America is known as the melting pot in the world, and this is probably most evident in college and university campuses. There are currently around 750,000 international students in the States from diverse cultural and religious backgrounds. International students are the windows to the world, and Americans have a unique opportunity to reach the world without leaving the country.
Many internationals students have little knowledge of Christianity. Christ invited his followers to welcome the ‘strangers’ who have entered your lives, and you can show Christ’s love to them as you seek to meet their physical and spiritual needs.
- Look for international students in your community at colleges and universities near you. Many high schools also have foreign exchange students. Some area churches may have international student/multicultural ministries as well.
- Contact the Campus Minister to find out if any international student ministry already exists and how you can join that ministry. Ask for permission before reaching out to international students.
- Identify the physical needs of internationals. They include:
- Friendship. Befriend the students. Get to know them and show them that you care.
- Transportation. Most students do not own a car. Offer rides to go to the stores, malls, airport, Social Security office, etc. If possible, provide rides for groups rather than individuals so as to limit perceptions of impropriety.
- Language. Many students are ESL learners and may need help in writing or speaking. Offer free tutoring or help edit their papers.
- Holidays. Many international students are unable to travel home for holidays. Invite a couple of students to spend Thanksgiving or Christmas with your family.
- Meals. Share meals with the students on campus or at your home. Learn and share your cultures over meals.
- Share Christ with the students, but do not impose your beliefs on them. Many of them lack exposure to Christianity but may be open to the Gospel. As they feel comfortable, invite them to come to church with you or join you for Bible study.
- If you are using church vehicles to offer transportation to international students, use paperwork to keep track of drivers, number of passengers, destination, etc.
- When talking about faith issues, be sure to ask for clarification about specific terms. Religious expressions may have different significances than you think.
- Be sensitive and respectful about the students’ culture, but do not let your fear of making a mistake deter you from talking to them.
- If there is difficulty in communication, repeat your words, but don’t get louder; try using other, simpler words.