LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – When American students living on campus go home for the holidays, the dorms and apartments on campus become a ghost town. Typically, the only students who remain on campus are internationals.
Tony and Amy Boyd, former University of Arkansas at Fort Smith (UAFS) Baptist Collegiate Ministry (BCM) students who lead iReach – the international student ministry of Grand Avenue Baptist Church in Fort Smith, said one of the easiest ways to display the love of Christ to international students during the holiday season is to invite them to be a part of your family.
“We always remind our host families that they do not have to plan any extra activities – just do life with the international students,” Tony said.
Another way the Boyds minister to international students is by inviting them to hang out at their house before or after the holiday.
“We cook a simple dinner and then play games or watch a movie. We just want to show the international students that we care about them and don’t want them to be holed up in their room on campus all alone,” Tony said.
“Hosting international students for the holidays not only ministers to them but also to our family. The international students become like aunts/uncles to our kids and love on them like family. They are also able to share part of their culture with us while in our home.”
To help international students feel more at home, Baptist Collegiate Ministries welcome international students to various holiday celebrations, such as Friendsgiving. For some internationals, like Segha Obeta of Nigeria, Thanksgiving or Christmas could be a whole new experience. He called the Little Rock BCM’s holiday dinner, which was held Wednesday, Nov. 15, “thoughtful and nice.” The food was provided by Parkway Place Baptist Church in Little Rock.
“There are some people who don’t have family here or anything. I think it’s really thoughtful to incorporate and have internationals and others,” he said.
Obeta, who is completing his Master of Science in information science at University of Arkansas at Little Rock, said the BCM provides community. He called it common ground.
“I moved to the states December of last year. The BCM usually has things in conjunction with the IFO (International Friendship Outreach). The IFO helps internationals settle here. There are always opportunities to meet new people and people of other nationalities. People from my nationality,” Obeta said.
Caira Matthews, a junior chemistry major at University of Arkansas at Little Rock, has been involved with the BCM since freshman year. She said Friendsgiving is normally their last event for the semester.
“It’s for us to eat together and celebrate Friendsgiving and talk about and celebrate how we are thankful for what God has done for us and for everything that we have and each other and the community the BCM has provided,” she said. “I think everybody would say the same thing here, that they’re thankful for the community that they’ve gotten through the BCM. I know it’s done a lot for me through college and gotten me through a lot.”
In a comment provided by the Boyds, Mone, a Japan native and former student at UAFS, said BCMs allow “access to first-hand experience of Christianity.”
“They also provided me a safe place to connect with the local communities even though I’m not a Christian. Because of that, I felt comfortable going to my host family’s church during the holiday season and I could learn how Christmas season is important to relate to God for people believe in Christianity,” Mone said.
In 1 Thessalonians 2:8, Paul said “We cared so much for you that we were pleased to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own lives, because you had become dear to us.”
“Showing the international students we care through sincere friendship opens the door to gospel conversations,” Tony said.