God has brought the world to us and you can reach the nations whether you live in a small town or large city. Jesus said “Look to the fields they are white for harvest.” There are about one million international students around our country that Jesus would have us to look for and find in order to host, befriend, and reach with the gospel. Many of us live within 30 miles of a college campus and we can literally touch the world during the holidays. God has brought the nations to our doorstep and we must be obedient to welcome them into our homes and hearts. International Student Ministry (ISM) has been my life’s work. Part of the joy of my life has been to help others join the club by sharing their lives on mission through hosting and hospitality –doing global missions from their own home. Indeed, holidays are a great time to care for international students.
Last night I hosted our 21st annual International Thanksgiving Banquet in Cambridge where we brought believers to host tables of students from about 32 different countries. Each table host was meant to act as if we were in their own home, and in fact my strategy is for them to invite some from their table to their home for Thanksgiving Day. However, there are other holidays throughout the year where this can happen. Hospitality can be missional around Valentines Day, for a Memorial Day picnic, a cookout on July 4th, a beach trip in the summer or apple picking in the fall. Have you ever thought about inviting a group of internationals to your church and home for Easter Sunday celebration or family meal? Of course, Thanksgiving is a key time to open your home, but what about the Christmas season and New Year’s Eve? Whatever the family event is you can invite an international student: little league, soccer game, ballet or music recital, church picnic, hike in the fall, or even just a regular shopping trip to the mall.
Sometimes we think we need to do something fancy, or the house needs to be in perfect shape, but all that is needed is a heart that loves God and loves the nations. ‘They will know we are Christians by our love’ is a line from an old song, but it is true. Last night a Christian young man from India came up to me and said, “Michael, you have a very big heart!” as he gave me a huge hug. He was deeply touched by our sharing a Thanksgiving meal with him and his friends, and he had recognized God had placed a deep love in my heart for the nations. I quickly pointed him to God so that I would not steal the glory that belonged to Him alone. Indeed, God has a heart for the nations and if we say we love Jesus, then we need to demonstrate that love to those around us. Rather than keep the love of Jesus for ourselves we need to allow God’s love to flow through us to touch others. Who needs more love expressed than the international student who has moved halfway around the globe? These students are usually here without family, are often challenged to make friends outside their cultural group and at a time when all ‘Americans’ are heading home for the holidays it would be a tragedy to leave them literally alone in a dorm. (If the dorms remain open; by now most campuses have realized at least some temporary housing plan for international students who cannot go home across the globe).
Imagine if we challenged our college students to bring home an international student during the holidays or perhaps for just one week. My brother did this when we were in college when a young Uzbek student came home with us for the break. This could sound like a huge ‘ask’ but imagine what it would mean to a young man or woman who may come from a Muslim nation or another place far away. They could really become like another member of our family. Indeed, this week one scholar from Algeria told me, “Thanks for the opportunity to meet beautiful people and find a new family.” Even a student from nearby Mexico told me after our Thanksgiving meal, “We felt like home during these couple of hours.” Another couple from Colombia said, “thank you for creating a family … that makes us feel like home!” He and his wife have become close even though they will only be here for 10 months. They too have felt the love of God expressed in word and deed. What better bridge is there for the gospel to travel over than hosting or demonstrating hospitality during the holidays? (Or really any time of year).
Sometimes just hanging out with your family for a day between Christmas and New Year’s is just what an international student needs. Imagine the benefit for your children to get to learn firsthand about another culture. If extended family members are present – even better, since many international students would welcome this. There really is something special about hosting for the Christmas holidays. Each year we have an open house and invite a few believers and a group of international students to have some finger foods and sweets and we sit around the piano and sing Christmas Carols – the good ones, which actually communicate the good news of Jesus Christ. And we explain the songs so others can start to know Jesus as Immanuel, God with us. You can also simply invite students to your Christmas ‘Eve service at church and have cookies to follow. It really does not matter much how or when you show love to international students – just do it. If you need someone to coach you or cheer for you to get in the game, then reach out to me. Happy holidays everyone!
Michael Dean has been working with international students for 35 years since he was in college. In 1998 he started Boston International Ministries to reach the world in Boston/Cambridge where he still serves as a campus pastor & chaplain at MIT. He helped to start our Baptist ISM Network which brings together others reaching international students across North America. Reach him at email@example.com or become part of his support team at bsf.mit.edu/give.