When God opened Paul’s* heart to the nations and called him into ministry, he naturally assumed he’d be serving as a missionary overseas, preferably in one of the harder places. Instead, he finds himself part of a team that works with international students and refugees in the very city where he grew up.
We asked Paul what advice he might give American Christians who want to build relationships with international students, and particularly Muslim students like those with whom he works.
“My biggest encouragement is to show up,” he simply said. “God has done the heavy lifting in bringing them here from places like Saudi Arabia and Libya and Iran, some of the least-reached places in the world, and these are future leaders in their country. Just show up in their lives.”
Practically, what can we do? “One of the biggest needs or opportunities is to open their homes. I find that this is doable for a lot of Americans—to actually host an international student.”
Most universities around the country have programs that match international students with host families who may take the student in to live with them, host them on holidays, or simply connect with them regularly during their time in the U.S. In addition to university-based programs, ask others in your area about international student ministries which may be based in churches or connected with Christian organizations.
While cross-cultural training is helpful, openness to learn and faithfulness in friendship are the keys. One family serving alongside Paul hosted four Iranians in their home for a Thanksgiving meal. Four years later they are still connecting with these students on a monthly basis. “It’s opened a whole world of Iranians to them. They aren’t ‘in ministry,’ they are just laypeople with a heart for Iran. And now they have a real dynamic ministry with Iranians.”
Many Muslim students see the fear reflected in the media and sometimes in the eyes of Americans, and are scared about what may happen to them. “My phone was blowing up on election night with calls and texts from Saudis wondering, ‘What does this mean? Are we going to have to go home?’” As Paul points out, we in the American church have a unique opportunity, especially now, to open our homes and lives to internationals who live among us. Paul urges us, “Pray that the church would see this as an opportunity to be ambassadors for Christ.”
» Read more about Paul’s story.
* Name has been changed.