How to Befriend and Serve International Students

Welcome to the 31 Days of Global Missions with Kids series! You can view all the posts in the series here. Please remember that the goal isn’t for you to do ALL these projects, but rather pick one or two. You can download a printable worksheet here to guide you through discerning which project is best for you and the young people in your life.

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Wouldn’t it be great…

  • to build friendships with young people from all over the world, even people from countries where Jesus is totally unknown or even outlawed?
  • to befriend the world’s future leaders – the children of top business leaders, government officials, and even royalty – from around the world?
  • to do this right from the comfort of your own community, without ever spending a night away from your own bed, and without ever packing a single suitcase?
  • if your children and teenagers could easily join you, meeting young people from another country and developing a global mindset in the process?

In case you haven’t figured it out by now, all these things are possible through ministry to international students!

international students

What is an international student?

An international student is a young man or woman who leaves his own home country and comes to the United States (or another country) to study. Most are university students, seeking an undergraduate or graduate degree, but some may be high school students or even elementary school students.

Some international students come for just a single semester or year (similar to how we might participate in a “study abroad” program, while others remain to receive their full degree.

Are international students really that important?

According to several speakers from International Students, Inc…

  • Last school year (2014-2015), there were over 1.13 million international college students in the United States.
  • International students come from places like China, India, South Korea, Japan, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Thailand, Nepal, Iran, Vietnam, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Nigeria, and Taiwan.
  • 60% of international students come from the 10/40 window – this is the area between 10 and 40 degrees north latitude that contains the majority of the world’s spiritually unreached people. In other words, most international students are coming from areas where most people do not follow Christ.
  • 40% of current world leaders were international students in America.
  • These are highly competent students whose families have the capacity to send them overseas. They will return home and be the “movers and shakers” in their homelands.

What can I do?

The key word for international student ministry is “friendship.” You are aiming to build a friendship with an international student… in fact, many people involved in ministry to international students call themselves “friendship partners.”

Some ways you could serve in international student ministry include…

  • inviting an international student to your home: for Thanksgiving dinner, for pizza on a Sunday afternoon, for a midweek meal… any of these options work!
  • serve as a conversation partner, speaking in English with an international student for an hour or so each week over coffee, dinner, or a walk around campus.
  • participate in international student friendship parties or special events. Many international student groups sponsor get-togethers, holiday parties, and field trips. You could join the group for one of these special events, or help with logistics like providing food or offering transportation for students.
  • picking up an international student from the airport when she first arrives here (you’ll need a minivan/SUV/truck to hold lots of luggage!)

How can my children and teenagers participate in international student ministry?

By nature, this ministry is a very easy way to include your own children or teenagers of any age.

They can join you in befriending an international student, welcoming the student into your home for a meal or meeting students at a friendship get-together on campus. Your kids can show love to the international student the same way they’d show love to anyone: drawing pictures, playing games together, and praying for the student.

I just recently heard about a group of women that gets together once a week at the state university in our city. They are the wives of international students who have come to California to receive a graduate degree – so many of these students are a bit older than a typical student, and have wives and families. Each week, they connect with friendship partners for fun, fellowship, and sometimes, a field trip.

I’m hoping to participate, since it would be a simple way to get to know some young women from other countries. As their own children run around, I know my kids will be welcome too!

Keep in mind…

  • The only exception to including your children would be formal English language lessons. While your children would obviously be welcome to practice English with an international student at home or a fun event, if you are getting together for a formal time to practice English as a conversation partner, I would leave your kids behind so they are not distracting.
  • Beforehand, talk to your children about any fears or concerns they may have. Discuss that you may encounter new smells or new tastes. Your child may not be able to understand every single thing the person says – remind your child to speak slowly and clearly, as possible. Talk about some ways to meet new friends, like saying “hello,” shaking hands, and offering to play a game.
  • I would imagine that most international students would be thrilled to meet your children!! In many countries around the world, children are highly valued. A student who is caught up in the stresses of studying and acclimating to a new culture will likely welcome the relief of a sweet child who wants to play a game, build with Legos, or color a picture. So, don’t feel bad about including your children – this is a great way for them to be involved in meeting someone from a new country!

How do I get connected with international students?

First, find out if your own church has a ministry to international students.

If not, there are several groups with full-time staff dedicated to international student ministry. Click on the underlined links to learn more about these groups:

If none of those options work, you could just contact the International Student office at your local college or university. Let them know you’d be interested in building a friendship with an international student, and ask if they have anyone to recommend.

This Global Missions with Kids series is full of thoughts and practical ideas for serving Christ alongside your children and teenagers.

**Have you ever been friends with an international student? Leave a comment below about your experience.