Twenty two years ago my wife returned to the Phoenix area after completing her degree at Concordia University, Irvine. Rather than seeking out a job she decided to launch a ministry. Based out of the LCMS campus ministry to Arizona State University located right across the street from campus, she launched an outreach to international students studying at ASU.
She attended English language classes offered by another organization working with international students, and there made friends with a Chinese couple. This turned into a friendship and they were the first internationals to participate in what became known as International Friendship House (IFH). This couple invited another couple they knew. Then others began to hear about weekly soup dinners and conversation times. Students from China, Japan, South Korea, Poland, Germany and many other countries were drawn in. It was an amazing experience to meet these people, to watch the Holy Spirit bring some of them to faith, and to be witnesses and friends at their baptisms.
Today, Gena got to meet with the current director of that ministry. The name has changed, and the building that used to be the LCMS campus ministry has since been sold off and purchased by another Christian group, but the idea remains the same. Provide international students with friendship, with people who will talk with them and care about them, who can answer questions about how the bus system works or provide support to wives whose husbands are busy studying while they’re at home in their apartment afraid to leave because they can’t speak the language.
It’s amazing to think that our efforts over 20 years resulted in a ministry that still thrives today, and continues to reach hundreds of international students every year. Students who learn not only about American culture but the Christian faith, the Bible, Jesus – and some of whom receive Jesus as their Lord and Savior before returning home to take up positions of influence because of their American educational experience, and to start families and teach their children about Jesus.
Are there schools in your community that have international students? What a great way to share the gospel with people who are actually curious about it and also very receptive to friendship! We’d be happy to talk with you about how your congregation (or just your family!) might start an international outreach right in your own home town. Or you can ask others doing similar things, such as International Student Ministry, Inc.