The Strategic Nature of International Student Ministry

Cropped shot of a group of college students on campus

By Rich Mendola

Many people ask me why international student ministry is such an efficient way to reach the world for Christ. There are three main reasons. 

The first reason is that around 80% of international students are coming from the least evangelized nations of the world, nations that include many unreached people groups. These students will return home, where they are already language proficient, already culturally adapted, already relationally connected, and most of them will be financially self-supporting. In addition to that, these returned students will be in influential working positions where they can access large numbers of people. 

When international students study in America, they can have a tremendous impact when they return to their homeland, especially if they have been discipled to have a heart for Christ. 

The second reason is while these international students are here, they are removed from the cultural and family influences that tend to keep them from considering the gospel. This makes them more open to forming new relationships and to consider new ideas, especially in a university setting that contributes to them listening to the gospel.

The third reason is that many international students come with a passion and a heart to see their nations improve. If these students who have a heart for the cities of the world can be channeled in the direction of the gospel, their education can be a platform to have a tremendous impact.

For these reasons, international student ministry can accelerate the completion of the Great Commission. Unfortunately, even though ministry to international students is strategic and efficient, it is often overlooked. 

When international students arrive, they become somewhat invisible because they are on college campuses. Unless we are already associated with a campus setting, we tend not to notice them. It’s like having a certain section of the town we never visit.

There is also more exposure in the news about immigrant and refugee populations moving to our cities than there is about international students. The needs of immigrant and refugee communities are huge, and the interest in helping them upon their arrival is more visible than the needs of international students, which are seen as less dramatic and are often hidden. However, international students still need our help. They often feel very lonely and are grateful when they are connected to a volunteer or host family who can help them interpret American culture. 

International student ministry is like Phillip’s ministry to the Ethiopian eunuch who traveled all the way to Jerusalem seeking God. There he was in his chariot, reading from Isaiah the prophet, but couldn’t make sense of what he was reading. He had just been in Jerusalem, where the gospel was being preached, but he hadn’t heard it. Instead, God sent Phillip on the desert road to interpret for him what life was all about. 

In fact, international students are a lot like the Ethiopian eunuch. He was highly educated, he had wealth, and he was able to travel. But somehow, he wasn’t in the mix to hear the Good News. Therefore, we need to be like Phillip, taking the initiative to befriend international students, and believing God will prepare them to receive the message. 

When we connect with a willing heart, we will have invested in a person equipped to begin a discipleship movement back in their homeland.

Rich Mendola, is the CEO of International Friendships, Inc., a ministry for international students based in Columbus, Ohio and active on 38 campuses nationwide.

This article is submitted by Ryan Finke of International Friendships.   International Friendships  is a Missio Nexus member.  Member organizations can provide content to the Missio Nexus website. See how by clicking here.

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