Many students from across the world, have come to study abroad on our university’s campus and some have come from countries that are closed to the Gospel. Because these students are numerous and represent such a wide array of cultures, many Americans overlook the opportunity we have right here in the United States to be missionaries, to train and be equipped to share the Gospel cross-culturally. These nations that American students pray for, have been brought to the United States. We, on our university campuses, have access to them, are able to form relationships, and are able to disciple those who can reach their home countries in ways that we as Americans can’t!
“From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him, though he is not far from each one of us.” Acts 17:26-27
Here are some things we’ve seen the Lord do in our ministry to help build a solid foundation for reaching the nations on our campus. They’re simple and take time, but the Lord is faithful to provide when we’re seeking His heart.
Pray for laborers “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” Luke 10:2
Many college students don’t even realize this is a way to serve on campus. For those wanting to do overseas missions, this a great training ground. Also, pray for the discipling of international students who are already believers. They need encouragement while they are away from home and are a great resource for you to reach other international students and people in their home culture.
Pray for international students to be people of peace and the Lord of the harvest to come quickly.
Many international students come from unreached people groups—this is our chance, for the nations have come to us. The Lord is faithful to work in those students’ lives whom He has brought here, and He works through His powerful Spirit and Word.
Having vision and a heart to reach the nations is key for leaders. Student leaders will change from year to year, but the vision will remain. Find all Scriptures of what God is doing in the nations. With these Scriptures in mind, set overall, yearly, semesterly, monthly, weekly, and daily goals. Start brainstorming how to reach these goals and share your vision with your volunteers and team. Then disciple them.
Pray for American families
75% of international students never get invited into an American home and 85% don’t get invited to church. Pray for families in your town to be willing to open up their homes and show international students true Christian community.
Equip volunteers to share the Gospel cross-culturally
Even as we’ve seen the Lord be so faithful to bring us more international friends than we could ever imagine, one of the biggest areas that we feel is key in sustaining the ministry is making sure the volunteers feel equipped and taught well to share the Gospel. They need it modeled for them just as we needed it to be modeled for us as leaders. There are many resources available for this task.
-Ask missionaries on furlough or retired to come and speak to your volunteers.
-Research the people groups you most come into contact with and be prepared to act as a resource to volunteers faced with theological questions from their unbelieving friends.
-Research ways to study the Bible with international students, in groups and one on one. Once you have prayed for and made a connection with a person of peace, you’d be surprised how the Lord opens doors to study the Word with them.
-Be prepared to help students find overseas and domestic missions opportunities. Once they return, also be prepared to help them debrief and transition back into life at home. Taking what is learned and practically applying it is key in missions.
Make connections with the university’s international program
Many international students simply want to practice their English and universities usually have too few people willing to connect with students for this. Reach out to the university to create a partnership where volunteers are trusted by university staff to meet and connect with students. Establish a stable presence at the university’s international events and look into conversation partner programs sponsored by the university. Additionally, keep in mind that cultural happenings in the community and special American holidays are great times to invite international students to celebrate and fellowship with you.
Be flexible with sustainable rhythms
Our ministry is still young, but by God’s grace it has taken off. We’re still working out the kinks of how best to meet the needs of the students we’re reaching and the volunteers who partner with us. We started with conversation partners through the university, then did a year of monthly events and building friendships. The next year we had weekly Bible studies split by gender, and now have had monthly equipping seminars for volunteers along with monthly dinners in families’ homes and events to just hang out with our international friends. We are now transitioning into a time where these yearly or semesterly rhythms can be combined to create a longer lasting rhythm that incorporates study of the Word, volunteer equipping, praying, accountability, and family involvement.
Be a learner in relationships
Some of the best opportunities to get to know students, build a relationship, and share the Gospel come through simply asking questions. Yes, knowing something about their culture is good and tactful for cultural sensitivity, but just ask them questions. Most people say they don’t know what to talk to international students about. That’s ok. Not knowing and being willing to learn shows that you have an interest in who they are, in what is important to them, in sharing your life with them.
So why are we doing this? Why take years to find the rhythms of our International Ministry that work on our campuses? We’ve seen so many instances of the Lord’s faithfulness. Friends from closed countries have accepted Christ and are now being discipled. Friends have chosen to honor family while still following Christ and share their life transformation with those who oppose their decision. Pockets of international community churches have started and missionaries have been deployed, both American and international missionaries – some are simply going back to their home countries.
The nations have come to us, and we have the blessing to see a glimpse of Revelation 7:9-10 by seeing different nations and tongues worshiping together to praise Jesus’ name. Let’s make disciples who make disciples and tell as we go. With this, and lots of prayer, a sustainable international ministry will begin to unfold, wherever you are.
This post is from a few students who lead the International Ministry with The Well college ministry in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. The Well ministry primarily invests in the community in and around the University of Alabama. The International Ministry here went from 15 conversation partners to over 100 students, leaders and international students, meeting every week. This was made possible by tons of grace and the equipping and discipling of leaders with hearts for International Ministry.