When heaven rejoices

Nowhere in the world are there more international students than in the USA. And among the 1 million students arriving at universities across the country, are those from some of the least reached countries in the world*: Yemen, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Somalia, Djibouti – even North Korea. As you meet the following four international students, join with heaven in rejoicing that God is calling people from every nation to follow Him! And pray that there would be more stories of students coming to faith and being equipped to share Christ around the world.

Yang inspired by sacrifice

International student Yang was not a Christian. During the semester he was too busy with his PhD study to spend time exploring more. But he was curious. Over the winter vacation, Yang decided to sign up for Urbana, the InterVarsity student missions conference, to learn more about God.

It was during the prayer night at Urbana that something changed for Yang. He watched as Urbana participants spent an hour praying for the persecuted church. Yang was amazed to hear of the willingness of men and women to give up their lives for Jesus, and even to pray for those persecuting them! Their faith had a profound impact on him. He knew he needed to follow this Jesus too.

Sundeep finds the true light

Students from South Asia were excited to be invited to celebrate Diwali – the Hindu festival of lights – with their InterVarsity friends. Food, fireworks, cricket and singing filled the evening, and the students had the opportunity to share about their Diwali traditions. Then one Christian graduate, a former Hindu from India, shared his testimony of how he had found the true light in Jesus.

After the event, a volunteer invited one of the students, Sundeep, to church. Sundeep had picked up one of the free Bibles. After learning more about the gospel, Sundeep prayed to receive Jesus into his life!

Lily embraces evangelism

“I don’t understand why my Christian friends waited so long to tell me about Jesus!” Lily is a student from East Asia, and after giving her life to Jesus, became a student leader. She has a strong desire to return home to share the gospel among her people. She often reminds others that people are eager to learn about Jesus, and often it’s our timidity which delays their access to the gospel. Lily recently began a seeker Bible study with several students from her country who are curious about Jesus.

Salima discovers she can follow Jesus

Salima is from a country where followers of Jesus are heavily persecuted. A couple of years ago she connected with InterVarsity students and staff through the international group. Salima attended most of their discussions on the life of Jesus that semester and showed a hunger to know more.

Some months after that, one of the staff workers connected with Salima again. Salima explained that she had found a local church of immigrants from her home nation. She had even started hosting their prayer meetings in her home! With the support of many in that community, she was beginning to understand how a person from her country could follow Jesus.

Very recently, Salima started to follow Jesus. Her husband is still investigating the Christian faith.

Names have been changed.

Read more stories of international student ministry around the world.

International students share Jesus through virtual storytelling

Ling, a Christian international student from Asia, learned the value of storytelling in her InterVarsity/USA international student fellowship.

She read that God commanded the Israelites to ‘remember’ and constantly share their testimony of how God had delivered them. So Ling decided that each week through video calls she would share with her mother stories of how God was working in her life.

Before long Ling’s brother wanted to hear more about Jesus too. They met virtually each Friday and Ling shared stories of Jesus’ miracles and teaching. Then her sister joined their Bible discussions! Within three months, Ling’s mother, brother, and sister all decided to follow Jesus. Ling has continued discipling them through video calls.

These days are particularly challenging for international students who are away from their families and unable to fly home. But through technology, they can stay in contact with those back home – and even lead family members to know Jesus!

Let’s pray for them this week.

  • Thank God for Ling’s commitment to sharing stories of Jesus with her family through video calls, and praise God for His saving work in their lives.
  • Pray for international students in the USA struggling with anxiety and loneliness to find peace and comfort in Christ. Pray that they would feel well supported during this time.
  • With so much time being spent connecting with those back home, pray that Christian international students would be boldly sharing stories of Jesus with their family and friends.

Walking with students through depression

This is not what I signed up for, Kelley thought. 24 years old and just two years in to serving InterVarsity USA students, Kelley felt disappointed, weary, disillusioned.

Being involved in the movement as a student leader had felt relatively straight-forward. She knew the routine: evangelistic events, weekly meetings, winter camps, summer missions. Repeat the same next year. But since joining the staff team it had been so different. Messy. Discouraging. Heavy. She’d lost count of the number of students she knew who were struggling with their mental health. Some were weighed down by a thick darkness. Some had eating disorders. Some were self-harming. Some were suicidal. What’s going on here, Lord?

