This year over 5,000 international students have come to study at colleges and universities in Arkansas. Of the international students studying in America, around 80% come from the “10-40 window.” This geographical area is home to the majority of unreached and unengaged people groups. Unreached people groups are communities of people in which less than 2% profess to be evangelical Christians. Unengaged people groups are communities in which less than 2% profess to be evangelical Christians and there is no church or ministry presence.
Some of these unreached and unengaged countries are extremely hard for our missionaries to enter and acclimate to the culture. Therefore, if we are able to see international students come to faith while studying in the United States, then they can be sent back to their own countries as missionaries. Many of these students will return as economic and political leaders. At the very least, students who have a good experience with Christians can make Gospel work abroad easier through their influence. With all of this in mind, engaging international students while they are in America is an extremely strategic mission that Christians can be a part of and support.
On each of our college campuses, our Baptist Collegiate Ministry (BCM) ministries are partnering with local churches to reach, connect, serve, and share the Gospel with international students. In August, our BCM ministries have connected with over 650 international students. International students across Arkansas are open to exploring and learning more about Jesus. To minister effectively to these students, we need more local church members to invest in the lives of these students. Indeed, the harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few.
Here are three ways that you and your church can join the mission and welcome international students to America.
1. Welcome international students into your home.
Only 20% of international students who come to America ever enter an American home. In
many cultures, it is an honor to enter one’s home, and most international students are interested in learning about American family traditions. We have seen many students and families bond over dinner, fishing, shooting guns, making s’mores, or practicing driving. Would you consider inviting an international student into your home this fall?
2. Invite international students to attend church with you.
Many international students are interested in learning about American culture. This includes how we express our Christian faith. It is particularly easy to invite international students to church around the holidays. Some of the best conversations happen over lunch after the service when you are able to explain why you and your church worship the way that you do. They are often interested in understanding Christmas and Easter because they have heard they are popular holidays in America. These special occasions create easy opportunities for you to share the Gospel.
3. Invite international students into your daily life.
Welcoming international students does not have to be an extravagant act. They also have essential needs and desires that we all share such as grocery shopping, eating out, purchasing clothes, and doing laundry. In addition, they want to experience the American way of life, so you can invite them to your child or grandchild’s ball game, social events, birthday parties, or family outings. Knowing that you don’t have to plan a special event to spend time with an international student makes the relationship building process easier on you and your family.
If you or your church are interested in getting connected with an international student or serving the international student community at your local college or university, reach out to your local BCM or contact Bit Stephens, international student ministry consultant for the Arkansas Baptist State Convention.