from the first-hand experience and mentoring. Some of those relationships continue to this day.


While it is more ideal to find this kind of internship in the country to which the students will be going, it can also take place in the country of study. There are business and professional people with a vision of disciple making, conducting themselves with integrity in their careers. I remember taking Herman from Indonesia to spend a weekend with Wally, a real estate man in Minneapolis and hearing Herman talk about the value of that visit years later.





Churches that have reached out to international students as well as organizations like Inter Varsity, ISI,IFI, Cru, the Navigators and others, have enough people who have returned to their countries and thrived, that they can draw on them to mentor their current students. This can be done using WhatsApp, Skype, Zoom or other platforms.


It can also be done by current students visiting them when they go home on vacations.

This will help develop meaningful relationships between the returnees and current students that can be continued when they return to their home country.





For those who do not come from Christian backgrounds, a good option as a starting point are International Churches. They serve the international community in major cities of the world. The advantages of attending international churches to begin with include:

  • An international atmosphere where other people are making similar adjustments
  • The presence of former international students in those churches who can help the new ones navigate their reentry process.
  • From there they can find out about local churches.
  • A disadvantage, however, is the returnees keeps developing their spiritual life in English rather than their mother tongue.


International Students Inc. (ISI) has put together a helpful website on this subject.





While not every discipler or mentor in the country of study will be able to personally visit their returnees, this should be a major priority for those who can. In many cases, you are the spiritual parent of the returnee. You led them to Christ, you helped disciple them, you took them into your heart and home, your worked through some of their difficulties, you are their spiritual family.


Not only are they grateful for the role you have played in their lives, they want to introduce you to their family of birth who are also grateful for what you did for their son or daughter. Visiting them honors them and allows them to reciprocate with their hospitality. This extension of relationship also allows you to be a witness to Christ among the parents and siblings.


Visiting your alumni allows you to get acquainted with their new life situation allowing you to pray more meaningfully for them. They will share their struggles with you whom they consider a safe person, confident that you will not gossip about them among their family and friends. The visit also allows you to learn what the current situation is in that country. This will help you in mentoring students from that country when you return. In the last thirty years I have made at least ten trips to Asia to visit returnees. I have walked with them, prayed with them, listened to them, counseled them and connected them with others at various stages of their lives. They are very grateful for this kind of shepherding. And I am so grateful for all they have taught me. What I have written in the book Home Again is primarily what I learned from them. You will find more discipleship information relative to preparing students for returning in Home Again.


This idea of visiting them may discourage some of you because you are new to ISM. Big dollar signs are scaring you. 

  • Ask the God of the impossible to pull off a miracle for you
  • Become a member of ACMI and find out how others could do the visiting. 
  • Explore the possibility with your student.
  • Talk to your church missions ministry about helping you do this. If they say “no,” ask if one of them would accompany you.





We are not God to determine who goes back and who does not. Certainly, we should discuss and pray over the pros and cons with students. In situations like Iran, students from a Muslim background who have come to Christ here would be courting jail time or death if they return. Many have stayed in Europe or North America and have been used by God through ministries like Elam or Iran Alive, to be catalysts of a great movement to Christ in Iran in the last four decades. They need our encouragement and support.





What will happen if you don’t make the effort to prepare your students for returning? My Malaysian brother Brian told me when he first visited his family, he referred to his father as his “old man.” He was roundly reprimanded by his sister. Picking up North American habits and language that are contrary to the home culture will hinder reception of the gospel. We need to prepare them.


Those returnees who don’t get in touch with members of a spiritual family within a week of arrival, will most likely get so swallowed up by all that needs to be done and by the plans their parents have for them. Experience shows they are unlikely to continue walking with the Lord any more. I tell them to connect with believers within two to three days of returning. I also tell them if you leave a message and don’t hear back, don’t give up. Keep trying. Be persistent. It will tell them you are serious.


The good news is there are many returnees who are faithfully following the Lord, serving him in different capacities as lay people and are glad to help new ones. I wish I could tell you about what God is doing through Henrik in Denmark, Hani in Jordan, Stanley in Kenya, “Suyin” and  Lim in Singapore, Patrick in Hong Kong, Natalia in New Zealand, Hendra in Indonesia, Gertrude in Malaysia and on and on. All praise and glory to God for what he is doing.



There is no greater missions strategy to reach the nations with the gospel of Christ than the people God has sent as international students to places where they can receive Christ as Lord and Savior and be equipped to go back to their own people as ambassadors of Christ. Make preparation for reentry a priority. Plan your ministry in the light of reentry and may you have a very fruitful ministry among them by the power of the Holy Spirit.


Producing Lifelong Laborers


Is returning home always the right thing for a Christian international student? Nate challenges this assumption and more. Learn how you can invite others into the discipleship process to give your disciple a more full view of following Christ.

Is returning home always the right thing for a Christian international student? Nate challenges this assumption and more. Learn how you can invite others into the discipleship process to give your disciple a more full view of following Christ.