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FIRST-PERSON: Friends needed

NASHVILLE (BP) — With another school year underway, let me encourage you to consider hosting an international student.

Why? Because international student enrollment is at an all-time high — more than 875,000 students, according to the Christian ministry International Students, Inc. Among their homelands: China, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Vietnam, India, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and Mexico.

China continues to send the most students — 29 percent. Many international students come from places that are restrictive or prohibitive to the Good News of Christ Jesus.

You may not realize this, but many are interested and receptive to the Gospel while studying in the United States. We have a profound opportunity to influence future political and business leaders.

While studying in the United States, the majority of international students — as high as 75 percent — are never invited into an American home. An estimated 80 percent of these students are never invited to an American church nor do they have any meaningful contact with genuine Christians during an average stay of four years.

This information should pierce the heart of every believer. The church should reach out. No international student who wants to have an American friend should be lacking.

We cannot allow programmatic busyness or the fear of different customs, cultures or languages keep us from building relationships. If you will reach out, you’ll discover a multitude of opportunities to build friendships, meet needs and discover what it can mean to live out your Christian faith as a witness.

One of the first things you can do to share God’s love and Good News with international students is become a welcomer. Christians can and should be a part of welcoming and helping students acclimate to their new homeland.

Here’s how you can become a welcomer:

1. Contact your local university to see about becoming a host family to an international student. Usually this is arranged through a program in the international student office, but call the university or universities in your area to find out for sure. Programs may differ, but generally you’ll receive a form to fill out that matches your family and a participating student. Typically you’ll be asked to host your assigned student throughout the school year. My family is hosting two students, and we make a point of including them in holiday festivities and meals as well as family birthdays, shopping excursions and worship opportunities at our church.

2. Pick up international students and help them get settled into their dorms or apartments.

3. Provide household goods and furniture for international students. Some churches and Baptist associations have developed a ministry to provide these items. International students secure household goods and furniture as they settle into their new places of residence and then bring them back at the end of the school year.

4. Embrace students as a part of your life and be a genuine friend. Invite them for meals and to special family events, church activities and excursions such as ball games, bowling and amusement parks. On holidays like Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter, explain the meaning of these special observances. Remember that they want to experience life in America.

If you will reach out, you’ll discover a multitude of opportunities to build friendships, meet needs and minister to people God has brought to your doorstep. Friends are needed. Will you be one this year?

Looking for resources to help you minister to international students? Here’s a list of organizations and their websites with ideas and resources that can help you:
International Students, Inc., http://www.isionline.org
InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, http://www.intervarsity.org/ism
Internationals.org, http://www.internationals.org

    About the Author

  • Terry Sharp
    Terry Sharp is the director/lead strategist for the International Mission Board’s urban mobilization strategies.Read All by Terry Sharp ›