Open House, Open Hearts

It’s not hard to get to know students!’ Monica remarks as she prepares snacks and Chinese tea for us in her kitchen.

Monica is part of a small team working in an area of East Asia with a high percentage of Muslims.

For Monica, getting to know students where she is living isn’t that different from building relationships with people of other faiths in her home country. ‘If you want to establish an effective relationship with students, you need two important qualities: love and patience’, Monica explains. Of course, the challenges faced by religious and secular students differ, but Monica’s starting point is the same– building friendships.

Monica is a counsellor at the university that most of her student friends attend. She runs activities for groups of university staff and students, helping attendees to manage conflict, as well as cope with grief and some of life’s most personal and troublesome moments. Monica’s work means she gets to know students and staff from many different backgrounds and she longs to see students understand who Jesus is.

From the slippers that greeted us at the door to the array of sweets and chocolate on offer, it’s clear that hospitality is a key to building good relationships. Monica explains that much of her daily life consists of ‘buying groceries and cooking, sweeping and mopping my floors, and hosting group after group of college students, going through life’s difficulties with them, and encouraging them at the appropriate time and place’.

In a normal week, Monica hosts around 50 students in her home; she cooks for them, listens to them, supports them, and cleans up after them. Every single day! They have fun, learning new games and songs and sharing meals together. The students often open up about issues they may not talk about on the university campus, even making time to discuss topics like self-esteem, faith, family and gender.

What drives Monica? Hosting 50 students every week is an enormous emotional burden, not to mention an organisational nightmare! As Monica describes her week, the love for God and the students that inspires her endurance shines through.

Working with the students, Monica has heard many troubles; here are a few:

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Monica and her team faithfully show God’s love for these students, ‘I am often asked what makes me happiest about my life here. My answer has never changed: “Feeling very grateful and honoured to be like a small candle put in the land. Even though the light is weak, there are still people who have seen the light and felt its warmth.”’

Before we leave, Monica asks us to pray for her relationships with students. She wants them to learn more about the love of Jesus. She prays for them to be encouraged and helped in the many life challenges that everyone faces.

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