This is a great opportunity. This is a life changing event for all of us. I love international students – that is my day job. And I get to work with an amazing, talented group of staff and volunteers all across the United States. At Urbana I get to work with Canadians as well. It is a wonderful team of people. In the last 24 hours, international students have blessed me. I talked to an Indian student, and he said, “I’m from central Florida. And I’m so excited to be here. You see, I come from a Hindu family, and I became a Christian last year – just last year.” And I am just amazed at the wonderful power of God to transform lives and here I am in the presence of someone whom God has brought to himself. That is a blessing. Last night we saw a slide that says “these are the countries with so many unreached peoples. Thirty minutes later after walking and getting to the Millennium Hotel, I walked into the different rooms where you were all praying, and I said, “They are unreached in that slide. They are reached right here in this room. They are praying, they are worshipping Jesus, and I say our God is a wonderful God. He is doing – transforming – a magnificent world in the lives of international students. He is bringing hope to the nations through you.”
The word has become flesh. And he dwells among us. What does it mean for an international student to dwell among your people? What does that look like? You’ve heard a little bit of that, from Jim Tebby, from Sed Sue, from Svetlana. What does that look like to dwell with your own people?
Let me tell you a little bit about Derek. Derek became a Christian while an international student. He met Christians on campus who told him about the Gospel. He met a Christian family who added into his own growth what it means to follow Jesus. He grew very fast as a Christian. He was so impressed with the Christian fellowship on campus that he said, “You know, when I go home, I’d like to start something like this. Reaching the campuses in my country.” And this is what is written about Derek, and I read to you, from the book Shining Like Stars.
Derek returned home and quickly set about building a Christian student group at the University of Lusaka, the capitol city of Zambia. The work grew rapidly, and in due course, as many as 1/10th of all the students, university students, in the country were Christians. One tenth of the student population in the entire country. News spread to the president of the country, President Kenneth Kaunda. He invited Derek and the leader of the local group and said, “Come to the palace.” When they met the president, the president asked Derek, “What is this message you are preaching that is turning the university upside-down?” Derek told him, and the president was in tears. “This,” the president said, “is the message our culture needs to hear. Come back in two weeks, and bring the other students who are leaders with you.” Derek and the student leaders came back, returned two weeks later to the presidential palace to meet the entire Zambian cabinet. And the president said to them, “Now, preach to them what you preached to me.” Amazing story. Who would have thought? He would not have thought his return, his commitment to dwell with his own people, would take him to the up, the highest seat of power, the president himself. He had no clue what God had in mind. He had a love for his people that brought him back home.
Or let me tell you about John. That is not his real name, just to protect his identity. He came as a Muslim student in the United States. He had a difficult time, and God used that difficult time to draw him to himself and God encouraged him through a dream to reach after the creator. He walked into a church and the verse “Come unto me, those who are labor or heavy laden and I will give you rest.” -- Those were the words he was longing to hear. He decided to follow Jesus. Well he didn’t go home immediately, he had gone home many times to visit. In the meantime, he had met a lovely former international student from Taiwan – so there are values to these conferences my dear friends! – They eventually got married, he found a job, she found a job. But deep inside there was this longing to do something for his own people. He’s got a job that settles him in one state, and he’s happy there. Until 10 years ago. He went a church, a short-term mission team, back to his home country, and while there his eyes were opened to his own people who are really an unreached people group, and he saw among their people a small church. His own people worshipping God and he was moved. These are my people. I want to do something for my people. Four years ago he formed an organization together with another international student who became a Christian in Arizona. And with another missionary he would serve in his country for 30 years – they formed an agency and they are now sending teams back to his country. Not only sharing the good news but reaching the whole person.
Two models. One returned immediately, and the other stayed, waited for the right time. What may God be speaking to you? Why are you here? Why did God bring you to the United States of America or to Canada? To just do your studies, is that it? Or is there a bigger vision? Or is there a bigger goal? A larger plan that we are a part of? It’s so easy to forget. It’s so easy to be caught up with our little world and forget that God’s world is so big and so needy of you and your services.