Staff workers, not doctors

Kelley wasn’t an expert on mental health. But students that she loved were struggling, so she decided to look into it. Research, books and courses helped, but they didn’t make Kelley a trained counsellor or psychiatrist. Many of these students needed professional help – she knew that. Still, Kelley often found herself encountering students struggling in the difficult in-between zone: perhaps at the beginning of their mental health concerns, not yet sure if they needed or wanted help; perhaps on the 6-month waiting list to see university counsellors. Every situation was unique and required Kelley to be prayerfully discerning and observant, particularly in the early stages of their interaction:

Is this student struggling because of their circumstances? Is there an unseen issue that needs to be addressed? Is there a clinical element as well? Is it serious? Are they just having a bad day? Would it be sensible to seek professional help?

Though Kelley knew the responsibility for a diagnosis lay with the doctor, helping students understand themselves would enable them to get the help they needed more quickly.

The depths of sorrow

Month after month, Kelley encountered more and more students who were struggling. Then one day, the community woke up to the terrible news that one of their students had taken his life. They were devastated. Why, God? And yet even in the depths of their sorrow, God was at work. The students became more open to talking: I’ve felt like that too; I’m in the same place; I think I need help.

Generation Z

The high rates of mental health problems she encountered on campus got Kelley thinking: are we just more aware of mental health today, or are the number of cases increasing? And if so, why? What is it about this generation, often referred to as ‘generation z’, that perhaps is more prone to struggling in this way? She reflected:

“Human connection is so lacking. I think social media has a lot to do with it because it fosters a sense of false identity which leads to feelings of separation and isolation. And it’s also the case today, at least in many western countries, that everything is catered to meet your needs. You can have your own social media platforms, your own Spotify playlist, your own personalised Starbucks drink. This creates a bubble with you at the centre, a life that revolves around your needs.

And of course, that’s depressing! It’s not real and it’s not fulfilling. So people try to numb it by doing more on social media, or Netflix, or whatever they need to dull the pain of being alone and isolated.

There are also issues of identity. No-one’s asking ‘who is God?’ anymore. Everyone is asking ‘who am I?’ The self-help books tell you not to worry, just be yourself. But how can you be yourself when you don’t know who you are? And how can you know who you are when you don’t know Christ?”

Robin Worrall – Unsplash

Praying for the 44

Raising awareness and getting students talking was a good start. But Kelley longed to see breakthrough. She wrote down the names of all the people she knew personally who had depression. There were 44. Forty-four! Overwhelmed and sorrowful, Kelley stuck up the names on her wall in the shape of a cross.

Jesus, I’m putting these people on Your cross. Through Your blood, I pray for their healing and rescue. Please restore them to a place of hope.

Not long after that, Kelley started getting phone calls. The people she was praying for would ring her and tell her how God was working in their lives. I was in my car and suddenly felt a lightness, a hope, they’d report, not knowing she had been praying. For others, the healing came through getting the professional help they needed. Some found it through medication; others went to therapy and learned tools to manage their mental health. It wasn’t always a quick fix, but many of them experienced breakthroughs and healing over the course of a year and a half.

Today there are just nine names left on Kelley’s wall.

A holistic approach

Often the recovery of a student with mental health struggles will involve more than just prayer. But it will never be less. Kelley’s story shows how God used professional medical help along with the proactive ministry of staff and their persistent prayer to help and heal many students. As IFES movements face the reality of ministering to a generation particularly affected by mental health struggles, we must be ready to take this holistic approach as we walk with students through the darkness.

How to get support

If you’re a student struggling with your mental health, we’d encourage you to seek medical help from your university or doctor, or start by talking to your national movement or a trusted friend.

How Daniel is empowering students like Adam to plant new groups

Adam was a quiet freshman when staff worker Daniel first met him. Adam was from a different college without any student ministry, so he came along to IVCF Canada events at the University of Ottawa. After a year, Daniel had an idea. He asked Adam if he’d consider planting a new group at his own college.

