International Students come to the U.S. to learn. Curious about America and wanting to experience our culture, they come from the upper class in their societies and are intellectually gifted and highly connected socially. Learn how you can be a part of welcoming them to our country and into our homes as hospitable hosts and their friends and family.
Greg Swinney serves as the executive director of Crossroads International Student Ministries. For over thirty years he has worked with and among international students from all over the world. Greg trains and equips churches and campus ministries to reach out to the one million international students and visiting scholars currently studying in the U.S.
Crossroads International Student Ministries exists to awaken the church to the opportunity for reaching the world through the international students studying at colleges and universities in the U.S. Launched in 2010 by a team of national leaders, the ministry serves to recruit, train, and provide resources for churches, campus ministries, and families, so they may be networked, equipped, and inspired to serve faithfully among international students for the glory of the Kingdom of God.
The university campus is the modern day crossroads of the world. It brings people of all nationalities and cultures together into the marketplace of modern thought. The majority of international students are highly intelligent, and they are here studying in their second language.
University researchers estimate that 50% of the world’s future Presidents are studying on American college campuses today. While others will find work in their home nations as Prime Ministers, educators, and engineers, or as experts in computer science, medicine, construction, and law.
The economic impact of these foreign guests is significant. The U.S. Department of Commerce estimates indicate the contribution of international students to the American economy in 2015 exceeded $3.5 billion dollars.
International students on U.S. campuses.
Visiting scholars teaching on U.S. campuses.
Intensive English Program Students.
The Top Ten Sending Nations:
WHY IS HOSPITALITY TO INTERNATIONAL STUDENTS SO IMPORTANT?
The university campus is the modern day crossroads of the world; it brings people of all nationalities and cultures together into the marketplace of modern thought. Today over one million international students and visiting scholars walk our campuses in search for purpose and meaning. They come from more than 230 countries (many of which restrict access or are openly hostile towards the Gospel). Their enrollment numbers grow by eight or nine percent every year with no anticipation of decline in the years ahead. Many of these future world leaders are eager to develop friendships with American families during their stay in the U.S.
WHAT ARE THE MAIN DIFFERENCES BETWEEN INTERNATIONAL STUDENT AND AMERICAN UNIVERSITY STUDENT MINISTRIES?
There are some obvious similarities and differences. Students today are less impressed with our grasp of technology, new gadgets, and smartphones. In today’s academic community the greatest need is to communicate that someone cares. A cup of coffee, a game of racquetball, a matinee movie, or a Subway sandwich will be what they remember about you. All college students are hungry for relationships even though they have lots of friends on Facebook. Surveys indicate students may have over 500 Facebook friends, but no one they can call a close personal friend.They often feel alone; the future scares them, and money (or the lack thereof) is on their mind. All of them have a hunger for hope and life because God has set eternity in their hearts, and they are discovering they will find no rest until they find it in Him.
Some colleges and universities have English language institutes or departments where students come to improve their English skills for a semester, and then enter into mainstream campus life. The majority of international students want to have a better grasp of English. This offers a huge opportunity for a friendship to develop just to speak English. Recently, I met a total stranger in the student union of the university, gave him my contact information, and said, “If you need any help, please call me.” He called in less than 24 hours. We met to converse in English, and he listened to my every word. Like all friendships, I hope ours will develop into one where we can share spiritual things and encourage a deeper walk with God.
Internationals know that transportation is expensive. Cars cost more than the sticker price on the car lot. Insurance, repairs, and maintenance all add up. Then what do you do with it once you decide to return home? Many international students find themselves walking or riding bikes. This need has inspired many ministries and churches to provide a bike loan program or offer weekly transportation to area stores to help.
International students desire to experience all of American culture. Traditional students may be bored with the idea of taking a Saturday afternoon trip to the local zoo. However, international students often jump at the chance to visit a new place or celebrate an American holiday. Research confirms that 70% of international students never set foot inside an American home. Christians can turn this trend around if they respond to the words of Jesus, “I was a stranger, and you invited me in.”
