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Ministry to International Students

"Every year over half a million students come from around the globe to study in the United States--right in our own backyard. As we develop friendships with these future leaders and executives, we have an opportunity to reach our world for Christ.

"When these students complete their education and return to their homelands, they assume leadership in international corporations and national institutions. Or, they become political leaders, influencing thousands.

"Unfortunately, during their time in the U.S., over 70 percent of these students never enter an American home or visit a place of worship."

    - Billy Graham

A record number of international students are living in America!

Open Doors® 2014, a study by The Institute of International Education reported that:

"The U.S. enrolled a record-breaking number of international students during the 2013-2014 school year, welcoming 886,052 undergraduate and graduate students to colleges and universities throughout the country. Students from overseas now make up about 4 percent of all university students in the U.S., which hosts more of the world's 4.5 million international students than any other country"

Unfortunately, many of these international guests report that they are lonely. In 2015, The Chronicle of Higher Education conducted a study of 450 students on 10 American campuses. They report:

"As the number of foreign students on American college campuses grows, a new survey has found that more than one in three foreign students say they have no close U.S. friends, and many say they wish they had more, and more-meaningful, relationships with Americans.

"...'Where else can people meet and have the time and the freedom to make friends across cultures than at college?' said Elisabeth Gareis, an associate professor of communication studies... and the study's author. 'But we're not fulfilling that promise.'"

Two 'sister' colleges (one from Michigan and one from Saudi Arabia) published an article called What is Friendship? which makes some interesting observations. Here are a few excerpts:

"Friendship in the American setting is extremely different from that of the rest of the world. We typically see a friend as an Ally' in our endeavors of life. ...We will collaborate with others that share similar interests, ideologies, economic, social and lives. ... We wish to be surrounded by those who are as driven as we are. By having a friendship that both parties can deeply invest in and benefit off of each other.

"...Students who study abroad... have picked up their entire lives and moved to a completely different country to experience something new. One of the most difficult parts about studying abroad is being able to communicate within your new culture. This is where most people who participate have trouble. Being able to learn how to communicate with a different culture will aid in the person's ability to gain friendships..."

The volunteers of Ethnic Harvest pray that Christian students will reach out in friendship to foreign students at their schools. Get to know them. If they ask about your faith, this site can help you find resources to share with them about the One who is your hope. Be a friend, with no other agenda, and God's love will shine through.

In many cases, your foreign-born neighbors may already be Christians. If they are, ask about their faith journey! There is much we can learn from our new neighbors, many of whom have remarkable testimonies about how God sustained them through poverty or persecution. God is so big, and He has revealed Himself in many ways to other cultures - it is a joy to learn more about Him through their lives.

"Living far away from my family and my country has been a big challenge for me. I'm getting through this because I found good friends, friends as I have here at this church and who make me feel very welcome."
    - International Student working with ISM Inc.

Organizations that Work with International Students

International Students Inc. coordinates over 14,000 ISI volunteers in more than 130 U.S. cities to provide assistance and have friendships with international students.

Association of Christians Ministering to Internationals, the ACMI, has a mission "Our mission is to enhance ministry to international students and scholars by serving individuals, churches and agencies that are active in international student ministry."

The Asian American Christian Fellowship (AACF) works to reach Asian Pacific Americans on college campuses throughout the Western U.S.

United States Servas, Inc. is an international, inter-faith network which provides host families for international travelers.

International Student Ministries, Inc. is associated with The Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod.

"The first 72 hours in the United States are the most important for international students because they have great needs...Whoever helps international students during that period is their friend for life."
    - Dr. Jack Burke, Director Emeritus
International Student and Scholar Service Office
University of Houston.

Learn More:

The World at Your Door:
Reaching International Students in Your Home, Church and School

by Dr. Tom Phillips and Bob Norsworthy with W. Terry Whalin.
Bethany House Publishers
Does your church board question whether local outreach really "counts" as mission? Do you want to ignite church leaders to be more intentional about outreach to internationals in your community? The World at Your Door makes ministry to international students understandable and attainable for all Christians.

The World at Your Doorstep: A Handbook for International Student Ministry
by Lawson Lau
Intervarsity Press

Faces in the Crowd: Reaching Your International Neighbor for Christ
by Donna Thomas
New Hope Publishers

A Beginner's Guide to Crossing Cultures: Making Friends in a Multicultural World
by Patty Lane
IVP Books

* Read our article on Friendship Evangelism for practical suggestions for building cross-cultural friendships.

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