The college campus is still one of the most diverse places in our nation. There is no other place where differing views, cultures and life experiences so come together in one place.
Last year, 1.3 million international students arrived at 8,979 universities in the U.S. from countries such as China, Saudi Arabia, India and Brazil.
We have more countries and cultures represented on our campuses than ever before.
The nations have literally arrived in our towns and neighborhoods from countries closed to the Gospel, and we as believers have an opportunity to show hospitality and love.
The word “hospitality” when referenced in the Bible calls to mind the command to show brotherly love to strangers/immigrants. Scripture reminds us in Leviticus 19:34 (ESV): “You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God” and Hebrews 13:2 (ESV) “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.”
I never knew the significance of those verses more than when I spent Christmas overseas away from my family.
I’ve taken groups of students to China for several years, and every year local believers would have us in their homes on Christmas Eve.
We missed our families, but it helped so much being a part of their family for that night, and I wondered on those occasions if I would be willing to do the same.
Being a stranger/immigrant, even for a couple of weeks, can change your perspective.
Many international students never get invited to an American home. They return to their countries having only ever seen the inside of their dorm room or the campus cafeteria.
Welcoming strangers into your home means opening your heart and mind to different backgrounds, viewpoints, cultures, ways of speaking, eating or relating. It requires sacrifices of our time, comfort and resources.
But I’ve never met anyone who, when directed by the Holy Spirit to love and show hospitality, didn’t fall in love with international students. They are often the most generous, kind and gracious people I know.
So, how do you start reaching international students?
- Connect with your local church collegiate ministries and Baptist Campus Ministry. They have ministries to international students already in place.
- Volunteer to help with their events and programs like English classes and weekly conversation groups.
- Once you’ve had an opportunity to meet international students, invite them to your home for family dinners and celebrations. We have customs and practices that center around our faith, especially during the holiday season, that are unique and effective tools to share about Christ. These are opportunities for us to model and speak about our faith in an environment is non-threatening and inviting. Seeing our families live out our faith in service and love to each other will speak volumes to an international student.
A great time to have international students in your home is during campus breaks such as Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Many international students must stay on campus because of financial or academic obligations. What an incredible opportunity for us to have them in our homes and share with them the meaning of the Christmas season!
Here are a few other ways you can minister to international students:
- Pray fervently for international students and ministry to international students. Campus ministries and churches often have a very small window of opportunity to reach these students as they are only in the U.S. for a short time.
- Pray for openness to the Gospel as conversations happen across our state weekly in conversation groups and classes of English as a Second Language.
- Look for opportunities to impact the nations in your own neighborhoods and towns and practice hospitality.
We will never know the impact such a small gesture will make on the Kingdom, especially to an international student.