WHAT SHOULD I DO BEFORE FIRST MEETING THE INTERNATIONAL STUDENT I HAVE “ADOPTED?”
Pray. Ask God to make your meeting a special, friendly, and relaxing time for all involved. Ask Him to guide you in your thoughts and actions. Perhaps you’ll also want to ask a family member or close friend to pray about this first meeting, as well as your ongoing relationship with your new international friend.
Keep things simple. Half the world’s population eat with their hands, one-fourth uses chopsticks, and one-fourth uses silverware, so a simple meal and a less formal table setting are preferable.
Learn about the student’s homeland. Taking the time to learn a few facts about your new friend’s country communicates that you care about him or her. Helpful facts to know include: location and size; form of government; capital city and other major cities; people groups—ethnic and tribal; major religions; current economic, political, and social situation; and major industries and crops.
Ask how you can help them. Do they need a ride to the store to buy food or necessities? Do they have a coat? Some come from countries with a warm climate and have nothing for the cold winter. It’s tough, or even impossible, to pack a big blanket in your one and only suitcase to come and study in the U.S. Consider ways to meet their basic needs for comfort and friendship.
Learn their schedule. When are their classes and when do they have free time? They will need to study a lot since they are learning in a second language. Meet them during their free time when it’s convenient.
I’M NERVOUS ABOUT TALKING WITH AN INTERNATIONAL STUDENT. WHAT DO WE TALK ABOUT AND HOW DO I GET THE CONVERSATION STARTED?
The following guidelines, though basic, have proven to be helpful to many Americans involved in international student ministry.
Listen attentively. As you converse with your new friend, remember that listening is an art that must be learned. By listening attentively to what the student is saying, you are paying him or her a high compliment and expressing your genuine interest or concern.
Speak carefully to be understood. Remember that your new friend may not fully understand what you are saying. Articulate your words and speak clearly.
Avoid idioms or slang. Your English may be quite different from the classroom English your friend learned in his or her homeland. Idioms and slang can be particularly perplexing. Imagine what mental images are stirred up in your friend’s mind by phrases such as “play it by ear” or “shoot the breeze.” If you do use idioms or slang, explain to your friend what these strange phrases mean. Encourage your friend to ask about expressions you use that he or she does not understand.
Use jokes and humor sparingly. Lacking the cultural context and immersion in the English language that we have as Americans, international students have difficulty understanding jokes or humor. If you do use jokes or humor after your friendship is well established, make sure you explain them to your friend whenever necessary. Avoid teasing.
Explain words or phrases patiently. Invite your friend to ask you about words or phrases he or she does not understand. As you speak, carefully and patiently explain anything you think he or she may have not understood. A puzzled look, an inappropriate response, or a hesitancy to answer can be your cue that the student did not understand. When this happens, repeat yourself using different, perhaps similar, words. Do not raise your voice in order to make your point understood. The student may interpret this as impatience or possibly a condescending attitude.
Respect differences of opinion. Obviously, you and your friend will have differences of opinion from time to time. It’s important that you share what you think—honestly, but with sensitivity—and that you respect the student’s ideas and opinions. However, try to avoid controversial subjects that may create tensions or arguments.
Most international students enter this country with preconceived ideas about American life. These can be traced to movies, magazines, the news media, and propaganda.
WHAT ARE SOME OF THE MOST INEFFECTIVE WAYS TO SHOW LOVE AND HOSPITALITY TO INTERNATIONALS?
We gain wisdom by making good decisions, and we learn about good decisions by making bad decisions. Here are a few “bad decisions” people have made in attempting to reach out to international students.
Some well-intentioned Christians might treat internationals like a “project” or “assignment.” They approach the relationship like a checklist. This never works. How would you like to be treated like someone’s project? They don’t like it either.
Ignore their culture, family background, and personal life. Begin to talk about deep personal issues with no foundation of friendship. This won’t work out well for you.
Slap a poster up on campus that says, “Come and watch the Jesus Video on Sunday night at 7pm. We’ll even show it in Chinese, your language. It will answer all of your questions.”
