It’s been 14 years since he first stood on our doorstep. Alex* was a Southeast Asian high school exchange student whose original host family didn’t work out but to whom we said yes.
Our family served as substitute mom, dad, and brothers as Alex struggled with language, loneliness, and homesickness. Through family trips, finding favorite foods, and everyday dinners, Alex became family, and we cheered as he crossed the graduation stage. We used every opportunity to plant seeds of the gospel that year, and we continue to pray they took root.
Much like our student, many international college students arrive with limited English skills and few possessions. They also come with a curiosity to learn not only their field of study but also their new environment. Sadly, many will never visit a home while in America, and most will not have a meaningful conversation with a Christian while in college.
Assimilation into the college community is easy for some students, but others benefit from outside support. COVID-19 changed much of how church and community groups could connect with students.
For most, connecting with students is now easier, but creative ideas enable church members to share Christ and community with students far from home regardless of outside factors. As you plan outreach and events, campus offices such as an international student coordinator or Baptist Collegiate Ministry can offer direction. All outreach should be approved by these offices as well.
As you plan, include ideas that can be done in small groups, but also plan for larger events. Here are some ideas to get you started.
- Meet new students at the airport, and provide transportation to the school.
- Make welcome packets with small prepackaged snacks, local maps, and area information.
- Take students on a tour of the city.
- Provide bedding, towels, and other essentials like laundry detergent and shampoo.
- Provide short-term housing for students arriving before campus housing opens.
- Register to be an English as a second language tutor.
- Tutor in other subjects.
- Be a proofreader for academic writing.
- Teach study skills or help study for tests.
- Make homemade treats for finals week.
- Offer your home as a quiet place to study.
- Invite students for home-cooked meals with regional foods.
- Let students cook their favorites for you.
- Arrange for trips to area events, including county fairs and festivals.
- Sponsor a cultural fair where students share their nation’s culture with the community.
- “Adopt” students through mentoring, praying for them, and maintaining contact with them.
- Invite students into your home for holiday celebrations. Explain the meaning behind the celebration. Hold hands around the table as you pray.
- As you share American culture, ask students to share about theirs.
Throughout the Year
- Go shopping with students. Large stores can be overwhelming for those who didn’t grow up with them.
- Provide $10 food gift cards for pizza and burgers.
- Join them for lunch or coffee on campus.
- Do a canned food drive for students living in apartments with kitchens.
- Invite students to church, Sunday School, and other events, and provide transportation.
- Take students to explore the city and state. Consider museums, amusement parks, and sporting events, as well as state and national parks nearby. Include a trip to the state capital.
- Begin a campus Bible study.
- Take a student to a restaurant that serves food from his or her culture.
- Deliver warm cookies.
- Plan a game night with board games and contests.
- Host a coat and warm clothing drive, and teach winter survival skills to students from warmer climates.
- Get students outdoors by taking them fishing, hiking, or horseback riding.
- Try indoor activities, including watching movies and bowling.
- Open your home to students staying on campus during fall, winter, and spring breaks.
- Most importantly, be a friend. Developing true friendships leads to opportunities to share the gospel.
Many international college students are living away from home for the first time. Free from cultural pressures of home, they are eager to explore new experiences, ideas, and worldviews.
Loving international college students and leading them to make decisions for Christ takes commitment. They are here for a short time, so use every conversation, every event, and every encounter to plant seeds of the gospel.
Lynn Durham is a pastor’s wife in Tennessee and serves as development coordinator for a pregnancy help center.