Scanning the newspaper caption, I learned that the picture in front of me was Jomo Kenyatta, once imprisoned as the suspected leader of the notorious Mau Mau terrorists, but now the president of newly independent Kenya.
My acquaintance with the Mau Mau was limited to newspaper reports, and I’d never set foot in Kenya or any other African country. But I remembered seeing this striking black face twenty years before.
Suddenly I saw myself as a fearful pre-freshman at the London School of Economics and Political Science. It was summer vacation, but as a result of my application to study at the school, I had been called in for an interview.
I was a new Christian. The Depression was making life hard for everyone so I decided I could help best by becoming a social worker. At that time L.S.E. was the place to study social work.
As I pushed open the swinging doors of the unimposing structure squeezed into the heart of downtown London, I could hardly believe my eyes. A turbaned Indian was thrusting his way out; men of every hue, it seemed, were passing back and forth in the hallways. There was hardly a female in sight. I mustered up enough courage to take a timid glance into the library. A huge, impressive African figure, with a little goateed beard, was striding between the tables. It was Kenyatta.
I had just graduated from a girls’ school in a distant residential suburb, where foreigners were largely unknown (except for an occasional mademoiselle from across the channel who came to teach us French). True, one year we had a Canadian girl who was a refreshing curiosity, and in my senior year the Turkish government sent two gentle young ladies to study with us. But what was I getting myself into now?
It hadn’t occurred to me that while the British students were on vacation the foreigners were left in London.
Little Did I Know
I never did learn Kenyatta’s name while he was a student, nor that of V. Krishna Menon, an unforgettable lean and fierce-looking Indian. But I recognized his face when he became a rising figure in his country’s government, first as an ambassador to the United Nations and then as minister of defense. I have since learned that John F. Kennedy and Pierre Trudeau were there as graduate students, and that while I was there, nearly thirty percent of the student body was foreign. Many of them are now in high government positions in their countries.
If only those of us in the InterVarsity chapter could have realized our potential then! We did have a yearly International Students’ Tea and occasionally invited foreign students to evangelistic meetings. But L.S.E. was not a residential college, and most of us commuted long distances. Also, most of the foreign students were graduate students, while we in the Christian fellowship were humble undergrads. We rarely saw foreigners in our classes.
On most North American campuses, however, the situation is different. Your college years are probably the best opportunity you will ever have to be both a good neighbor and a missionary. If you find entering a huge university a bewildering, frustrating experience, you can be sure that foreigners find it ten times more so.
You can begin your “foreign ministry” by simply keeping an eye out for people who look lost or don’t know their way around the library. Sit next to them during meals. Learn their names and how to pronounce them. Some will come from cultures where intimacy, friendship, and concern for anyone outside of the family are rare. So don’t begin with backslapping, but be helpful and show a sincere interest in them as people.
If you live in a dorm, why not try sharing a room with a foreign student? A Japanese friend of mine, a colleague at the Tokyo Christian College, went to Muskingum College in Ohio to study. She knew nothing about Christianity then, but was won to Christ by her dorm roommate. Now, not only is she teaching young Japanese men and women who are training for full-time Christian service, but she is also a member of the city’s Board of Education. John Sung, the great Chinese evangelist, became a Christian at an American Ivy League college. I know many other Christians who have found Christ the same way.
Open Your Home
Foreign students often return to their home countries after four or more years of college without ever having been inside an American home. I have heard people say that they never met a Christian in the U.S.!
An invitation home for the weekend or for part of a vacation can mean a lot to a foreign students, and can make a lasting impression. WIlliam Woodward, a veteran missionary to Japan wrote: "Japanese in the professions and in business and education are notoriously indifferent to formal religion but...they have a deep respect for people who live their religion...it is the shame of Western Christianity that, while much effort is made to spread the Gospel in Japan, very little is done in the West to enable Japanese visitors or residents to hear and understand the Gospel of Jesus Christ...The answer is for Americans and other Western peoples to open up their churches, homes and hearts to the stranger in their midst...The front door of every Christian home in the West is a battleline of Christendom and a gateway to the evangelization of Japan. Each door should be open inward to welcome and outward in Christian witness and service." The same is true for other nationalities.
Your presence in your college and your approach to international students may have far-reaching effects. You may influence some future foreign minister, and thus his policy toward Canada and the U.S. Or more importantly, you may lead young men and women to see their personal need of Christ as Savior and later their own country’s great need of him too.
My next-door neighbor in Tokyo was a man in his country’s diplomatic corps—he was the official representative at the 1964 Olympic games. His wife found Christ while in Japan. When the couple’s tour of duty was over, the wife wrote and told us that as soon as she arrived in her own country, she realized that only Christ could relieve it of its poverty.
God may choose to use your friendship with a foreign student to influence that person’s country. Christian values make a difference in politics, social justice and government. Foreign students who find Christ in North America may later sacrifice power and prestige to preach the gospel and build up believers among their own people.
So, be a good neighbor. Even if you never leave the United States, Christ may use you to help spread the Word in a country you never set foot in.
Dorothy R. Pape has been a teacher at Bibelschule Brake in Germany. She is the author of "In Search of God’s Ideal Woman".