One of my heroes is a woman. She was clueless. She didn’t know anything about big plans. She was also a secluded woman. But when her life was transformed by vision, and God got ahold of her life, she was a force to contend with. She was transformed from a timid woman to a leader. Her words are quoted today by many people. She experienced a transforming event in her life. But she didn’t go to Urbana! Her experience was something unique. You see, I’m talking about Esther. Queen Esther. She was part of the Jewish diaspora. They were taken away from their homeland to go to Babylon, and out of their existence as foreigners they made a living. Other people were encouraged to return home, but she didn’t. Her cousin Mordechai raised her up like his own daughter. And because of certain turn of events at that time, the king lost his queen, and Esther finds herself in a competition. She was among the many women chosen, a pool of women where the king would choose the future queen. And there she was in the palace.
In the meantime, her cousin, Mordechai, hears about a plot that Haman, the right hand person of the king, had put together because he didn’t like the Jews. They didn’t give him the respect he thought was due him, and therefore, he was able to convince the king to kill all the Jews. Mordechai heard about this. And so he sent word to the Queen. In chapter 4, this is an amazing story full of intrigue, twists, and turns. But here is the significant words – Mordechai goes to Esther and asks Esther – Mordechai had told everything that had happened to him, including the exact amount of money that Haman had actually paid for. And this is what Mordechai said to Esther: Let me read to you. “When Esther” – oh right there, oh my goodness, technology! – “When Esther’s words were reported to Mordechai, he sent back his answer: ‘Do not think that because you are in the King’s house, you alone of all the Jews will escape. For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?’” Who knows that you have come to this position for such a time as this? Esther, your people need you! You are in the closest proximity to power that can change the course of the history of your people. Do something! God has put you there for a purpose.
Esther sends word, and this is her response: “Go, gather all the Jews who are in Susa (the capitol) and fast for me. Do not eat or drink for three days, night or day, I and my attendants will fast as you do. When this is done I will go to the King even though it is against the law, and if I perish, I perish.” You see, Esther was saying to Mordechai, “No way, cousin! No way! You don’t understand the royal lifestyle. You don’t understand that the king has to ask you to come to him. You cannot just show up, knock on the door and say, ‘Honey, I’m here tonight for you.’ You don’t do that. Besides it’s been 30 days since he asked for me! Mordechai, you are clueless about what royal protocol is about.” But when Mordechai came back and said, “God has put you in that position for such a time as this,” it transformed Esther from the woman in the background to be the woman in the foreground. From a woman who was obscure to the woman who was empowered and took leadership. From the woman who was taking orders to the woman who was giving orders. Her life has turned around. She was challenged. It’s so easy to be in the king’s palace and be comfortable. My dear friends, it is so easy to be comfortable where we are and forget the plight of our people. It is so easy to be comfortable here and distance ourselves to the cry of our people. Do we carry our people in our hearts? Do we pray for our people? Do we plead for their safety? And listen to what Esther asked the King when she finally got an opportunity – “The Queen answered, I have found favor with you, Your Majesty, and if it pleases you, grant me my life, this is my petition, and spare my people, this is my request.” (I think there’s another part to this verse….that’s it.) Spare my people, this is my request, because they’re going to be killed.
How many of you have asked God to spare your people? Your people are not probably perishing physically, but they are perishing spiritually. How many of you have come to God begging, “Spare my people, God! You brought me to the United States, you brought me to Canada, for a purpose.” Have you discovered your Esther moment? Do you have a Mordechai, a cousin, a friend, a pastor, a counsellor, who will tell you, “You have come to a place like this. Your PhD is purposeful, your Masters degree has a purpose, this is the time for you to consider the needs of your own people, for such a time as this.” For such a time as this.
