Finding home away from home

The impact of International Student Ministry across the world

Zhang Yi had always wanted to study overseas. With the departure date approaching, his expectations were high. He felt confident that independence, academic opportunities and new friendships were just around the corner.

But it wasn’t what he expected. Every hour, every day, seemed to bring more obstacles to overcome. Never-ending visa frustrations, arguments with an unreasonable landlord, lecturers who spoke too quickly for him to understand a word, bewildering trips to the supermarket… Far from feeling like he was thriving in this new environment, for him it was just about surviving another day. The prospect of new friendships now seemed unrealistic. He missed his friends; he missed his mum’s cooking; he missed fitting in; he missed home.

Seven million by 2020

Starting university is a daunting prospect for most students, but for those studying away from their home countries, the challenges and loneliness can be overwhelming. The number of students choosing to study abroad has risen dramatically in recent years, with researchers predicting that by 2020 there will be 7 million students studying internationally. More than ever before, the nations are being brought to our doorstep. IFES student groups across the world are waking up to this reality. They are reaching out with hospitality and sacrificial love through international student ministry (ISM) initiatives, and the impact is tremendous.

From Rwanda, but at home in the Netherlands

One international student group in the Netherlands, HOST, has been a ‘home away from home’ for international students: “When I think of HOST I think of a place where people love me for exactly who I am and a place where people open my eyes to new things about the world and challenge me to continue growing in all aspects of my life, especially in my faith.” Another reflected:

“it’s a place of friendship in times of loneliness, or relief in times of despair, of acceptance instead of performance… and all this along a fun and entertaining journey!”

Whether it’s enjoying a meal together, going away together for a weekend in the countryside, learning and laughing about local culture, or catching up over a coffee, the opportunities to reach out to international students are endless. “I am no longer trapped in loneliness”, writes Rwandan student Valentin, living in the Netherlands.

New life in New Zealand

ISM groups provide not just a loving community but also a chance to hear the gospel, to students from all over the world, including even those from closed countries. One student from Eurasia told us why they had started going along:

“I don’t care about the activities; I just joined because I like the environment, I like the people. But the activities are also good”!

Malaysian student, Zee Min Teo, moved to Otago, New Zealand, in 2013. She cared about her study, career and money, and had neither time nor motivation to study the Bible. It wasn’t until she attended an Overseas Christian Fellowship (OCF) camp during the break that things started to change: “I was impacted by them in OCF camp through their kind, humble, honest and very gentle heart; and I felt my friends of OCF were very different from other friends. Attracted by such pure and kind souls, I then continued to join OCF.” Before long, Zee Min was attending OCF enthusiastically, eager to learn about the word of God, and nine months later she decided to accept Jesus as her Saviour.

“…the gospel is bearing fruit and growing throughout the whole world” Colossians 1:6, NIV

Opening the Bible in Australia

For some the ISM group is the place where they hear about Jesus for the first time; for others it’s a place where they grow in their existing Christian faith and come to love Jesus and his word more deeply.

Lilly — a Chinese student who studies in Australia — started going along to an AFES international student ministry called FOCUS. She shared her experience with us:

“Over the past 3 years, FOCUS has helped me to grow mature in Christ. Before I came to FOCUS I was a Christian, but didn’t open the Bible. I heard clear biblical teaching at the FOCUS public meeting, as well as in the Bible study groups. Whenever I asked questions, they always opened the Bible with me. They helped me to understand how important it is for a Christian to open the Bible and read God’s word myself, and by doing so, I realised that I was a ‘Christ follower’ without really knowing Christ. Reading and understanding God’s word totally shaped my value of everything. I got to see the power of God to raise Jesus from the dead, and His love for me, a sinner. The more I read God’s word, the more determined I’ve been to follow Jesus, and truly know that He is my Lord.”

Join us in praising God for those He’s brought to faith as well as for those He’s strengthened in their faith, through international student ministry.

Many nations, one Father

In a world of relentless political, racial and cultural conflict, it is a powerful testimony to God’s transforming work in his people, to see loving communities where barriers and divisions are broken down, and cultural diversity is celebrated. Cypriot student Ethel reflects:

“international student ministry has made me realize that though we are all from different nationalities, we are one and have one Father.”

Let’s be praying that God would give Christian students boldness, wisdom and love as they seek to introduce international students on their campuses to the One who alone can bring them back to their true, eternal home.

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