We can be so excited to meet students on campus and look forward to what they’ll learn and do while here that we forget to prepare them for reentry until the semester before they graduate. By forgetting to weave reentry into their discipleship from the beginning, we have only prepared them for spiritual growth in a North American context.
From the first moment we meet a student, we should be thinking about what they will need when they leave. What cultural dissonances will they need to address? What does the average Christian experience in their hometown? What will help them grow spiritually when they are no longer surrounded by easy access to a group of believers?
Use any of these suggestions to integrate reentry and returnee care into all parts of your school year. Save yourself from scrambling at the end of the semester!
In the Autumn
Small Groups and Gigs
As you launch your discussions, Bible studies, or GIGs after NSO, be sure to always include an application question that relates to life back home. For example, “How would you live out this scripture in your lab this week? How might you live it out in the workplace when you go back home?”
Show Value for Returnees
One way to keep reentry on your mind (there’s a lot happening on campus!) and to show your students that you value them even after they leave campus is to have regular prayer time for past returnees. Pray on at least a semi-regular basis at group gatherings for students who have gone home. When students leave at semester ends, celebrate them and add them to your prayers.
Discuss Real Life Topics
Have topical discussions about dating, marriage, and family. Host discussions on faithful spiritual practices in a workaholic environment. Everyone loves to get away from homework to talk about the practical and tangible parts of life after college!
Moving Through Winter
Encourage Integration of Faith and Culture
Cultural integration is crucial for students to continue to follow God in their home country. Encourage students to pray in their home language early on – it connects more deeply than we may realize. Try to find local immigrant churches from the students’ cultures that worship in their languages and encourage students to visit. We don’t want their only church experience to be a North American service that they will never see elsewhere. If they are going home over winter break, give them a mini “assignment” to visit local believers and see what their worship is like (if possible).
We love to see our students develop as leaders. (See more about the specific crosscultural opportunities involved with international student leaders.) However, students from high power distance cultures who return home with their leadership skills may clash with the elders of their new faith communities. The students are ready to lead others, while the elders may expect the students to serve in lower positions and submit to the elders’ authority. Help students navigate this before they go home by developing a strong theology of humble servant leadership. Practically invite your students to do service tasks such as setting up for a large group gathering.
Taking Steps In Evangelism
A common first step for students as they prepare to go out and begin inviting others to GIGs, events, or group discussions is to create network maps. During this time, have them imagine their networks beyond campus. Who do they know back home? Where are their areas of influence?
Heading Towards Summer
Continue to repeat and press into the patterns laid down earlier in the year. Keep asking application questions that relate to home. Encourage the development of spiritual disciplines that will serve them well when they don’t have a strong support group. Hold a reentry retreat weekend for students leaving that semester to give you an opportunity to talk about specific needs and expectations.
Connect your students to someone from their home countries so that they will transition well to long-term, culturally relevant discipleship. Ideally set up a three-way video call to meet. Connect through
- Local churches or individuals you know of
- IFES movements
- Link staff
- Returnee networks (such as JCFN or FAR)