Invite them to church at the beginning of your relationship. One embittered student from Germany snapped at me and said, “I’ve been in the U.S. for three weeks and been invited to church four times. I don’t have blankets for my bed, and I sleep in the cold. Christians just want me to go to their church to boost their attendance; they don’t care about me personally.” Jesus often met physical needs before he could address spiritual needs. It’s a great example to follow.
WHAT ARE SOME OF THE MOST EFFECTIVE WAYS TO REACH OUT TO INTERNATIONAL STUDENTS?
Specific methods aren’t nearly as important as mindsets. It all begins with prayer. I know a couple who began praying for international students by name. Before long the Lord set up divine appointments where the students actually met this family. Bible studies began in their home. Since that day in 1975, Bob and Mary Taussig have entertained and taught thousands in their home.
There are certain things that work around the nation. Bike loan programs (or giveaways), furniture loan, trips to nearby tourist attractions, or dinner and discussion Bible studies are all great ideas. But the foundation is one question, “How can I meet the needs of international students and earn their respect, so I can share God’s love with them?”
They are watching. All the time. They know I’m a Christian (or at least think I’m a Christian because they’ve been taught all Americans are Christians). They want to see how I act when I lose the softball game, burn my hand on the stove, get cut off by someone in heavy rush-hour traffic, or sit at a Thanksgiving meal and respond to God’s provision.
WHAT HAPPENS WHEN OUR CONVERSATIONS TURN TO DEEPER SPIRITUAL TOPICS?
Avoid Negative Approaches:
Don’t attack your friend’s religion with criticism, negative remarks, or questions. Instead, always show respect for his or her beliefs and traditions.
Don’t force or manipulate the conversation in order to create an opportunity to speak about Jesus.
Don’t preach. Instead, share in a loving, tactful way, and listen to what your friend shares in return.
Don’t present Christianity negatively as a set of “do’s and don’ts.” Remember that Christ came to bring salvation, not condemnation.
Don’t use theological terms your friend may not know or understand, and carefully define in simple English the terms you do use. Otherwise, your words may be misunderstood or misinterpreted. For instance, the term “born again” to a Hindu may indicate reincarnation.
Don’t pressure your friend to make a decision for Christ. You might receive an affirmative response to this type of approach but only because he or she does not want to offend you.
Don’t be dogmatic or argumentative, even though you are secure in Christ and your beliefs.
Don’t allow your relationship to imply, you’ll only be their friend if they become a Christian, or that you have no interest in hearing about their religion. This kind of “strings-attached” friendship can leave a lasting negative impression about Christianity.
Cultivate your friend’s interest in spiritual matters by asking appropriate questions the religion and beliefs of him or her. Seek to understand their religion. You’ll not only learn about what your friend believes, but it will also open the way for your friend to ask about your faith and beliefs.
Always be careful to show respect for the student’s cultural values and religious heritage. Don’t impose Christianity on them.
Ask your friend if he or she is acquainted with the Bible and to what extent. Be willing to listen, without interruption, to your friend’s impressions, even if you disagree with certain comments. At this point, building your friendship is more important than correcting biblical knowledge.
Ask if the student would like to have a Bible to read (perhaps one in his or her native language) or if he or she would like to study the Bible.
Ask your friend what he or she knows about Christianity. Again, welcome honest impressions. Be prepared for either a negative or positive response.
Discuss basic questions such as: What do you think is the meaning of life? Do you know what the Bible says about God, or what God says about Himself in the Bible? In your opinion, can we know God? Why or why not? Has God revealed Himself to us? If so, how? If not, why not? What do you believe is the nature of humankind? What is sin? How can people overcome sin? Is there life after death? Why or why not?
At an appropriate time, share with your friend what Christ means to you personally. Point out the uniqueness of a relationship with God through Christ. (God sent His Son to earth to make it possible for people to have a relationship with Him, rather than demanding that people do whatever they can to reach God.)
