By Maria L Henderson

No Longer Strangers: the Joy of Crossing Cultures

"Then he broke the bread -- oh, and he prayed first -- and it fed all the people." Ming Xia was telling the story to Ahn Su, who had missed the previous Bible study of Jesus feeding the 5,000.

"Really?" Ahn Su was engrossed in the story.

"Yes, and there was extra," continued Ming Xia.

"Really?!" Ahn Su's eyes were wide.

Kristina and Shannon, the Bible study leaders, watched with delight as the beauty and wonder of the familiar story, told by a new Christian from China, came alive for a Korean woman who had never heard it before. This Bible study, a manuscript study of the gospel of Mark, was part of InterVarsity's ministry to international students at UCLA's Co-op dorm over the past several years.

Chris was a junior when the members of the Bruin Christian Fellowship (BCF) at UCLA started to think about moving into the Co-op. She moved in when she found out there wasn't going to be a Bible study for off-campus students during her senior year. Shannon was living in one of the undergraduate dorms when she started having dreams about the Co-op. She would wake up and pray for people there. Then she talked to a Bible study leader who told her, "We're thinking about sending some people over to the Co-op next year."

Eventually nine students moved in, entering something of a new world. The Co-op, a private dorm near campus, houses 400 students, about half of them internationals. Dorm cartoonIt also attracts a number of counter-cultural types who flaunt their radical politics, drug use and alternative lifestyles.

At first the Christian students weren't clear what focus their ministry should have. Eventually they decided that the international students, especially those who were having trouble with English and the American culture, were the most in need. It took some time to figure out the best approaches to develop friendships with them, though.

"We found it was easy to make friends with people who were like us," explained Chris. "We had to be more intentional, so we decided to sit in the Chinese section at dinner. I can remember feeling very strange. Joining the Chinese-speaking students was sometimes awkward when we were ignored and the original conversation just continued."

One of the best ways InterVarsity students got to know people was by offering to be English conversation partners. "We saw it as the way we could serve them best," says Shannon. These one-on-one partnerships were an ideal way to develop relationships and share about Jesus. Some wanted very specific help with vocabulary. Others wanted to discuss their cultures and life experiences.

Besides the Mark study, a student named Tara led an "easy English" Bible study. This gave internationals a chance to practice English as well as to learn about Jesus. Over the past several years, close to 20 different internationals attended at one point or another, and at least five became Christians.

After a year of serving internationals together, most of the team scattered to pursue ministry in other places. The Bible study in the Co-op continued for another year with different leaders and a stream of new international students.

While life in the Co-op wasn't always easy, the experience of living with and ministering to internationals was positive for these students. "It was such a joy to interact with people from different cultures because we were always learning something. There were always new stories and things that surprised us about each other," explains Shannon. "I think all of us want to continue to have relationships like these in our lives."

As Tara reflects on her experiences in the Co-op, what stands out is the deep interest her international friends had in learning about the Lord. "It was clear that God's Spirit was pulling them toward him," she says. "It was like that with almost every international student I got to know there."

This article was originally posted on the IVCF student leadership journal and is reposted here with permission.

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