Historically there have been two main approaches to developing international student outreach ministry at the level of the local American student group. One has been through a student leader with a special portfolio for international student work. This person, sometimes called the International Student Coordinator, usually works through the existing network of large and small group activities, to ensure that the whole group takes up the challenge of befriending international students for Christ’s sake.
A second approach has been to delegate the task of reaching out to international students to a specially designated ministry team or task force. In practice there is often considerable overlap between the two approaches, and the staff may find himself or herself working at both levels. The following article looks at both approaches.
Mobilizing a Campus Group for International Outreach
When we love and serve international visitors we are reflecting the character of God, for he loves the alien and the stranger. Reaching out to persons temporarily away from home is a strategic part of world missions. International students are generally the ‘cream of the crop’, the future leaders of their countries. Furthermore, outreach to internationals enables us to share the gospel with people from the 30 or so countries which are currently closed to missionaries.
So how do we as staff, working alongside student leaders, help to mobilize a campus group for international outreach? Here are some ideas:
- Together with the International Student Coordinator or leadership team, work through the aims of the student group, thinking particularly about how ministry to internationals is part of the aim to promote group members’ concern for, and participation in, God’s missionary purposes. Assess what the group does already in terms to fulfilling this aim.
- Ask: What should the group be doing in terms of ministry to international students which is consistent with its aims?
- Inform yourselves about the international student population and analyze their needs. (Consult the appropriate university office or department for information.)
- Evaluate the potential resources in your group. How many already have a vision for international student ministry? Are there Christian internationals already involved in the group? How willing would local churches and graduates be to take up the challenge of befriending internationals? What resources of literature and other media are available to use with international students, etc?
- Identify existing university programs in which your group members could participate (e.g. clubs, language tutoring) and ask for information about needs of international students that are not being met by existing programs (e.g. airport welcoming service, short-term housing). Inform the appropriate university body of your group’s interest and willingness to help.
- Identify a few people who could be instrumental in developing this ministry: Christian students (especially postgraduates), Christian internationals, local graduates, Christian families and faculty members.
- At the same time, inform the whole group of the needs and opportunities for international ministry and encourage everyone to befriend an international.
- Use the large group meeting to expose group members in creative ways to the potential of ministry among internationals. As for a regular brief ‘slot’ in which to focus on different aspects of international ministry. For example, invite Christian internationals to share their testimonies or prayer requests for their countries, or to teach a song in their own language; invite a student who has just spent some time abroad to speak of his or her experiences as an international student; encourage a national student who has already made friends with an international to speak of the enrichment of a cross-cultural friendship – or get them both to speak; review some good books on the subject of cross-cultural ministry; show slides or present a sketch highlighting different dimensions of international student work (e.g. from the last houseparty or social or camp); encourage any member who has been on a Global Project or an IFES Summer Team to share lessons learned; and don’t forget to involve any group members who have lived for any time in another culture, etc.
- Consider focusing at least one large group meeting per year on international students. Seek out international students who could give group members new perspectives on their nations, or on their national churches or student movements. Ask them to comment on their experience of Christian life in the host country. Don’t forget to include something in the teaching program about God’s concern for the foreigner.
- Organize occasional social activities (perhaps the Christian group could co-sponsor an event with the university’s international student association or equivalent?) or evangelistic weekends to which group members could bring their international friends.
- Take every opportunity to build international awareness into every group activity (e.g. the prayer meeting; summer programs; small group Bible studies.)
At the small group level there are a number of ways in which Christian students can contribute to the work of God’s kingdom. As staffworker, you can help small groups to catch a vision for being involved in reaching an unreached people group or a future world leader through their ministry to international students.
- First introduce the idea of building friendships with international students as a mission activity that the small group might adopt. Then pray about how to go about it. The most natural place to look for international friends is in classes and dorms.
- The small group can be encouraged to arrange a social evening, party or outing from time to time, to which members can bring their international friends. This could be an opportunity to try one another’s food or listen to music from different countries or to play games together.
- As this ministry develops the group might benefit from doing Bible study on appropriate biblical themes (e.g. God’s plan for the nations) or studying a book together (see resources list). In group prayer times, the group may want to use Patrick Johnstone’s Operation World as a source of information on the home countries of international friends.
- Once relationships of trust have been built with international friends, the group can introduce the topic of religious beliefs. A great way to learn about other religions is to invite international student friends to explain their belief system to the small group. When Christian students show genuine interest in the culture and religion of their international friends, internationals are likely to respond by showing interest in Christianity. In time, opportunities for evangelistic Bible studies together may arise.
Building a Local Team
Not every staffworker has the privilege of working with student groups which already have an established network of activities through which to encourage involvement in international student ministry. If you are effectively starting from scratch, and are able to give concentrated attention to one campus or city, the best approach may be to build a local international student ministry team. But how do you go about it?
Starting from Scratch
- Pray for workers to join you in this particular harvest field (Mt 9:37-38).
- Share your vision with others and invite those who show interest to join you. Look especially for:
- First-year students (who may continue longer)
- Students with experience in another country or culture
- Christian international students
- Local Christian graduates
- A Christian member of the university staff
- Christian families from local churches
- Begin meeting together regularly, even if there are only two of you.
- Pray that God will call others to the work
- Pray for good contacts with international students
Once You Build the Team
It is important to grow together as a team, but this takes time. There are certain elements which will facilitate team growth:
A regular team meeting for Bible study and sharing will give vision for the work, encourage team members in their own Christian discipleship, strengthen commitment to the work by deepening biblical understanding of why this outreach is important and how it fits into God’s plan of salvation. As team members share their needs, joys and frustrations in the work, so they will grow in love and commitment to each other.
This is the foundation for all Christian ministry. It may begin with you, but when the team meets members can pray for each other, for the work, for international friends and for the countries they represent. The whole student group and local churches can also be encouraged to pray for the team and its ministry.
The team leader will facilitate the planning process which should include an assessment of the effectiveness of work done thus far, adjustments that need to be made, distribution of tasks, recruitment of co-workers, publicity and organization of events, etc.
Team members will need help in the basic aspects of international student ministry. These include such topics as:
- The biblical basis for international student ministry
- Growing in cultural sensitivity
- Making cross-cultural friendships
- Building bridges to people of other faiths
- How to share the gospel in a readily understandable way
- Overcoming language difficulties
- Planning international student programs and activities
- Planning welcome campaigns
- Leading cross-cultural evangelistic Bible studies
- Discipling new believers
- Helping international students prepare to return home
- How to use available resources
In practice, a weekly team meeting for Bible study, sharing, prayer and planning will be the context for much of the above. But it may also be appropriate to think in terms of:
- A team weekend retreat once a term
- Specialist training from experienced missionary or staff
- Exchange visits to other places where international student ministry teams are working well
60% of the world’s population live in countries which are closed to traditional missionary work. Yet China, for example, sends more students to North America than any other country. God who is sovereign over history, politics and the movements of people, has given us an unprecedented opportunity in our day to reach the world through the international students he has brought to our doorstep. Let’s grasp the opportunity to introduce them to the Savior of the world.