Eleven Easy ways to Love International Students

A welcome across borders

There are currently over five million international students worldwide, and that number is only set to grow in the coming years. The global movement of students from everywhere to everywhere has never been so extensive, and international study can provide fantastic opportunities and an incredible adventure. It’s not an easy thing to do, however. Students can face xenophobic abuse, ranging from a pointed look all the way to a physical attack. They may feel isolated and have difficulties integrating into their new culture – especially after Covid-19. For so many students, the pandemic magnified loneliness and cut slices out of the short university years which can never be replaced. 

There is so much opportunity here for Christian students to reach out in love and welcome, to cross cultural barriers and make international students feel at home. Time and again in the Bible, God affirms his concern and care for those in a strange country. He commands his people to “love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt” (Deuteronomy 10:19). When God has brought us near, who were so far away from him, and welcomed us to his banqueting table, how can we not do the same for those far from home? Here are eleven ways to love international students on your campus. 

1. Be the first to show hospitality 

Welcome international students not only as someone from their new culture, but also as an ambassador of the kingdom of Jesus. You might be the first or only Christian they will meet. You might be the only person who will pray for them. 

2. Extend friendship  

Work at becoming friends. There is great value in friendship across cultural and religious divides, and it’s a great first step to sharing the gospel with people from other cultures. Where there is mutual understanding and respect, friends are more willing to learn more about why our faith is important to us. 

3. Create space for reciprocity 

Our relationships with international students should not be one-sided, where we are always giving, and they are always receiving. This would create an imbalance of power and deny international students the dignity of giving. Create a space that allows for reciprocal relationships, where everyone can contribute. There will be a lot that international students can do to help you, and a lot you can learn from them. Listen to what they have to say. 

4. Display love 

Love your international friends just as you would want to be loved when in another country. Be a joyful witness of what Christ has done for you. But let your activities be natural, not forced. Share joyfully, but do not force Jesus. Trust the Holy Spirit to guide you and to work in the lives of your international friends. 

5. Don’t underestimate the power of eating together 

Love can often be given and received via the stomach – and food plays a central part in hospitality in many cultures, providing a relaxed atmosphere of fellowship. Check for religious or dietary preferences. Remember Muslims don’t eat pork, and Hindus don’t eat beef. 

6. Help international students prepare to return to their home country 

International students are temporary visitors in your country, coming from and returning to their own communities. Helping students to prepare for healthy re-entry is a vital part of our ministry. Success in ministry occurs when students return well and contribute meaningfully to the church in their home context. 

7. Be sensitive to politics 

Avoid talking about politics before a friendship is formed. Often these debates will close the door for the gospel rather than bring your friend closer to Jesus. Don’t make broad negative statements or speak disrespectfully about anything that might be of religious significance. Instead, speak joyfully of your own faith. After a trusting friendship is established, political discussions could lead to conversations about the need for Jesus in our countries and in our world. We can ask the Holy Spirit for wisdom and sensitivity, and remind ourselves that each of our political standpoints arises largely from the contexts, experiences and influences we have been exposed to – and these will of course be different around the world. 

8. Don’t include alcohol in your gatherings 

Don’t serve any alcoholic drinks in your meetings and events. It may cause confusion or offence for international students from Muslim or Hindu contexts, as well as for Christian students from other cultural contexts. 

9. Build relationships with those of the same gender as you 

When building friendships with international students, focus on relationships with those of the same gender as yourself, being aware of different cultural expectations around the roles of men and women. Avoid the opportunity for motives for forming a friendship to cause confusion or otherwise be misunderstood. 

10. Have humility in misunderstandings  

We all have different ways of doing things that may cause surprise or shock on either side. Try to avoid cross-cultural faux pas, but don’t let it worry you too much – misunderstandings are inevitable in any genuine relationship. These moments are opportunities to practice humility. When friendship exists there will be forgiveness, greater understanding, and even some fun stories to laugh about in the future. Be encouraged that students really love receiving invitations and will normally overlook any cultural blunders when they are extended with warmth and love. Love has the power to heal most cultural misunderstandings. 

11. Be aware of security issues 

Remember that the cost of becoming a Christian is usually far higher for a Muslim or a Hindu than it is for a nominal Christian or agnostic. Keep security issues in mind when contacting students from sensitive countries. 

This list was adapted from the newly released resource God’s World on Your Doorstep, as part of the  Sobremesa campaign. Sobremesa is all about extending the radical welcome of Jesus to the international students on our campuses,. Students can do this by creating communities of acceptance, belonging, and cross-cultural understanding. 

You can read the full resource for free to find lots more information to equip you to reach out to international students. Find out more about the vision, the stories, and the community of Sobremesa here


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