Reaching Out to International Students in America

international helloTen years ago a big city church in America decided they needed to start a daughter church that intentionally reached out to international students and immigrants in their city. I love going to this church when we are on furlough. If you want to reach out to international people in your area you can learn from some of the things this church does to make international people be able to connect better with their church. My daughter and her family are an active part of this church. Lisa wrote the rest of this article.

Like much of America, the mid-western city where I live is becoming more linguistically and ethnically diverse. Some neighborhoods have more foreign-language speakers than native English speakers. Ten years ago, a seminary student began planning for a congregation that would reflect the diversity of our city. He brainstormed with the charter members of the church about ways to connect with international people and make them feel welcome. They narrowed their focus to international students at local universities and began meeting in a hotel conference room. My first visit came a few years later. Soon, I joined.

Our congregation of less than seventy people has seen dozens of international students come through our doors. For some it is their first visit to church because religion is frowned on it their home country. Others openly claim another faith, but have come as a courtesy to a Christian family who hosted them. Some are Christians who are looking for a church family during their time in the United States. Highlights have been seeing students come to faith and watching believing students blossom within our church family.

Make Internationals Feel at Home in Your Church

  • Hosting. Many students need temporary housing when they arrive in America. If your church is unable to arrange hosting directly, perhaps you could volunteer as a host family with another organization on campus.
  • Transportation. Many internationals rely on public transportation while in America, much as they did back home. Be eager to offer rides to church services and activities.
  • ESL. Have one or more church members available to lead a small English conversation class or group.
  • Food. Include a few non-American dishes at your next potluck. Have at least one dish acceptable for religious vegetarians or vegans.
  • Music. Incorporate music from other countries into your service in some way. (This could be a great project for teens learning a foreign language.)
  • Sports. Plan a game night for sports with international appeal like soccer or ping pong. Invite a student over to watch a televised sport at your home.
  • Holidays. Holidays are a great opportunity to show friendship to international acquaintances.  Bring over cookies or include them at a meal. Consider inviting an international friend to join your family for seasonal activities. Examples include picnics, apple orchard trips, holiday baking days and ski trips.

Make Your Church Services More Friendly to International  Visitors

  • Have Bibles available for visitors to use during the service or even bring home. (In our church, we announce the page number from the pew Bible when reading an extended Scripture passage.)
  • Give simple explanations for things that might confuse visitors, including baptism and communion.
  • Designate someone to teach a “discovery” Sunday School class that answers basic Bible questions and teaches Bible history from an evangelistic perspective. Helpful resources include: Christianity Explored (Tice and Cooper), Stranger on the Road to Emmaus (Cross), The God Who is There (Carson). Expect a wide spectrum of questions—you may explain that the Bible has Old and New Testaments at the beginning of class and then be asked to explain the trinity or the presence of evil by the end.

Maybe God will bring an international person across your path soon—in your neighborhood, at the store, at work or at school.  For many internationals, living in America has its challenges, bringing with it a desire for meaningful friendships and spiritual truth. I hope you’ll be ready.

[image from Deposit Photos/gvictoria.]

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