I returned home after my graduate work as an international student because I had a desire to serve my people. And immigration was helpful as well – I couldn’t extend my Visa. But I didn’t try, I didn’t have a lawyer like Bob Webber who could help me. But God’s call was clear, because it was clear even before I left, that I was going to get advanced training because I wanted to help my people. My heart was for the campuses of the Philippines. I wanted Filipino students in high schools and colleges to come to know Jesus. When I returned, one of my big assignments was to take young graduates to outlying islands, where no staff workers were, and I took with me a group of young graduates – in fact, a mother was with us as at the pier of this boat as we left, and she was begging, “Don’t take my son.” He had just graduated as an engineer. And here I was taking these young graduates away from home, and they had their back on great salary, great living conditions, and I was taking them to this remote, dangerous place in the country and they were going to be volunteer staff. They were going to find jobs to support themselves, in the meantime they would work with college students. In one day they found jobs. And they came back and said, “Okay Lisa, what do we do next?” “Okay, well, we’ve got jobs, we will get those jobs going, and I will be with you for a week and I will train you to be a staff worker. I will train you in what it means to work with college students.” And within that week they were able to grasp what it means to serve students, and I left them.
Months later I was on a train, taking again a group of young students to another island, because there was no work existing there. They found jobs and they said, “Okay Lisa, what’s next?” Well, we’re going to go through training. We’re going to turn you into staff workers. And within a week, they were able to grasp the things necessary to serve their people, and I left. A year or two later I found out that there were hundreds of young graduates who walked away from big salaries to go to the campuses of my country. God honored my desire to serve my people. You see, Filipinos are my first people, Americans are my second people – well actually, no. Internationals are my second people, and Americans are my third. Just like languages, you know? Bilingual, trilingual, first language, first people.
God had put in my heart to continue to care for the people that God has put in my heart, and that would be the Filipinos. You know, Filipinos are not just in the Philippines. In the last 20 or so years, they are all over the world. They are the nannies of Singapore – my friend says to me, “The future of Singapore are in the hands of the Filipinos because the Filipino nannies are taking care of the babies in Singapore and they are praying for those babies.” The future of Singapore are in the hands of the Christian Filipino nannies. They are in Switzerland, I meet them there. They are in Germany. They are all over the world. They are also on cruise ships, working for 10 months without any day off. When I met them, they had tears in their eyes and I said, “God, my people are all over the place because they couldn’t find a job from my country, from my own home. What are you doing? Why is my people scattered?” And God quickly says, “Lisa, they are scattered for two things: they are a mission field, but they are also a missionary force.” God is using your people to bring others to Jesus. At the last day of that cruise, at 11:30 at night, the only time they were free, I met with a handful of them with their Bibles in their hands and they said, “You are an angel to come to us. We needed to know that God has not forgotten us. The love for your people.
Why did God bring you here? Are you at that moment in time? That Cairos moment, that Esther moment, that – in time where God is calling you. So I want to leave you with two words. I want you to be faithful. One foot in front of the other – I like that American expression. One foot in front of the other. Be faithful. Do the little things you know God wants you to do. Do well in class. Don’t spend too much time on Facebook. Do well in class. Do your best, be the best student. Finish that PhD. Don’t be distracted, be faithful in the little things. Share the gospel with friends, in your tiny world, but friends. Being faithful sometimes we forget the big picture, so the second thing I want you to consider is as you are faithful, be open to the possibilities that God has in mind for you right here and now as you are walking in the global connection. Pray that God would lead you to a place where you can make a difference. Pray that God would lead you to people who would talk to you and say, “You are the kind of person we need in your country.” For such a time as this God is calling you with your degree in engineering, with your degree in computer science, with your ability to learn languages, you are the person God needs for your people. Be open to the possibilities. Twenty, twenty-five years from now you will be the one standing here and telling other internationals, “Low and behold, God wants us to dwell with our own people.”
I’m not in the Philippines. I work in an entirely different set of responsibilities. But I keep my people in my heart and I want you, and I beg of you, when I think of the unreached peoples, and I think of you. The answer to reaching the unreached peoples are through the international students who are here, they are through you. I pray that you will not run away. That you will not be scared. I tell you the most scary thing in life is to be disobedient. The scariest thing is when I am not in the center of what God wants. I want you all there. God brought you here – I’m so excited to meet some of you, I met someone from Stanford, I met someone from University of Maryland, I met someone-a soccer player, I love soccer players-I’m meeting all of you here. But you know what? For such a time as this, God called you. For such a time as this. Listen well in the next few days. Be open, and be faithful, and God will speak and take you to that place where there is no return, where there are all the blessings and rewards for you for the sake of the nations, his kingdom, and his name. Amen.