Answer your friend’s questions honestly and tactfully. If he or she poses a question for which you do not have a ready answer, admit that you don’t know the answer, but also tell him or her that you will research the question before your next meeting. Carefully discern the difference between sincere questions and “smoke-screen” or “roadblock” questions.
WHERE IS THE BEST PLACE TO BEGIN WHEN DOING A BIBLE STUDY WITH AN INTERNATIONAL STUDENT?
Ask them. Seriously! Where do you start with Americans? You discuss it with them and study their area of interest or felt need. It’s no different with internationals.
If they are interested in studying the Bible but have no preference as to the topic, the Book of John (reading and responding) is a good place to start. Some like to study the claims of Christ. Others may get into the deeper questions from the beginning. Why is there evil in the world? If God is good, why does he let the innocent suffer (earthquakes, floods, disease)? Or where did your Bible come from? (I got it a Wal-Mart in the magazine section is not the answer they are looking for.)
There is a lot of material available, and you can check out the student resources for some great ideas. In some cases, we spend too much time talking about what we want to study rather than opening God’s Word.
HAVE YOU FOUND IT HELPFUL TO TAKE INTERNATIONAL STUDENTS ON TRIPS? IF SO, WHERE ARE SOME GOOD PLACES?
Trips are one method many ministries use to reach out to international students. Doing this well isn’t easy. For the student the trip, to a nearby farm or sporting event, is mostly about the destination. For you, it’s about the journey. Ministries that do this well are strategic thinkers and bring Americans along to stimulate conversations and develop friendships. Taking 20 students from five nations seems like a good idea on paper, but in reality, it is much more fruitful to take 12-15 international students and 5-7 Americans. One group takes a two or three day trip and makes arrangements for the group to stay in American homes. The families are asked to share their story and to explain why their faith is so important to them. International students listen with interest to these stories, and it makes for great discussions in the van the next day when someone asks, “What did you like best about staying with the Wilson family last night? What did you think about their story?”
Places and locations are usually to tourist areas or places with majestic scenery. But it’s not about the destination; it’s about the journey. The conversations and relationships are what these trips are about. At the end of the trip we want them to say, “Wow, that family was amazing; they really have faith in God.” not “It was cool to see the monkeys in the zoo.”
WHAT IS CROSSROADS INTERNATIONAL STUDENT MINISTRIES DOING TO REACH THE NEEDS OF INTERNATIONAL STUDENTS?
This ministry, formed in the fall of 2010, seeks to develop a movement of people who reach out to international students in their area. Our goal is to PARTNER.
P – pray and enlist others to pray for the international students in our country. A – awaken the church and Christian families to the opportunity to minister to international students in their area. R – recruit workers to help with international ministry. T – train people to minister effectively with international students. N – network together those who are working in this mission field. E – encourage those who are serving. R – resources provided for those ministering to international students.
WHAT IS THE BEST THING A CHURCH CAN DO TO SUPPORT INTERNATIONAL STUDENT MINISTRY?
Recruit a dozen families or individuals to serve as “Friendship Families.” Ask them to adopt an international student for a year or more and to invite this student to be a part of their family.
Devote at least one Sunday a year to praying for international students. Remember praying for specific nations or even specific students is important. If some international students attend the service, ask them to read the Scripture in their native language.
Throw a party for the Fourth of July, Thanksgiving, Easter, or Valentine’s Day and invite international students. Tell the story of why the holiday is observed. Reclaim the story of Valentine’s Day or St. Patrick’s Day. (It’s not really about drinking green beer like they hear on the college campus). Tell them the authentic story of Christopher Columbus on Columbus Day. (Christopher Columbus had a belief that God intended him to sail the Atlantic Ocean in order to spread Christianity. He said his prayers several times daily. Columbus wrote what he called a Book of Prophecies, which is a compilation of passages Columbus selected from the Bible which he believed were pertinent to his mission of discovery).
Embrace once and for all the biblical truth that the grace of God and the Kingdom of Heaven is for all nations, tribes, and tongues, not just white middle-class Americans. Jesus commissioned us to make disciples of all nations. If we aren’t reaching the nations we are only obeying Him on our terms and within our own comfort zone.
