When we think about international missions, we often think of spending thousands of dollars to travel across the globe to share the gospel with a different people group. This kind of ministry is needed and commanded by God, but it’s not the exclusive way to minister to the nations. In fact, many American Christians have to look no further than their local college campus to meet international students from places where the gospel has yet to be shared.
The Nations on Our Doorstep
While many nations have closed their doors to missionaries, those same countries are sending their students to America to learn. These students from around the world are being dispersed across the U.S. in big cities and small towns, likely on a college campus near you. God is bringing the nations to the church’s doorstep in America—a context where we can communicate the gospel of Christ freely to people who may have never heard the name of Jesus.
There are currently over a million international students in the United States. Many of these students have never heard the gospel in their home countries and may never hear the gospel unless they meet a Christian who is willing to take the time to lovingly share with them while they’re in America. It is no mistake that so many international students are here, but it will take deliberate action from the church around the country to reach them. There must be more workers for the harvest. May the church have eyes to see international students, to seek them out on the college campus, to invite them in, and to share the gospel of Christ with them.
The church has a primed opportunity handed to them to share the gospel with the nations through international students, yet this opportunity is often unknown or neglected. If we don’t take action to tap into the college campus to minister to international students, we’re in danger of squandering a divinely orchestrated chance to share the gospel with the world.
The Church and the College Campus
Though we may often think of international students on large prestigious college campuses, you don’t have to live in a big city or near a major campus to have access to international students. If you live near any college campus, even a small one, there are likely numerous international students there. Even if you think the community college down the street is too small or unknown for someone from another country to study there, you may be surprised to find numerous students from around the world because of the many opportunities these campuses have to network with other schools across the globe. These opportunities aren’t just great for the school, they’re great for the church.
International students can often be one of the most neglected groups on campus; therefore, international student offices tend to be the most open out of any official campus office to partner with outside groups, even religious groups. One of the primary goals of the international student office is to connect students to American culture as they learn English. If your church wants to help with that, many offices will gladly connect you with interested students. There are likely also opportunities for your church to connect with international students by partnering with existing ministries on campus that are reaching out to internationals.
Like everyone else, international students crave community, yet it can be incredibly hard to find. Imagine being in their shoes: you’re living alone in a culture you don’t know, everyone’s speaking a language you may barely understand, and you don’t have any native friends in the entire country to help you. Feelings of isolation and crippling anxiety are often commonplace for internationals trying to navigate a completely foreign culture alone.
Many international students will never set foot inside an American home during their time studying in our country. We, the church, can serve internationals simply by being hospitable. Have them over to your house. Be their friend. Eat together. Go grocery shopping. Celebrate holidays. Help them practice English. Connect them to a campus ministry. Read the Bible with them. Invite them to church. Simply inviting them into the ordinary moments of your life can make a profound difference in demonstrating the love of Christ. What better way to reflect God’s heart for the sojourner, just as He commanded His people long ago:
When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God. (Leviticus 19:34–35).
An Eternal Global Impact
Not only does the church have the opportunity (and responsibility) to reach out to souls who have come to our country for their studies, but we can also send internationals who come to know Christ back home to reach their communities in ways that an American Christian would never be able. Many international students are already influential people in their home country—maybe they’re an outstanding worker sent here by their company to do research, or their academic achievements have given them the means to continue their studies abroad, or their parent is a business or government leader who can afford to send them across the world for their education. Some of the world’s most intelligent and influential people are being educated here—imagine the influence they might have as Christ-followers who are sent back home as missionaries where they can communicate the gospel in their native language.
The key to seeing this happen is that when an international student hears and believes the gospel, we don’t just leave them there. We must equip them to be disciples of Christ, teach them how to read the Bible, and show them how to share the gospel lovingly and accurately. We must be their brothers and sisters and demonstrate true church community that they can replicate back home.
The American church has such an amazing opportunity to have a global impact for the kingdom of God by sharing the gospel with international students, making disciples as they come to know Christ, and equipping them to be sent back out across the world. We can do all of this without leaving our homes, without learning a new language, and without spending money or vacation time on short-term mission trips. We can reach the nations in our own backyards.
What a miraculous thing that the Lord is bringing the nations to the U.S. for education, and that the average American Christian has the ability to freely and openly minister to someone from another country without spending a dime or stepping on a plane. Glory be to God. May the Church take advantage of this beautifully planned opportunity the Lord has placed at our door.