I loved praying and discovering more about our God with this small group
What is it like to arrive in a foreign country as a student, not knowing anyone, not knowing the culture? Perhaps some of you have experienced this and wished you had someone who could be a friend and help you adapt.
Ten years ago, some Dutch students from IFES Nederland in Groningen initiated a project called HOST-IFES (HOST means Hospitality for Overseas Students). Their aim was to provide a place where international students could meet Christian Dutch students. They wanted to make internationals students feel at home, find friends and encounter God!
Johanna was one of the international students who arrived in Groningen and got involved with HOST-IFES. ‘I was kind of overwhelmed by everything this vibrant city offers. But for me HOST café very quickly became one of the most important places to go regularly. I was impressed by the open atmosphere where people from all over the world felt somehow at home and came together as friends.
‘It was always fun to hang out on Friday nights and to do various great activities, hear some incredible stories and laugh a lot. I made some lovely new friends and joined a HOST bible study group. I loved praying and discovering more about our God with this small group.’
Hendrik Timmer, current chair of the HOST board, wrote to us about a recent HOST weekend away. ‘We went to a small island and some people were at the seaside for the first time in their life. About 30 people came and 40% of them were not Christians. A girl said afterwards, “This was one of the best weekends in my life, just being with a group of people who are interested in and kind to each other, not just gossiping about dating.”’
In an atmosphere of caring friendship, people open their hearts to matters of faith. Hendrik continues: ‘I remember some great conversations in the group with Muslim and Hindu students. These conversations are about the core of the gospel and they make you so dependent on God!
‘Last year we held a group bible study with a mixed religious and cultural group about the change in the life of the leper after his encounter with Jesus. It was wonderful to see the image of Jesus becoming more clear to people.
‘A couple of months ago a student from India asked me what 'procedure' was necessary for becoming a Christian! Having had a lot of bad experiences with the Indian caste system, he really likes the equality found in Christianity. We had some conversations and he came with me to church a couple of times. Recently he came for lunch and told me that the church services gave him such a special feeling that he wanted to know God. We prayed together and he prayed: “Jesus, I want to get to know you better, I will open my heart for you.”
‘I'm really thankful for all the opportunities God gives us with HOST-IFES. Now after the weekend around five people are joining a new basic bible study group. One month ago it felt like no one was interested, but now people showed interest, thank God!’