One of the bedrock principles God has used to guide my heart in evangelism came from a statement in Oscar Thompson, Jr.’s book on relationship evangelism, Concentric Circles of Concern. It is found in the first few sentences in Chapter 1. He said, “The most important word in the English language apart from proper nouns, is relationship. You say, but love has to be the most important word.” He continues, “Where is love going if there is no relationship? Relationship is the track. Love is what rolls over the track. Love moves through a relationship. But the thing that satisfies the deepest longing of your being is a relationship with someone.”
I believe this statement is true for every person God ever created. We all long to have a deep relationship with someone. When it comes to our International friends who are away from their family, friends and culture, this need is heightened in their lives. They are vulnerable and very receptive to relationships. It is an incredible opportunity for the local Body of Christ to connect quickly and consistently with these dear students.
Here are a few ideas that may stimulate your church with creative ideas to build relationships with International Students.
- Conversation Clubs – Your local Baptist Collegiate Ministry may have places to serve that offer this outreach opportunity. Conversation Clubs provide an opportunity for international students to improve their English skills by conversing with English-speaking volunteers (no experience necessary). This is a great opportunity to meet internationals and learn how to converse with them. Instructions and guidelines will be provided and a brief training time to prepare you for this experience. It may take some practice. But the internationals do not mind repeating themselves, if they know you are really listening.
Help an international student practice conversational English.
- Airport Pickups – Volunteer to help be their first friends, being the first one to meet them at the airport. Sometimes their housing will not be ready for a couple of days and they will need a place to stay. That may provide another opportunity for you build friendship with an international student. You will have a friend for life. Connect with the local campus international office to find out how you can help with this.
Be the first one to meet them when they arrive to your city.
- Friendship Partners – Ask members of your church to volunteer to connect specifically with one or two to invest their lives in them. (This is similar to adopt a student). Encourage them to have them in their homes for a meal, teach them to wash clothes, help them with Walmart runs, to study for their driver’s license exam or practice for their driving test, teach them to cook with slow cookers and microwaves, or let them cook a cultural meal for you. Teaching them how to shop and eat out in public places is appreciated. Talk with them about their life back home, family, beliefs, and traditions. Watch movies and read books to help learn about their culture and faith. Invite them to church with you.
Invest in an international student’s life by becoming their friend.
- Special Events – Host international students for a tea or cookout, hayride, game night, bowling, lake trips, canoeing and of course holidays, especially Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter which are prime opportunities to explain the Gospel to them.
Provide international group events.
- Adopt a people group community in your area – Our churches are being challenged by the International Mission Board to help reach unengaged people groups in the world. Some of those may have students on a campus near you. What a tremendous opportunity you may have to love them to Christ and change a culture.
Help Finish the Great Commission by reaching an international student.
As God continues to bring international students to the U.S. may we, as the Body of Christ, be faithful to build strong relationship tracks so His love may meet their deepest longing of a relationship with Him.
Teresa Bit Stephens is the Metro BCM Campus Minister in Little Rock, Arkansas.