Open Door to the World in the Cornfields: Loving Internationals

There is never a boring moment on a college campus.  Ideologies, diversity of expressions, clothing, music, dancing, even people; from so many cities, parts of America, and overseas.  I believe the Church has an amazing opportunity that too often is taken for granted…that of ministry to the multitudes of international guests on our college campuses.  Currently, there are 764,495 international students on our American campuses, up 6% from last year.

It’s so easy to avoid them and not bother.  We make up excuses:  language barriers, they’re different (look, dress, smell, act), it’ll take too much effort, people in our church will make fun of them.  Ok, when we get over ourselves, then we can open ourselves up to some of the greatest experiences we’ll ever have.  Meeting people from different parts of the world, sharing experiences, making the Earth just a little smaller.  Not to mention, I believe we have a God given mandate to reach out in love.

“Call them all together — men, women, children, and the foreigners living in your towns — so they may listen and learn to fear the LORD your God” (Deuteronomy 31:12).

“They should be treated like everyone else, and you must love them as you love yourself” (Leviticus 19:34).

Currently at the University of Illinois, we have 8,057 international students from 115 countries.  We rank #1 in international students among public institutions and #2 overall.  UI is #1 in Chinese students.  They are among the academic elites from their homes, ranking among the top 5% in their schools.  It is important to point out that 60% of international students come from nations that are closed to the Gospel.   Currently, 47 key world leaders were educated on American campuses (presidents, prime ministers, chancellors, etc.)  We literally have an open door to the world right here in the middle of the cornfields.

Unfortunately, few of our guests ever enter an American home.  Less than 35% feel like they have any meaningful relationships while here.  Timeless surveys have indicated that the #1 thing they want, above their education, is to make one American friend.  If we would just take the time and reach out, listen, encourage, and be surrogates while many of them are separated from their family, spouses, friends, and homelands for several years.

Pray for our guests:

  • That each would have adequate and clear presentations of the Gospel
  • That each would experience the kindness and friendship of American Christians
  • That in the midst of stress, separation, and loneliness that they would find and follow Christ
  • That as a church, we would be faithful to ministering to the nations represented here
  • For open doors to make friends and build meaningful relationships

Here’s some suggestions for connecting with our guests:

  • Host an International Festival:  Obtain a large open room where individuals will have a table to show off about their country and culture.  They’re longing to share books, outfits, different symbolic objects.  Helpful Hint:  have them bring indigenous food!
  • Ping Pong Tournament:  Very popular with the Asians, particularly Chinese students.  Collect as many ping pong tables as you can.  Give away prizes.  Get ready…very competitive.
  • Pick up and drop off:  Find out when they’re arriving and greet them at the gate.  Help them find their way to the dorm.  The week before school starts, I purposely drive around campus looking for wandering internationals with multiple luggage.  I give them a ride.
  • Assimilation:  Don’t just drop them off.  Help them find their way to the grocery.  Teach them about how to buy food, how to store it.  Help them find some international foods stores so they can find things they like as well.  Be ready to help them with changes in the seasons:  lotion, heavier clothing, boots, etc.
  • Do your homework.  Find out about their culture and ask questions.
  • Pick activities that are socially engaging where genuine relationships can develop.  Board games, games which ask a lot of questions and involve dialogue, etc.  Movies=eh!
  • Be on the lookout for English Conversation classes or partnerships.  Great way to share experiences and even talk about spirituality.
  • Go to where they are, find out where they live, hang out:  international coffeeshops, conversation houses, cultural centers.
  • Be willing to go to their activities.  This might ruffle our Christian feathers once in a while.  Show interest in their believes, they’ll show interest in ours.  Be respectful.  Don’t let idols and shrines intimidate you.  God?
  • Be adventurous and courageous.  Try new things.  Including eating the weirdest look food.
  • Take them on day trips to festivals, concerts, big cities, shopping malls, and cultural landmarks.
  • Gather for a sporting event.  This will really require flexibility.  Most will be more interested in soccer (football) than our American sports so be ready to compromise.  Be aware of big tournaments like the World Cup or the Euro Cup!
  • Please be aware of patronizing, politically insensitive, ethnocentric, or controversial issues.
  • Don’t assume that everyone is an unbelieving atheist or pagan.  Many are already followers of Christ or have a Christian background.
  • Capitalize on Holidays.  We’re in the middle of the gauntlet right now.  Internationals love Halloween the most because it’s all about the kids.  Every year, we find families who are willing to host a student for Thanksgiving dinner.  Christmas is a no brainer in sharing its meaning, giving gifts, and multiple parties.  Imagine what it would be like, on a day when you know everyone is celebrating…and you’re alone in a lab or a 10×10’ concrete dorm room.
  • Common sense:  be considerate and LOVE PEOPLE.

Go get ‘em!


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