The group started out small, but gradually grew until it had to split into two groups! Adam was left to run the first group and lead the weekly Bible studies on his own, while Daniel helped another student lead the second group. Adam reflects:

“As a leader I’ve had to grow quite a bit. I’m naturally a very quiet, introverted person but I’ve had to push myself out of my comfort zone and engage with the people who come along.”

Staff worker Daniel’s role of empowering students like Adam to lead is crucial in this pioneering work. Daniel recently attended the IFES Breaking New Ground gathering for young pioneers. He, and IFES movement staff across the world, need your prayers for wisdom and vision to build up student leaders in 2020.

  • Pray for the two new groups at Adam’s college to grow in numbers and maturity in the coming year. Pray for new leaders to be found.
  • In such a vast country, IVCF Canada staff are not able to be present in every university. They must raise up students to start and lead groups. Pray that they would be effective trainers and enablers.

Thanks for praying with us!

Listening, learning and serving Hawaii

Next week, students in Hawaii will be spending part of their spring break knee-deep in the rich soil of wetland taro patches. As part of their annual retreat, the students will spend a day helping in the fields in the beautiful Waipi’o Valley. Serving the local Hawaiian community and looking after the land are two of the values particularly important to InterVarsity USA’s native Hawaiian ministry.

As well as studying the Bible and listening to God’s Word, the group will spend time with the elders of the Hawaiian communities in Hilo, listening to them and learning about their past. Learning Hawaiian history helps the students embrace their identity as Hawaiians, while they grow in their faith as Christians. There is much pain in their history, yet also, in Christ, hope for restoration and healing.

The students want to help their friends see that you can be a Christian and be Hawaiian. They want to show that God cares about their culture, their communities and their land.

Join us in praying for them this week:

  • Pray that the students would be a blessing as they help in the fields and spend time with the local community.
  • Pray that the students would know how to live out their identity as Hawaiian Christians.
  • Pray that the ministry would grow this year as students experience the love of Christ.

Thanks for praying with us!

From Myanmar to Nebraska

Alee first met Sha K’ Paw on 20 June — World Refugee Day. He was one of the volunteers, helping out amidst the good-natured chaos of the face-painting, soccer tournament and fashion show. The annual event in Omaha, USA always attracted big crowds, and that year was no exception. Alee, an InterVarsity staff worker, had the responsibility of coordinating the team of volunteers.

They hadn’t had many high school student volunteers in the past, so the fact that these young people were volunteering stood out to her. She got talking to two of them — Sha and his friend, Sunkist — both Karen refugees from Myanmar. It turned out that they were planning on going to the University of Nebraska Omaha (UNO) that fall. Alee’s ears pricked up! She’d met Karen children before, but she’d never met Karen students going to college. They chatted away. And then she took a stab in the dark: “Are you two followers of Jesus?”

Sha K’ Paw

Sha K’ Paw was born in Myanmar, a country in South Asia marked by a long, devastating civil war. At the age of seven he moved to a refugee camp in Thailand, where he stayed for six years, without his parents. It was a simple life: every day Sha went to school, played with his friends and ate rice with mung bean soup. His dormitory was run by Christians who taught the children to read the Bible and pray every morning and evening.

by Dinis Bazgutdinov on Unsplash

At 12, Sha moved to the US with his aunt in search of a better life, and was suddenly plunged into a totally different world: the culture, the language, the people — everything was different. He writes:

“I had heard people tell stories about what ‘third countries’ (countries where the refugees settle) are like. I’d heard they have a lot of food, great education, freedom and opportunity. And when I got to the US, I found the stories were true: the country was full of great things. But there were struggles too. I no longer had to worry about my empty stomach, but I had to worry about eating too much. I no longer had to worry about war, but I couldn’t speak English, and I struggled with school and understanding the culture. I no longer had to live in fear, but I still worried about my future.

As a teenager, I looked back and I could see how God had led me safely through life. There had been moments in my life when I’d felt alone and abandoned — but God had been there with me. There had been moments when I’d wanted to quit — but God had strengthened me. Realising deeply how He had been a Father and Saviour to me all along, I accepted Him as my Lord and Saviour, without doubt or question. I was baptised on 5 March 2011, at the age of 15.”

