How Can I Start Reaching International Students?
By Richard Mendola, CEO International Friendships Inc., along with Communications Coordinator Atalie Bale
“Go and make disciples of all nations…” Jesus said. We’ve got news for you: the nations are here! We don’t have to go very far to reach the thousands of world-class international students who are studying in the US right now, many of whom are from the least-reached areas of the world. Most of these students eventually return home where they will be tomorrow’s leaders in business, education, and politics. If we reach them with the good news today, they can reach the world tomorrow.
The vision is big, but it doesn’t have to be intimidating. There are small, manageable steps to start making connections with international students. Here are 5 steps to get you started:
- Meet Students: You can’t build friendships with students you haven’t met. That’s where campus ministry organizations can help in connecting you directly with students who have requested an American friend. Even if you aren’t aware of any ministry organizations serving your local campus, you can reach out to its Office of International Affairs and express interest in helping international students. They may have some areas where you can plug in and make relationships with students. Another way to meet students is to prayer walk on campus. You may find that God drops students in your path!
- Help Students with Felt Needs: Being an international student far away from home, family, and everything familiar can feel overwhelming and lonely. You can make friendships by serving students with their immediate needs. These things can range from helping them set up a bank account or providing transportation to the grocery store to practicing English and being a friend. It may seem simple, but to someone who is in need, these things mean so much!
- Open Your Home: Many students leave the United States without ever being invited into an American home. Hospitality is a powerful witness, both because of the fellowship it provides, and the opportunities to share your heart and life with someone on a more intimate level. Inviting an international student to share a meal with you and your family can truly be life-changing, for both of you. Be sure to check with them about what they do and don’t eat to ensure their dietary restrictions are met.
- The Power of With: You don’t have to do anything you wouldn’t normally do to serve students. Jim Gifreda, area leader for International Friendships Cincinnati, says “With virtually anything I do, I would consider inviting a student to do it with me.” Even what may seem like a mundane errand to you may be a cultural experience for an international student. Open your mind up to inviting others to do things with you and you may be surprised at how many opportunities you have!
- Ask Questions: Curiosity is a mainstay of any budding relationship, and international friendships are no exception. Ask questions about their family, food, interests, religion, and experiences. Stay curious, even when their experiences or opinions differ from your own. It’s important to create a safe space where each person can learn from the perspectives of the other.
We believe that God opens doors for sharing truth through living life with people and opening our homes and hearts to them. We seek to coach, encourage, resource, and equip people like you to extend life-changing hospitality and friendship to international students out of reverence for Jesus. Please explore the many resources available on our website or send us a message to learn more.