In the earliest years of Global City Mission, our first Mission Catalysts had the opportunity to connect with international students in Upper Manhattan. One of our mission apprentices gathered a group of students from an Asian country into a discovery bible discussion. During the first few weeks of their discussions one of the participants told him, “We like these stories in the bible, but we don’t believe them. They are like fairy tales that teach some good things.” The leader had been trained to allow the process of faith discovery to play out, so they continued the study for many more months. A year later, his group was reassembling after they had visited their families in their home country during the summer months. The same group member then expressed, “These stories in the bible are not just fables. I went home to my country and told my family that the bible is true and it has changed my life.”
A couple of years ago I drove to the airport to pick up a South Asian student who was studying in Florida. During the drive to his apartment near campus, we spoke about the bible, faith, and our different religious experiences. I asked if he would like to gather some friends to learn more about the bible, and he agreed. When I came to his apartment several days later for a bible discussion, I met with four young men from Hindu backgrounds. A year later, I had the same opportunity to volunteer to pick up an international student from the airport, and I met a young man from an East Asian country. He later joined us for Thanksgiving, and he invited me to meet a number of his peers, who originated from the same part of the world.
Reaching international students represents one of the most significant opportunities for engaging the nations next door in our cities. They mostly stay connected to their home country, many will eventually return home, and they value the experience of hospitality while studying in the host country. There are challenges as well. Without thoughtful contextualization among international students, even those who discover Christian faith often cannot reproduce the experience they shared in the church as student after returning to their home country.
Aware of both the challenges and the opportunities, reaching international students is a compelling pathway for global mission in North American cities. There are over 1.1 million international students studying in colleges & universities in the United States. Among some of the top host colleges of international students includes: University of California- Los Angeles and University of Southern California in L.A., New York University and Columbia University in Manhattan, Arizona State University in the Phoenix metro area, University of Texas-Dallas in the DFW Metroplex, and University of Washington in Seattle– just to name a few.
The two nations, China & India, sending the most international students to schools in the U.S. eclipse the numbers from other nations; however, there are tens of thousands of students who arrive from South Korea, Saudi Arabia, Canada, Vietnam, Taiwan, Japan, as well as sending nations. These journeys represent amazing missionary opportunities on our own university campuses. The practice of hospitality will be a crucial step for the church, and there is a need for workers sent into the harvest with missionary eyes and strategic awareness. Pray for the Lord of the harvest to send workers to campuses from coast to coast.