Three ways to welcome international students

We asked Ho Meas, an OMF worker who grew in his relationship with Christ while studying overseas, to share how we can welcome international students.
After 13 years’ involvement with OMF in various capacities in Japan, Ho now works in Northern Ireland alongside his wife Laura-Jane, helping international students meet Jesus there, while serving as Mobilisation Coordinator for OMF’s Diaspora Returnee Ministries team. Here are his three top tips:

1. Be openhearted in your welcome and hospitality – go the extra mile

When I was an international PhD student in Japan, a local Christian Japanese family invited me to their home for dinner about once a month. They asked us to invite various international students one by one, and they became quite close to several of them. They kindly shared with us a comfortable home, delicious food, fun conversation and a space to talk about the Lord too. We always went home refreshed and happy. This family made internationals feel special by celebrating birthdays, weddings or the birth of babies, and by showing care in times of sadness or loss too.
When Christians go the extra mile like this, they live out God’s words that teach his people, ‘do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.’ (Hebrews 13:16).

2. Share your own lives, communities, and stories
For international students who didn’t grow up in Christian homes, providing a Christian family role model is really helpful.
When they see how Christian parents relate to their children, it can help them want to find out more about God’s love.
Most internationals also love interacting with more senior generations and have a lot of respect for older people. Meeting grandparents and older relatives or friends can help someone feel much more at home as they will be missing people of all generations from home.
Of course, no family is perfect, and we must be honest about our struggles too. But by meeting Christians of all ages, cultures, and walks of life, they can listen to stories of God’s grace transforming lives. They will see Jesus in a variety of people and have a sense of Christian community, rather than depending on one or two relationships.

3. Seek to be a trustworthy life-time friend, even when they move on or go home
A friend of ours once asked us, ‘Will I still be your friend if I don’t become a Christian?’
When we treat people as people, not projects, their door is more likely to stay open for true and trusting friendship. As followers of Jesus Christ, of course, we desire to see our new friends knowing and following him. However, whether they follow Jesus Christ or not, students appreciate keeping in touch with their overseas friends.
What we see of someone’s response to Jesus now is often only one part of their whole journey, and God may work in other ways to lead them to know him. Even if they don’t go home believing in Jesus, their experience of friendship with a Christian is likely to change how they think about Christians in their home country, and perhaps make it easier for them to seek God more later.
In our digital age it is easy to keep in touch with people through email, social media or Zoom. Forming a mailing list or a WhatsApp/Signal group can help keep friendships growing.
You may even be able to visit them in their home country. Usually, students who return home are more than delighted by the chance to share their family and country with friends from other places.

Where to begin?
1. Pray and invite others to pray with you. OMF’s Diaspora Returnee Ministries team – who work with East Asians currently living away from home – have a daily prayer feed in the free PrayerMate app to help guide your prayers.
2. Find out who the international students in your area are, and what countries they come from. You can do this through organisations like Friends International, or simply by paying attention as you go about your daily business.
3. Find out what your church, other local churches, Christians and Christian Unions are doing in your area to reach out to international students. Offer to become a volunteer.
4. Become a personal friend to an international student, or students, yourself and offer hospitality and practical help to them. Don’t be afraid of asking them.
5. Partner with local workers serving international students by volunteering with OMF’s Diaspora Returnee Ministries team or organisations such as Friends International.

Find out more
Read more tips from Ho.