Where to start? How to begin? If you have no international student ministry at your university, you may not know what to do to prepare a team for ministry to internationals. Here are some tips for getting your ISM group on its feet.
Always begin with prayer. Whether you already have a team and just need to find the students or you are on your own starting from scratch, begin with prayer. Pray for the workers you have and the workers you are going to draw. Pray for the students you will be working with, for open minds and seeking hearts.
Starting From Scratch
Find volunteer workers! Share your vision with prayer partners and have them pray for workers as well. Share your vision with everyone you can. Talk to Bible studies, church groups, or individuals about what you hope to do. Ask international students to share their experiences with others or share your own international testimonies. Excitement is infectious!
As you’re sharing, look for answers to prayer. Invite those who are interested to join you. Good people to look for are first year students, students with cross-cultural experience, church members, or university faculty.
Once you have a team, take time to grow together as a team. Study the Bible together, pray together, be open about your lives and feelings, plan as a team, have a common foundation for training others, and enjoy yourselves as you embark on your mission!
The team needs to commit to contacting and befriending international students. Some team members may want to focus on a specific residence hall or nationality. However you choose to reach students, you need to be sure to have a solid plan as a group before dispersing.
Be informed about the international student population on your campus. Know what percentage of grad students and undergrads there are. Find out which countries they come from. Seek to understand what types of cultures they will be leaving and how that will impact how they interact with American students.
Look at the programs that already exist that your group can attend. Draw out the needs that still need to be addressed. (Examples: host families, international student associations or dorms, English language tutoring, etc.) Talk to the foreign advisors at your school about your interest in working with them. Contact international groups on campus and churches pointed to specific nationalities to partner with their events.
Some questions to ask yourself:
- How can we include more internationals?
- How are we helping Christian internationals? Non-Christian?
- What resources do we have?
- Who will be responsible for what?
- What do we do now? What needs to be changed? What should stay the same?
- How do we keep people informed?
Meeting the Students
Once you have your planning underway, you can begin the process of meeting students and creating events for them. You don’t need to wait until the students come to campus – some universities offer a pen-pal opportunity to have contact with international students before they arrive! You can also go to bus stops, train stations, or airports to meet students and welcome them to the country. Offer to help at the orientation your school puts on for international students.
Students often congregate with others of their same nationality in different areas of the university. Seek out those areas and take initiative in beginning conversations. Have student members of the team sit by international students in lectures or in the dining hall and offer to study or eat together.
Find out when international student groups hold national celebrations and visit them. Take part in them – learn about another culture while getting to know the students. Search out language labs or English tutoring programs and offer loving, practical help to students wanting to improve their English.
- Provide a tour or orientation of the city your school is in
- Host a reception dinner or musical event to help your group get to know international students
- Sponsor outings, parties, dinners, and events to create informal group settings
- Organize evangelistic weekends or retreats at a friend’s home or camp
- Set up a book table for students to come by and look at
You want to be sure the events you plan fill a specific goal. Socialization is enjoyable, but make sure you’re attempting to reach deeper issues with your social events! These are some good questions to ask.
- What is the purpose of the event? (Relation-building, planting seeds, evangelism, apologetics, discipleship, etc
- How does this even fit the goals of our ministry and overall plan for the school year?
- How do all the parts of this even contribute to fulfilling the purpose?
- How much of the event is owned/planned/led by student leadership? Do students own enough to spread it by word-of-mouth?
- To what degree does the event take into account the gifts, needs, and likes of internationals in: publicity, timing, program, duration, location, transportation, food, childcare (many international grad students may be married with children), etc.?
- Is the event announced enough ahead of time to give students time to decide to go and invite others? This is especially important as many internationals may need to be asked a few times before feeling welcome enough to accept
- In the case of a speaker: has s/he been briefed about the possible language/religious/cultural barriers with the audience?
- Are songs and media culturally appropriate?
- Is there a follow-up plan?
Make sure you announce Bible studies at your events. Be intentional about your passion for God. Introduce Christian internationals to leadership roles early on. When we love and serve international visitors we are reflecting the character of God. In the Old Testament, God commanded His people to love the aliens in their midst (Deuteronomy 10:17-l9, Leviticus 19:33, etc.) Jesus also spoke of the importance of welcoming the stranger (Matthew 25:35). Most foreign students experience culture shock, loneliness and difficulties with English. Having at least one good American friend can help them get adjusted more easily. Christian students involved in such friendships can show Christ's love in many tangible ways.