With a record-high population of international students and scholars in the U.S. (over 1 million, actually!), and nearly half of them being graduate students and post docs, you’re likely to run into them. Many are from nations where the Gospel is inaccessible, even illegal. We have an amazing opportunity!
But, you say, "I know there are a lot of international students here, but…"
"...I don’t have much experience with people from other countries. Someone else would be better at this."
The fact is, God has put specific internationals in your path, not "someone else’s." You don’t need to be an expert. In fact, all you need is an open (or somewhat open!) heart and mind. Learn. A few questions can go a long way: Ask them what they miss about their home country, why they chose their field of study, and what they like to do for fun. Ask them about their religious background (FYI For most internationals, religion is not a taboo topic but a normal and even expected topic of conversation).
By engaging with them, you may be surprised by how much you have in common. And, how much God wants to teach you about Himself through them, regardless of whether they’re followers of Christ.
“…I simply don’t have the time or energy – school is overwhelming enough.”
You’re not alone in being busy. Getting to know one or more international students or scholars does not have to be an “extra” thing on your plate.
Start small and consider integrating them into your daily life. When you’re walking to your class or lab, ask God to open your eyes—and your heart—to internationals along your path. Pray for them. Smile and say “hi.” Ask God to show you which internationals you naturally come across He would like you to get to know. Invite them to do things you normally do – do you play a sport, an instrument? Study at the library? Go out to eat? Invite them along.
Although my job is all about international students, I still struggle with making time for friendships with international students! However, the time I’ve carved out for international friendships have been so rewarding that I’ve gotten hooked! Miraculously, God has made a way.
"I’m already getting to know a lot of American classmates and lab mates. Don’t they need Jesus, too?"
Yes, we all need Jesus! However, I don’t personally know any Americans who do not know any Christians. But, for many internationals, being in America may be their only opportunity to meet a Christian. Eighty-five percent of Muslims, Hindus, and Buddhist do not have a personal relationship with a Christian1, and most int’l students are from countries that consist mainly of these three religions.
Jesus directs believers to share the gospel in Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. In this day and age, sometimes the people from the "ends of the earth" might be living right next door. Trust God's leading and answer the call to reach international graduate students by saying hello today. You might just make a new friend.
Eva is the National Campus Integration Coordinator for ISM (International Student Ministry), a new position created to help all InterVarsity chapters engage with international students. She joined InterVarsity staff in 1997 and holds a BS in Biology from UC San Diego and a MA in Theological Studies from Bethel Seminary. In her free time, she enjoys cooking without recipes, playing the piano without an audience, creating art with friends, and taking late-night walks with her husband, Lee.
Photo courtesy: Myra Koontz