By Katie Rawson and Julia Thorne

International Witnessing Communities: An Introduction


International Witnessing Communities (IWCs) are international student fellowships centered on Christ. They are welcoming communities that embrace seekers, empower international leaders and nurture disciples

Kinds of IWCs

International students generally acculturate in their host countries in one of four ways: spending all their time with conationals, spending most of their time with conationals but some time with host nationals for practical purposes, equal time and attention to both groups and spending almost all their time with host nationals. Depending on how much time and attention they give to conationals or host nationals, students may be anywhere on the acculturation continuum:

<img alt="Acculturation Continuum" src="/sites/ism/files/resource/>

Assimilators will be drawn to regular InterVarsity fellowships and are likely to have the most difficult time upon returning home. Bicultural people and strategic adaptors will be attracted to multicultural IWCs, and separators will gravitate toward ethnic fellowships. Multicultural IWCs can both effectively prepare students to return home and allow them to benefit from interaction with people from many cultures.

Internationals in an InterVarsity chapter could be challenged to form an international outreach small group, a place where they could think about evangelizing other internationals and preparing to go home. In chapters with few or no internationals, American students might be encouraged to start such a group with the understanding that internationals are to be invited into leadership as soon as possible. The North Carolina State international chapter started as an international outreach small group that had both Americans and internationals. Such small groups are really mini-IWCs. It must also be remembered that many IWCs start as investigative Bible studies with a strong community component.

Why International Witnessing Communities?

Values Behind IWCs

Characteristics of IWCs

Though they are like American fellowships in many ways, they are not like American fellowships in the following ways:

IWCs may not even resemble traditional international student ministry. Here are some differences:

Critical Success Factors for Establishing IWCs:

How to Establish an IWC:

Now that you know where they are, BE THERE!!!

Possible Stages in the Development of an IWC (spanning several years)

Scriptural Material to Use in Sharing the Vision:

  • International students themselves are the best evangelists of other international students.
  • Students in this generation usually integrate into community before converting to Christ.
  • IWCs are a very effective context for making disciples and developing leaders.
  • IWCs can better prepare students for living as Christians after they return home and give them a chance to wrestle with gospel and culture issues
    • Christ-centered community
    • Evangelism and leadership done by international students
    • Making disciples
    • Transformation of the whole person, and eventually, whole societies
    • Multicultural fellowship with partnership between internationals and Americans
    • Preparation of internationals for Kingdom service and/or for reentry into the home country
      • There will often be a higher percentage of non-Christians in attendance.
      • Small groups and large group may occur on the same evening because of the time constraints of internationals.
      • Food will often be a more important part of the fellowship meeting.
      • Because pioneering such fellowships may require a good deal of evangelism in the early stages, they may take longer to establish than an American fellowship would.
      • Leadership teams composed of students from many countries will face challenges in cross-cultural group dynamics.
      • Due to the need for contextualization, Bible study and worship may not resemble that found in American fellowships.
      • Preparing students for Christian living in the home country has a high priority.
      • Although staff model and train in evangelism, the major responsibility for evangelism rests on the shoulders of Christian internationals.
      • Once the community is established, the staff role is primarily one of discipling, leadership development and cross-cultural training rather than one of service.
      • Staff must see themselves as partners with Christian internationals and learners from them, not just ministers to them.
      • Foundational prayer
      • A staff member or gifted student with a vision for an IWC on a particular campus
      • A nucleus of Christian international students
      • Strategic discipling and leadership development on the part of staff and student leaders
      • Vibrant worship
      • Community partnership (in providing. prayer support, meeting places and food, for example)
      • On campuses where there are many fellowships from which to choose, the IWC must offer Christian internationals something they don’t get in an ethnic fellowship.
      1. Pray and develop a vision. What do you want this ministry to be on campus? What is the purpose of this group? Why should it exist? Learn to articulate the vision well and enthusiastically. Think tanks with students will help sharpen the vision.
      2. Know campus demographics in relation to internationals.
      • How many students?
      • Where are they from?
      • Where do they live?
      • Where do they work??
      • What services are provided for them? By whom?
      • What services are lacking?
      • Who are the people important to these students?
        • ethnic group presidents
        • international student advisors
        • popular professors
        • churches
        • host families
      1. Identify individuals with leadership potential. Share the vision with them individually first. On campuses with many ethnic Christian fellowships, attracting Christian international leaders may be a challenge. Presenting the biblical vision of God’s multicultural community may be of help. But the staff may also need to offer something, such as Bible study training, that can?t be obtained in ethnic fellowships.
      2. Get potential leaders together. Get input. Create community. Learn from them culturally and spiritually. With this core, the group can become a recognized student club. On campuses with small numbers of internationals, your core group may need a few carefully selected and trained American students. These Americans should see their jobs as encouraging Christian internationals and be willing to give up leadership as soon as international leaders emerge.
      3. Start to spiritually feed and empower those with leadership abilities. Have the students choose their leaders.
      • –push through resistance with scripture and encouragement
      • –give small tasks then affirm, suggest, encourage
      • –push these students forward, you fade to back
      • –don't be “up front” person (unless with other students)
      1. Serve the current leaders by advising them in private, discipling and counseling them. Help them locate speakers (especially international speakers), prepare Bible studies and organize retreats. At the same time, help them identify and develop younger leaders who can eventually replace them.
      2. Create a webpage, start a newsletter and list-serve with internationals you and your student friends have met on campus.
      3. Begin to sponsor international parties and other activities to get the larger international community together.
      4. Establish some traditions, especially in off-times (spring break, Thanksgiving, Christmas, end of terms)
      5. Encourage members of the international fellowship to attend camps/conferences and training times. This gives them a sense of being part of a greater group. This also gives them an identity as a group themselves. Work to help other staff become more international “friendly.”
      6. Keep the number of volunteers low, and choose them carefully.
      • Watch for paternalistic or condescending attitudes.
      • Choose those who can move beyond Multiculturalism 101.
      1. With members of the fellowship, help the international student office on campus prepare and carry out new student orientation.
      1. A prayer and visioning group with a staff member and some international and American students.
      2. Discipling of students individually by the staff, getting them into the Bible and sharing the vision with them.
      3. Development of the group so that it becomes a family for students; Friday night is an ideal time, because internationals are freer then.
      4. As non-Christian internationals attend the group, some will become Christians, and the group may have to split into two groups meeting at the same location.
      5. Student leaders will be trained to lead Bible studies and serve the group in various ways.
      6. As this process continues, group worship and a number of specialized groups to meet the needs of seekers and believers may emerge.
      7. The gifts and leadership skills of Christian internationals will be developed in the community, and seekers will be given small ways to serve the community as well.
      8. Internationals will lead their peers to the Lord and make decisions concerning the community. Most of the people “up front” will be internationals.
      • God’s intent in the cross was horizontal reconciliation among peoples as well as vertical reconciliation with Himself (Gal. 3:28; Eph, 2: 11-21; Col. 3:11). Such reconciliation demonstrates that Christ truly came from the Father (John 17:23) and shows forth the rich variety of God’s wisdom to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places (Eph. 3:7-10) Thus international witnessing communities glorify God in a very special way.
      • In both the Old Testament and the New the eschatological community of God?s people has always been described as a multicultural one (Isa. 2:1-4,25:6-10a; Mal: 4:1-3, Isa 25:6-8, Matt. 8:11-12, Rev. 5:9-10, 7:9-10, 19:6-9, 22:1-2). Although participation in an international witnessing community might not be easy, we are literally experiencing a foretaste of heaven in such groups.
      • Paul had both Jewish and Gentile partners in the gospel. In 2 Cor. 8:28 and Philemon 17 the word “partner” is actually used. The radical nature of the gospel, as described in Eph. 2:11-21, requires fellowship and partnership on an equal basis (Acts 15:8-9) with people of every race and culture.
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