I was in college before I remember ever seeing my “first international student.” I grew up in a small town in southwest Arkansas. I hardly remember seeing people of color or culture driving through our town. I do remember one Hispanic family that lived in our town. Things sure have changed in the past 30+ years. The greatest change for me personally was becoming a follower of the Lord Jesus during my freshmen year in college. Shortly afterwards I began to “see internationals.” God began the process of exchanging my small-town worldview with His Kingdom view. Through the years in working with internationals, I have discovered some principles, truths or reasons that keep this as a priority in my life and now as a major part of the ministry where God has called me.
Here are five critical reasons God gives us to minister to internationals students:
- To Obey
God commands us as faithful followers of Christ to live with His eternal perspective. Jesus gave us the Great Commission challenge in Matthew 28:19-20: “Go into all the world making disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe everything I have commanded, and lo, I am with you always.” In Acts 1:8 he tells us we are to be His witnesses in our “Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and to the ends of the earth.”
- We are to have the world on our heart for the sake of the Gospel.
- To be Neighborly
Today reaching the ends of the earth can be reached by building relationships with our neighbors. Students are coming from all over the world to study in our universities. In the central Arkansas area alone, there are hundreds of students from about 80 different countries. International students are from countries that are difficult for us to get missionaries into, yet they are living among us. They come from Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq, Turkey, China, Northern Africa and other countries where access is limited. They are the future leaders of their countries. Many of them need to practice conversational English so they can survive in our culture with greater ease. They long to have American friends. God uses these friendships to build bridges that will bear the weight of truth. When God opens their hearts to the Gospel, they will listen to what their friend has to say.
- God has brought the ends of the earth to live in our city and neighborhoods.
- To Love
Friends of mine were recently asked to go to a specific people group that was different than what they planned. One day when struggling through prayer God seemed to press in on Ryan’s heart, “Ryan, I want you to go to this other people, you may not love them, but I love them. I want you to love them because I love them.” Ryan cried out and told God he wanted to love them too. Today they are serving and loving this people group as they live among them. God has brought others to live among us. We get to host them in our country. We have the opportunity to allow God to reach out His love to them through us.
- We get to love them, because God loves them.
- To Engage
When we begin to engage friends from other cultures, we grow. Our view of the world becomes much bigger. Our heart for the world enlarges. God begins to break our heart for the things that break His heart. If you have children, this is a phenomenal cultural experience for them. As you bring international students into your home your children will learn to engage the world with God’s heart for them. You will help train up your children to be a major part of the brightest generation with the greatest potential for finishing the great commission in their lifetime. Some of my greatest heroes in the faith are entire families who live to engage various cultures with the Gospel.
- Engage you and your family in reaching Internationals.
- To Worship
“After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb” (Rev. 7:9); “We are to make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19); Jesus also said, “It is written, My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations.” (Mark 11:15, 17). Some of the most precious worship services I have been in have been sweet times of prayer and worship where other nations were represented. It honors God in this life for us to be unified with our brothers and sisters from all nations. Worship in heaven is going to be spectacular, but even moments of it here have the aroma of heaven.
- Worship with other cultures is a taste of heaven.
Today as I drive through the metro area of Little Rock, I see the nations God has brought to Arkansas. I smile. I know God has brought us a beautiful opportunity to obey him in the Great Commission, by being neighborly, loving them, by engaging them and ultimately having the opportunity to worship with them.
Teresa Bit Stephens is a Metro BCM Campus Minister in Little Rock, Arkansas.