by Paul Nielsen
This is an older interview with a couple who was involved in international student ministry while attending college.
Propel: Long-term missions is a real possibility for you in the future.
Sarah: Missions is definitely a possibility for us in the future. As of yet, we have no concrete plans and our speculations of where God will lead us range from China to Africa to Germany. Only He knows and it’s in His hands.
P: Do you remember when and how your interest in world missions began?
Tom: When I came to college it was clear to me that I wanted to reach out to students. So I joined a student ministry group which was doing missions on campus. Soon I realized that there were a lot of international students on campus and together with some friends we started an international bible study group and invited international students over to our places.
Sarah: The interest in missions for me began at an early age. My mother used to read to my brothers and me, stories, biographies, and accounts of missionaries all over the world. I’ve had an inkling since then that I would someday be involved in God’s work. But missions became a calling at college. At a university in the US, I got involved with an international Christian fellowship. The group’s vision was to witness to international students on campus, to make disciples, and ultimately to see those students return to their native countries as missionaries.
P: What role does “welcoming” — or international student ministry — have in the scheme of world missions?
Tom: International student ministry is a great chance to reach out to many people from all over the world in your home country. At colleges and universities there are students from almost every nation of this world, even from the most closed ones to Christianity. Being away from home and their own culture can open students for new experiences. Often they are eager to get to know the new culture, and Christianity being a part of it.
Furthermore, international students are often the elite of their countries and will often have important positions where they can influence many other people. I think international student ministry is a very important part of fulfilling the great commission.
P: What are some effective strategies, in your experience, for reaching out to international students?
Sarah: I think one of the most effective strategies for reaching out to international students is being there for them at the very beginning, picking them up at the airport, to the very end. We found that just being there, helping them settle in to a completely new country and environment helps build long-lasting friendships.
Tom: Offering help with administrative errands or other hurdles or inviting students into your home can become a good starting point for initiating the first contact and building friendships.
Sarah: I guess I’m not so much the direct evangelist type of person but rather the one-to-one, or what I like to call the friendship evangelist. I think that the best witness to internationals and to people in general lies in our conduct towards our family in Christ (as in John 13:34), and towards others. When we show international students that we genuinely want to love them, their natural tendency will be curiosity, “Why are they so nice? What’s different about them?”
Keeping an open home or dorm room with some food, movies, games, and open hearts will ensure a constant flow of visitors too! This is especially true during thanksgiving, or Christmas when the dorms are deserted and internationals look for some company. If you’re going home to your family, take an international friend with you!
I have found that food is not only the door to a man’s heart but to everybody’s. Internationals love to taste the cuisine of their host countries.
Tom: Also organizing parties, trips, retreats, or various other activities are a possibility for reaching out. Bringing together international students with a group of Christian students will automatically create possibilities for witnessing. While I was studying in the US, I joined three retreats together with other international students. In the course of these, friendships deepened and many possibilities for sharing arose.
P: What obstacles have you encountered as you have pursued your interest in world missions?
Sarah: For me, world missions or even evangelism itself begins to blur from my vision when I start to concentrate on myself. In other words, I lose interest in missions when my needs, dreams, or desires become greater than the need to see others coming to know their Savior. Other worldly things, such as my career, start to cloud my vision of Him and I lose perspective of His great commission!
Moreover, I also struggle with the lies of the deceiver that tell me I’m not good enough and that I could never be a part of God’s great calling — that I’m spiritually inferior to others and I should leave the work to those more experienced than myself.
P: How would you like your missions involvement to look ten years from now?
Sarah: We can only speculate but it looks like we might be heading towards careers in academia. One thing we have in common is a passion for students and academics. Our guess is that we will remain in the university ministry scene working with students, especially internationals. That could happen here in Europe or elsewhere in the world. One advantage being in this field is the myriad of world mission possibilities, even in countries with closed door policies towards Christianity.
P: From your experience, what word of advice or encouragement would you offer to others on the journey of deepening involvement in world missions?
Tom: Stay actively involved in your church. Seek contact with international students or foreigners at your place. And attend mission conferences.
Sarah: Stick with people with the same passion! Get to know missionaries; they have lots of wisdom to share. If you have a chance, go on a short-term mission trip. They give you an idea of what it involves and it will also give you lots of ideas how to pray and support your missionaries. Keep your doors open to opportunities as well as to people and be sensitive to God’s promptings. I am always so encouraged to hear people talk about their desire to serve God in missions. There are so few. If you know that this is something you would like to do, go all out!
Names were changed per the interviewee’s request.