Have Bibles in five languages ready to hand to an International student if they come and visit (Chinese, Hindi, Japanese, Spanish, and Farsi just to mention a few).
International Students – Make A Difference:
God Brings the World to Your Doorstep: Open Your Heart and Home to Welcome Internationalswas published by the author, Lawson Lau, in 2006 and is available for $17.95 from Leadership Publishers, P.O. Box 567, Mahomet, IL 61853. This book is filled with insights, humor and recommendations on the process of building bridges of understanding, friendship, and love with the internationals.
The World At Your Door. This book is the primary publication of International Students Incorporated and offers the essential things one needs to know to have a ministry among internationals. Authored by Tom Phillips, Robert Norsworthy, and Terry Whalin and published in 1997. Available from ISI, P.O. Box C, Colorado Springs, CO 80901. Find it at International Students Inc.
Crossing Cultures Here and Now. Helpful booklet by Lisa Espineli Chinn. It shares foundational attitudes and practical steps on developing friendships with international students. Information on how to order this 24-page booklet ($5 for a bundle of 5) is found at: Intervarsity Store.
BOOKS FOR MUSLIM MINISTRY BY INTERVARSITY PRESS
Bridges to Islam –This thorough and in depth study of ways to bridge folk Islam will be invaluable to those interested in reaching Muslims for Christ.
The Cross and the Crescent – What Muslims believe and how this affects their behavior; Muslim and Christian views on the nature of God, sacred scriptures, worship, sin, and holiness.
Encountering the World of Islam – This comprehensive resource collects articles from eighty authors who have lived throughout the Muslim world. You will gain a positive, biblical perspective on the history of Islam, the current political landscape, and more.
Fresh Vision for the Muslim World – With practical suggestions, it calls Christians to approach Muslims by the narrow path of self-awareness, empathy, and deep listening.
From the Straight Path to the Narrow Way – A group of nearly fifty missionaries and practitioners from 20+ nations gathered to consider how Muslims are coming to faith in Jesus Christ, and the book is a compilation of papers presented at this conference.
How to Be a World Class Christian – How to expand in understanding Scripture, increase in global prayer, and intensify cross-cultural outreach—beginning right at home.
Multi-Language Media has many tracts and booklets on topics like ―Who is Jesus in 37 languages (including frequently needed ones like Japanese, Chinese etc.).
The Bridges DVD Study/Seminar. Bridges is a curriculum developed by Crescent Project that is meant to introduce Christians to Islam and pave the way for building relationships with the Muslims in your community.
BOOKS/STUDIES FOR INTERNATIONAL STUDENTS
All About Jesus – Out of a careful compilation of passages from the four Gospels, Roger Quy presents an integrated chronology of the life of Jesus.
A Guided Tour of the Bible – This devotional selects 365 core chapters of the Bible, giving you a bird’s eye view of the historical and theological flow of Scripture—all in just a chapter a day.
Free Bible Commentary Get free Bible commentaries, Bible studies, and other resources in 31 languages online at freebiblecommentary.org.
Audio Bible App Android and iPhone/iPad users can download a Free app at Bible.is to listen to audio Bibles in 634 languages, read the text from most versions, and see clips from the Jesus film in many languages on your phone.
BOOKS FOR GRADUATING OR DEPARTING INTERNATIONAL STUDENTS
If you’re looking for gifts for students who may be graduating and leaving for their home country, here are some ideas.
Think Home – Reentry guidebook for Christian international students.
Back Home – Devotional guide for those who lived and studied abroad.
How to survive in the USA. A book published by International Students Incorporated is helpful for International students when they first arrive. Possible to purchase in multiple quantities.
The World Bibles site is very helpful. It lists over 14,500 places on the internet where you can find Bibles in over 4000 languages. Many are free downloads.
Audio Bibles – Free Online Faith Comes by Hearing: 300+ languages available after downloading their free software (some languages must be purchased on CD, memory stick, etc.)
