Three ways to reach international students where you are

Recently we invited lots of friends to a BBQ; but no one came. We were inevitably a bit disappointed but realised that watching others eating delicious food over a Zoom call is not that great. By the end of the day, we had the photo of our garden packed with people, thanks to Photoshop!

In more ‘normal’ times it was not uncommon for our home to be packed with people from many countries around the world. Whatever our stage of life, Christian experience, or gifts, we have real opportunities to reach the nations.

Going overseas is not the only way to do this, as increasingly the nations are coming to us, becoming our neighbours and filling our universities. However, we can find it really hard to venture beyond our familiar culture groups. We may be fearful of language difficulties, making cultural mistakes, or just stepping out of our comfort zone. So, what should make Christians reach out and befriend others who are different? Surely it is deep love for Christ and a certainty that his gospel really is good news. Furthermore, we can be confident that we can have a lot to offer as we learn and build cross-cultural friendships.

Practice hospitality

Hospitality creates fantastic opportunities to reach out to international students. Hospitality builds trust, opens the door to friendship, provides time to sensitively share our lives and begin to make disciples. When we lived in East Asia, we knew that every visitor to our home was observing our family life, and how we lived. This alone made an impact in pointing to Christ and friends continued to come, even bringing others too.

Hospitality is never just about ‘me/us’ in community-oriented cultures. We want hospitality to be a way of introducing friends to others, and a starting point to model the life of the local church: sharing, caring, encouraging and teaching. If they are soon moving to another city, it is helpful to introduce them to people there as soon as possible. In our experience, it is very hard to do this after they move.

Use your gifts

Whilst living in East Asia short-term teams would join us in our ministry. Each team member would bring with them their unique set of gifts and skills. Each provided an opportunity to invite friends to join us, and ultimately share the gospel.

Whatever your interests are – music, hiking, IT – you, too, could use these as a way to meet and serve internationals. Also, our different gifts mean that we complement one another. So, by all means ask others to help run a hiking trip. There have been many times when a friend has wonderfully shared Christ with a personal testimony, and I have been grateful that they had joined us at just the right time.

There will be times to serve in different ways, preparing food, looking after the kids, driving people home… What happens when international friends really want to improve English, have a medical issue, or struggle with emotional health? That’s where the gifting pool of the local church is vital. Again; think community.

Going online

In our COVID-19 inspired digital era, most of us have been on a steep learning curve to work together online. Our digital footprint matters more than ever, as does the quality of our sound, video and graphics. Sharing over social media or organising an online activity can be rich platforms for sharing Christ. If Airbnb is now hosting online experiences, so can we! It may be that you thought you never had the right gifts or skills for reaching the nations. Think again. We are each uniquely placed to be fully engaged in global mission, even opening a gospel with a friend can be a delight. There are groups around the world who pray for this work, and, as the Lord builds his Church, he delights in reaching the nations. Why not ask God to show you what your next step could be?

Ideas and resources

1. If you’re in a university town, there may already be outreach to international students you can get involved in with local churches, OMF or other organisations such
as Friends International.

Get in touch with your local OMF representative for more details of ministries in your area.

2. Read a book that helps you practice hospitality

Such as Rosaria Butterfield’s The Gospel Comes with a House Key: Practicing Radically Ordinary Hospitality in Our Post-Christian World (Crossway, 2018).

3. Read a book that helps you think about culture

For example, Graham Orr’s Not So Secret (IVP, 2012) draws on his experience with OMF in Tokyo to reflect on sharing the good news of Jesus cross-culturally.

4. Explore resources that can help you reach out cross-culturally