Jon Varner writes about international student ministry being a simple way that every church and ministry can begin engaging the nations for Christ.
Have you ever heard the phrase, “…can’t see the forest for the trees?” I believe the opposite is the problem concerning major missions strategies at this time. We have become so overwhelmed by the lostness of the world, that we are missing the immediate opportunities God is giving us to make a difference.
There is simple, cost-effective world missions strategy most churches or ministries could begin to implement immediately. I believe international students in North America are the most strategic agents to fulfill the Great Commission. The barriers keeping us from reaching the nations are many; distance, danger, language, culture, and cost are a few that come to mind. But notice that God has miraculously broken down all of these barriers by bringing international students close to us.
Here are 10 reasons to consider international student ministry (ISM) as a major missions strategy for your church.
1. Finding a frontier mission field close by may very well awaken and breathe new missional life into your church. Not only is it easier to share the Gospel with someone who has never heard it before, but it is also much more exciting. Most of the international students I have encountered actually want to know what Christians believe and are open to hearing what the Bible says for themselves.
2. International Students are more likely to return home than immigrants, creating a greater likelihood that the Gospel travels with them. Imagine the possibility that your student, after coming to Faith in Jesus, opens the door for ministry among his/her completely unengaged, unreached people group (UUPG). Even if the student never returns home, their influence could still be felt there.
3. International Student ministry can be done quite well even by smaller churches and ministries. It does not take a big budget, or even lots of people to care for one or even several international students. I have seen something as simple as hand-me-down furniture create a real bond between a church and students. However, just one piece of advice: Don’t try to reach them all. Focus on loving a few really well.
4. International Students are more likely to have greater and longer lasting influence back home since many return asleaders. Generally speaking, college students have a lot of life ahead of them. Internationals will have the distinct advantage of cross-cultural experience when it comes to being influential.
5. Empty nesters and retirees are a great relational fit for International Students and many of these are relocating to smaller cities in the South. International students miss their parents and other people they love. You could very likely become a person of great influence simply by helping one adjust to and begin to feel at home in their new community.
6. In my experience, the fastest growing populations of international students have come from Middle Eastern and Central Asian (Muslim) nations – some of the most difficult places on earth to send missionaries. For me, it is most exciting to share Jesus where He is not known. It is invigorating to bridge the gap of misunderstanding with the truth that brings hope.
7. Many universities are in smaller cities. For example: Clemson University has just over 2,000 International Students from almost 100 nations. My denomination alone has just over 250 churches close enough for members to form caring relationships with students. Collegiate leaders can help churches bridge this gap to the campus!
8. The largest populations of international students in the USA are from the two nations with the largest numbers of unreached people groups (UPGs) – China and India. Could this be a coincidence? No. God does nothing by accident!
9. Since strong relationships are vital to real life change, and since there are large numbers of international students, it only makes sense to target those areas where we have many healthy and vibrant churches. For the most part, students do not come to enduring faith easily or quickly. A relationship that endures some personal difficulties is usually required. There is not usually time for this to develop on a mission trip. Relationships are much more likely to grow close when we are close and can spend extended time together. The campus provides a golden opportunity for this!
10. The cost of implementing ISM is far less than any other international missions strategy. It is likely that we could finance a year’s worth of hospitality ministry for what it would cost us to go on one week-long mission trip. You see, God has already broken down the barriers to international missions. The student has bought the plane ticket, crossed the ocean, learned a foreign language, and decided to immerse him/herself into a new culture. In a traditional international missions context these would all be required of us, but God has opened a new window of opportunity. The question is, will we be faithful to His Commission and take up this opportunity with urgency?
This article orginally was posted on the Collegiate Collective entitled as “The Nations, Closer than you Think.”