Bible Gateway: NIV, TNIV, NASB, and CEV English translations plus Spanish, Slovak, and Farsi via Real Audio or Flash Audio TreasureMP3 downloads in Cantonese, English, French, Mandarin Chinese, Polish, Punjabi, Spanish, Tagalog, Tamil, and Urdu.
TEACHING AND CONVERSING IN ENGLISH AS A SECOND LANGUAGE
You can try doing a conversational Bible study with beginning or low intermediate students using the NIRV (New International Reader’s Version, written at a fourth grade English level). Simply go thru the process of observation, questions, interpretation, and application. It is helpful to allow a time for vocabulary questions. You can print passages at www.Biblegateway.com. There is a drop down menu that allows you to choose which translation you want to use.
Hands-on English – A 16-20 page bi-monthly periodical with practical ESL teaching ideas, hints & tips, and copyable activities for helping with English.
The HOPE – English as a Second Language software curriculum is available in English for use in Second Language teaching settings. Using audio and video from The HOPE film, students will be able to work through the vast amount of content on this interactive CD-ROM at their own pace.
Jesus Film Online The Jesus film online is in 1,120 languages. The many language choices, use of the book of Luke for the script, and focus on historical accuracy are positive, but students expecting a Hollywood blockbuster may be distracted by the lower-budget 1979 video and effects.
Magdalena DVD The 82-minute Magdalena: Released from Shame movie (2008) tells the story of Jesus from Mary Magdalene’s perspective (using some scenes from the Jesus film) and can be useful to share with international students, especially with an Islamic background or honor/shame culture, and women. Two DVD versions are available on the InterVarsity Store.
Suggestions For DVDs To Show Internationals: Before showing the DVD, it is helpful to give a short introduction about the movie and the purpose of showing it (just in case the material might offend others‘ faith).
“Unlocking the Mystery of Life DVD” (available on Amazon)
“The Gospel of John DVD” (available on Amazon)
“Indescribable DVD” preacher : Louie Giglio (available on YouTube or Amazon)
“The Amazing Evidence of the Trustworthiness of the Bible” (available on Amazon)
“The Hope“ video/DVD, subtitled “The Story of God’s Promise for all People,” is a helpful video series to introduce seekers to the overall theme of the Bible.
International Student Experience – An excellent five part (approx one hour) talk by an Israeli student, Dan Fishel, at Columbia University‘s Business School in January 2008, with slides to illustrate “Culture Shock.” It cites experiences in three areas: personal, social and academic, and is both truthful, helpful, and entertainingly funny in both presentation and content. The first of the five parts is found at: www.youtube.com/watch?v=tPfB6GIjM9Q&feature=related with the rest of series available there as well.
A Muslim Journey To Hope: Testimonies of over 100 Muslim Background Believers are in online video format. They can also be found on YouTube by searching for “Muslims for Jesus.”
Sounds of Global Worship II – new audio CD available on the InterVarsity Store – includes 22 indigenous worship songs from 15 different countries recorded on location across Africa, Asia, Latin America, and Europe. It is produced by Heart Sounds International, a ministry of Operation Mobilization. You can listen to a sample of the CD directly from the InterVarsity Store webpage.
Many mission organizations and churches share prayer concerns from around the world. It is helpful for us to be familiar with prayer concerns about the areas from which some of our international friends come. The following are some examples:
Operation World, When We Pray God Works, by Patrick Johnstone and Jason Mandryk (2001). Published by US Center for World Mission & others since 1974. The most thorough (and constantly updated) reference for all the countries of the world, with prayer guides.
Frontier Ventures: Prayer for unreached people groups: The U.S. Center for World Mission focuses on particular groups and mission news in their Mission Frontiers magazine. Their website features a Global Prayer Digest and is useful in focusing in on a particular people for current prayer needs.
Newseum: Instant newspapers worldwide – Believe it or not, you can view the front page of the current daily newspaper in most of the major cities of the world (about 580 newspapers from over 80 countries). This could be helpful to you or your international friend in keeping up with the daily news in a particular country or city, and to have talking points for conversation on current issues/events.