GLORIETA, N.M. (BP)–Speaking from personal experience, Ed Moncada said being a friend to international students could be the first step toward helping them find salvation.
Moncada, who works with international student ministries at the Missouri Baptist Convention, spoke to students attending National Collegiate Week at LifeWay Glorieta Conference Center in New Mexico Aug. 3-9.
Born and raised in the Philippines, Moncada said he grew up attending Catholic schools in Manila; “I was from a big extended Catholic family, with cousins and uncles who were priests.”
When Moncada moved to the United States, he lived with relatives in St. Louis for a while before beginning college at Southeast Missouri State University.
“I didn’t know anything about America when I got here,” he said. “I barely spoke any English. I didn’t know what to wear, how to eat with a fork, nothing.”
As he tried to fit into American culture, he became depressed. “I was miserable. I was scared, homesick, confused. I felt so out of place. I didn’t know what to do. The more I tried to fit into what I thought American culture was, the worse it got for me.”
Then, he said, some students from the Baptist Student Union befriended him.
“They talked to me and helped me with my English. They helped me learn how and what to eat to fit in better.”
Because of their kindness and love, he said, he began to open his heart to Christianity.
“Only because of their love and attention did I reach the point of accepting Christ. When I told my family about it and they asked me why I wanted to change faiths, I told them it was because these Christians loved me.”
International students coming to America to attend colleges and universities today experience the same cultural shock he did, Moncada said.
“Just like me, they get here and are so scared and know so little about America,” he said. “All they know about America is what they see on television and in movies.”
The greatest ministry collegians can have with internationals is friendship, Moncada said. “When you befriend international students, you just can’t imagine what that means to them.”
One of Moncada’s MBC assignments is working with Friendship International on the Washington University campus in St. Louis.
About 1,400 international students attend Washington University, and that number does not include their spouses and children, he said.
Friendship International, a 25-year-old program, functions under the university’s international student office. “The university doesn’t allow us to directly share Christ with the internationals, but we minister to them nonetheless,” he said.
On Tuesdays, local Baptist churches host a free lunch for internationals. About 250-300 attend each week, Moncada said.
“This is more than just a free meal to the students,” he said. The lunches give the students an opportunity to eat American food that doesn’t come from a fast-food restaurant. “They get to eat what our own families eat.”
Friendship International also offers:
— Once-a-week classes in which families of international students can learn more about American culture. In the classes, “they can learn crafts like needlepoint and painting,” Moncada said. While this is a fun time for them, it also offers the opportunity for them to work on English skills.
— a car-care clinic. “[Internationals] arrive not knowing about American cars and driving skills. We have a lot of information on what to look for in a used car, how to make repairs,” Moncada said. “We can even arrange to help them learn to drive. They really appreciate this ministry.”
— a furniture ministry in which local church members donate good used furniture and appliances which are kept in a warehouse where students can come to shop.
“So many internationals get here with just their suitcases,” he said. “They don’t know about shopping at places like our warehouse and Goodwill. We tell them how they can get the furniture they need at a good price.”
A program Moncada began is called Open Heart, Open Hands.
“This is promoted through the churches,” he said. “Volunteers will invite international students to stay in their homes during Thanksgiving and Christmas and on Super Bowl Sunday, giving the students a real taste of American family life.”
While most international students attend the larger major universities, Moncada said more and more are beginning to attend small colleges and even community colleges.
“As the number of schools these students attend increases, so do the ministry opportunities,” he said. “We have such an opportunity to get the gospel to these students who will then take it back home.”
Students who attended the conference said they did so because of a real interest in ministering to internationals.
Stephanie Dowden, a student at Louisiana College who spent half of the summer in Burkina Faso as a summer missionary, said, “I really have a passion for international missions. This is a way to keep doing international ministry while I’m back home.”
Moncada recommended several websites where international students and those who minister to them could find helpful information, such as:
— www.friendship7.org – maintained by Moncada’s office at the MBC.
More than 2,600 college students attended Collegiate Week, sponsored by LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention. Next year’s event will be at Glorieta Aug. 2-8. It is the largest annual event hosted at the conference center.
(BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo title: HEART FOR INTERNATIONALS.