Friday is one of my favorite days of the week. Today I get to spend time in the student union, sharing Christ with international students. During the short fifteen minute drive to campus I pray for two things: significant conversations and a parking place. God grants them both.
The International Conversation and Coffee Hour, sponsored by the university for international students, is a welcoming place for about fifty internationals of all kinds—undergrads, grads, visiting scholars, and even bored spouses of internationals, looking for a chance to improve their English, meet a friend, or just hang out.
I choose an empty table directly under a light, so that later we can see enough in the dimly lit room to read. As internationals begin filtering into the room, I smile at some, greet others by name, and pray that God will lead the right person to my table.
“Excuse me, may I ask you a question?” a Chinese student asks, coffee cup in hand.
“Sure, would you like to join me?” I reply.
“I’m really confused,” the Chinese woman starts. “I’ve been reading the Bible. Is Jesus a god, or is he a man?”
Not all conversations start out like that. It’s gloriously fun when they do, though. Most are more on the order of, “May I sit here?” “Are you a professor?” “Where is home for you?” “What do you study?” “Can you tell me how to get a driver’s license?”
During the course of conversation over snacks and hot chocolate or coffee, I silently ask God to direct the conversation. Sometimes I ask questions, such as, “How did you decide to study your major? What do you hope to do in the future? Why?” because these questions often lead to deeper conversations about goals in life.
Sometimes I take a more direct approach and ask, “What is your family’s religious background? Is that something you also practice, or is it for you more the religion of your parents?”
I always bring a briefcase full of Bibles in various languages, and as the conversation leads, will pull out a Japanese, Chinese, Korean, or other language New Testament, hold it out to them with both hands (indicating it’s a gift), and ask if they have ever seen a book like this. “Is this your language?” I ask with a smile.
“Oh! A Bible! I’ve heard about this book, but I’ve never touched one before! Is this for me?”
The joy in their faces as they hold their first Bible is precious. We usually turn to the table of contents, and I share briefly what kind of book it is, who wrote it, and that the main theme is about how much God loves each one of us, and how we can know forgiveness and new life.
Of course, there are many questions. As we discuss these, I have discovered that I am also learning more about God and his grace. Often the following Friday the same international will seek me out to continue our conversation. Sometimes they have already read through a Gospel account and are filled with new questions. As we share together, I pray silently for myself and the people I’m talking with, that God will give me his words, and that he will touch their hearts.
Not all Friday conversations go the way I hope—sometimes we discuss passing the driver’s exam, English idioms, current issues or their major. Sometimes what may seem superficial to us may be important for building relationships.
After two hours of what I thought was “blah-blahblah” one Friday, I walked out of the room, silently complaining to God, “Lord, why didn’t you give me a good conversation today? No one wanted a Bible. No one wanted to talk about spiritual things. Lord, I wanted a good conversation today.”
“Excuse me.” I heard a voice behind me as I walked out the door. “May I ask you a question?”
“Sure,” I replied.
“Could you please explain to me who Jesus is?”
Amazed, I asked why.
“Well, I have talked with Christians before and they always made me feel uncomfortable. I was sitting at the table next to yours, and I overheard your conversation. You made me feel very comfortable. So, could you please tell me who Jesus is?”
We stood there in the hall for the next two hours talking about Jesus, and as I drove home, I confessed to the Lord that his ways are not my ways. He is the Lord, and in control of everything—praise God! Sometimes internationals accept an invitation to our Wednesday small group Bible study; sometimes they join our family Sunday for worship services and the International Club luncheon which follows.
God uses these conversations to draw internationals into his Kingdom. Thank God it’s Friday!
Note: If you try this on your campus, please be sure you have permission from the organizers to engage in conversation with students, being careful to respect their meeting. This calls for careful and wise interaction answering students’ questions without pressure or manipulation. You want to be able to return regularly and build relationships.