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Taking the First Step: Meeting International Students this Fall

Kaitlin Warrington
A small group of people stand behind table offering free chai to students on a college campus

If you spend time on a college campus of any size for more than a day, you will see that the world has come to U.S. schools through international students. These are not just any international students – they are the best and brightest from their countries and they will someday return to take influential positions of leadership in companies, industries, and governments back home and around the world. They will be the world leaders of the next generation!

As of January 2023, the U.S. government says that there are 1.08 million international students attending higher education in the U.S, almost back to pre-pandemic numbers. The top nations represented are China, India, South Korea, Canada, Brazil, Vietnam, Taiwan, Nigeria, Japan and Saudi Arabia, many places where it is difficult for missionaries to enter and engage in gospel sharing. 

Yet, God has brought these students to your campus where you can show Biblical hospitality by offering friendship, living out the gospel in front of them, serving them at a time when they feel vulnerable in a new country, and building trusting relationships where you can plant gospel seeds. 

As a BCM staff member or volunteer, your days are packed with preparing for new freshmen, planning free lunches, training student leaders, leading Bible studies, raising support and more. There is no shortage of work, but what could God do on your campus if you gave some specific time, prayer and effort towards connecting with the international students on your campus this fall? How might the world be reached with the gospel because you started planting global gospel seeds right on your campus? 

Here are just a few ideas that could help you start taking some steps in that direction this Fall.   

Practical Steps

Prayer walk your campus at a peak time of day.

Where do you notice international students hanging out? What do you observe? Ask the Lord to open your eyes to the international students’ rhythms and experiences on your campus. Ask the Lord to spark an idea for beginning international student ministry through your church or BCM.  

Get a list of the home nations of international students on your campus (usually available from a campus census report or the international office) and then begin praying for the students and for their nations.

Look up news stories to know what’s going on back home for these students and pray for these situations. Learn about the typical spiritual backgrounds for students from these countries and cultures. Ask God if there is a certain group of students from this list that He would like you to focus on this year.

Set up a meeting with the leadership of the international student office on your campus.

Ask them if there are a few things they wish they could do for the international community on campus but haven’t had the time or resources to do. One of the beautiful things about Baptist work is our incredible network of churches. You might just have the resources or connections to make one of these desires happen for the international office and community on your campus. Fostering a relationship with and looking for ways to serve the international office is a key part of international student ministry. 

Take stock of what international student ministry is already happening, if at all, on your campus.

Are there other campus ministries or churches serving international students in some way? Talk to these groups. Ask what they are learning about the needs of the international community on campus, how they are seeing God work, what they are doing to serve students, and how you can work together to do more. Think partnership and cooperation! Relationships, not events, are key in international student ministry. With that, there usually are more international students to relate to, and more work to do on a campus than one ministry can do alone.

Look into felt needs and see how you can practically serve international students.

Would it be helpful to international students on your campus and help with building relationships if you offered airport pick ups to new students, weekly rides to the grocery store, English conversation classes, a weekly chai and chat booth, free furniture or housewares, friendship partners with local Americans, holiday host families, free lunches, cultural outings, Discovery Bible Studies, culture and resumé help during career fair season, cooking lessons, etc.? Consider not duplicating efforts by other ministries on campus but adding to the broader mix of ministry to international students. 

Simply teach your student leaders and volunteers to invite a couple of international students to a meal or coffee – either at a restaurant or in their home or apartment.

Many international students never get invited into the homes or lives of Americans and simple hospitality goes a long way. Food is a fantastic way to build a relationship with international students. Consider taking turns preparing and sharing favorite meals or even enjoying cultural experiences together like the county fair or a high school football game. 

Train your volunteers and student leaders in cross-cultural gospel sharing.

Knowing how to share the gospel is foundational for every Christ follower, but knowing how to address unique situations and questions that come from Hindu, Muslim, Agnostic, etc. worldviews can be very helpful in international student ministry. Teach how to build relationships through being intentional listeners, asking really good spiritual questions, and having patience. Earn the right to be heard and to share the gospel by first listening to the student’s spiritual story. Know that it is rare for an international student to respond to the gospel after one conversation; it usually is a spiritual journey over months and years. Also, many international students are warned by their friends and family back home to be wary of people trying to convert them. Thus, a believer is already in a position of needing to earn trust before the students even arrive.

Some helpful tools for equipping in international student ministry are…

Don’t get overwhelmed by all these ideas! You won’t have the capacity to start every effort at once. Start by asking God where He wants you to begin with international student ministry. Then get started. God can do much with a dependent, expectant heart focused on Jesus and willing to take a first step to serve international students on your campus! 

Also, don’t miss this! Each month, the International student ministry team for BCNet hosts a Zoom call to share ideas, hear about ways God is moving, and to pray for each other. The next call is Tuesday, September 12 from 3-4pm. Sign up at this link to join: http://ismbaptist.net/connect

Kaitlin Warrington is the Cross-Cultural Consultant for the UT Dallas BSM. Her e-mail is: kaitlin.warrington@texasbaptists.org

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