An answer to prayer

As all staff workers know, meeting Christian high school students about to go to university is a golden opportunity. All you need to get is their number, and you can plug them straight into a fellowship group before they’ve even set foot on campus.

But Alee met Sha around the time that her InterVarsity staff team had been praying about reaching every corner of the campus. They’d been reflecting on the way that each person reached is connected to a network or people group. With those prayers in mind, Alee realised the opportunity in front of her. Release, not recruit. That was what InterVarsity student ministry was all about. These two young Christians could be added into an existing, thriving fellowship group at UNO. Or they could be empowered and equipped to start their own, reaching out to other Karen refugees. It was a no-brainer.


After meeting Alee at the World Refugee Day, Sha and a few of his friends were connected to the staff workers at UNO. They bonded over mookatah (Thai grill) and after arriving at UNO as freshers, started studying the Bible together. Sha and a few others were discipled, and it wasn’t long before they were leading the Bible studies themselves and telling their friends about Jesus: “My friends need to know that Jesus loves them; someone needs to help them know that, and I guess that person is me.”

Asian Christian Fellowship, UNO

The group grew, as more Karen students heard about the fellowship group and joined in. Sha reflects on that time of growth:

“I continued to grow little by little as I was learning and leading at the same time. A group of us also prayed about God’s mission on our campus and we saw growth over the past year. It was the investment of our staff workers in us that helped us grow, and of course the Holy Spirit who led us.”

God’s faithfulness for pilgrim people

Almost all of the Karen students are the first in their families to study in the US. Most, like Sha, grew up in refugee camps before moving to America. They arrived with little or no English. Their parents would have had even less. It was up to the children to help their parents adapt to the new culture, act as interpreters, go to the bank, read the mail. The pressures of being displaced are all-too familiar for these young people.

by Yoshua Giri on Unsplash

The group of around 25–30 refugee students at UNO have been studying the book of Exodus, learning from the story of God’s displaced people. Having seen the faithfulness of God in the Bible and in their own stories of suffering, the students want others to know Him too. Some of them have even started reaching out to other refugee communities around them. One student, Manger, said:

“I am encouraged by my experience as a former refugee and a first-generation college student. I experienced God’s love throughout my life and I want to share it with others. I want to see revival in my community — at church, at home and at school.”

It is amazing to see how a casual conversation at a community event a few years ago has grown into a thriving student ministry. But this story is as challenging as it is encouraging. Are we, like Alee, praying for opportunities to reach new corners of the campus? How many more unengaged networks could be reached this year if more of us adopted the release, not recruit mentality? Are we looking to share the faithfulness of God with those around us?

Repenting together and saying ‘yes’ to the call of Jesus

Matthew picked up his brick. Lit up above him was a huge sculpture depicting Babylon. But it wasn’t old Babylon – it was today’s Babylon. At the top of the sculpture were pictures of the comforts and luxuries of modern life – wealth, technology, fashion, food… Below them were pictures depicting the reality – the exploitation and enslavement of the many people in our world who pay the cost to make the luxury possible.

This was part of Urbana18 – a mission conference for students from the USA and Canada.

Engaging with the book of Revelation, 10,000 students were invited to take a brick to represent their own complicity in Babylon and commit to making choices that say ‘yes’ to Jesus. Each brick was printed with the words:

“Come out of Babylon, my people.” Revelation 18:4

This was just one of many ways students were asked to respond to the book of Revelation and step into mission during the week. Matthew commented:

“Hearing the stories of everyone being convicted to listen to and act on God’s callings has been so immensely encouraging. It’s made me think about how I can turn my faith from acknowledgement into repentance and action.”

Pray with us for students returning to their universities after attending Urbana.

  • Pray for courage to make decisions that say ‘yes’ to Jesus on their campuses.
  • Pray for many to respond to the call to mission – in their universities, workplaces and to the ends of the earth.
  • The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.

See more from Urbana missions conference, including most of the plenary sessions at: urbana.org

Thanks for praying with us!