When many people consider missions work, the question that often comes up is ‘Where?’. Of course, wise counsel has told us that ‘here’ is where to begin, in our local neighbourhood and assembly. I would also like to suggest that ‘here’ might be one of the most important places we can be ministering when it comes to fulfilling the Great Commission of Matthew 28.
A mission field at home
In 2016, the USA is home to over 1 million international students and Canada is home to nearly 400,000! These students – along with being some of the best and brightest – come from nearly every country on the planet, including the most difficult countries for missions work that are closed to Christian missionaries.
Why are they here? The Bible tells us that “And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him” (Acts 17:26-27a). Quite simply, God has brought them here so that they might find Him!
Reaching unreached people
7 years ago when I returned to Vancouver from a 2 year overseas missions opportunity I arrived knowing the Lord had called me back but unsure as to why. A few months later I helped some friends host a Christmas dinner for international students at the local university. That evening the Lord confirmed in me the reason why he called me back.
One of the students who came that night listened as we shared for a few moments about the meaning of Christmas. Afterwards as we talked, I felt led by the Lord to invite her to come to our assembly the next week – and she did. She explained to me that in her home country – a muslim country – it was illegal to talk to Christians. Now that she was in Canada she hoped she could ask some questions she had always had about Christianity.
Although that first student has not (yet) trusted Jesus Christ for her salvation, many others have over these past 7 years. In fact most of them come from some of the least reached and hardest to reach countries in the world! God has opened the door – not for us to go there, but for them to come here!*
It doesn’t stop there. Just as the Philippian jailer saw his whole household saved (Acts 16:32), many of these students return to their homelands as witnesses. When I visited East Asia a few years ago one former student introduced me to half a dozen friends she had led to the Lord (in a country ‘closed’ to Christianity!)
What can we do?
There are many ways to get involved with ministry to international students (please contact me for materials and training). A few simple ways are:
- ESL conversation groups or Bible studies
- Hosting students for holiday dinners (Canada Day/Independence Day BBQ, Thanksgiving Dinner, Christmas Dinner)
- Friendship partners and language partners
- Offering your house for homestay programs – having a student live with you is such a blessing!
- Praying for the students
We have an unprecedented opportunity at our doorsteps to reach the world with the Gospel right here at our doorstep! To God be the glory!
*There is still a great need to be sending missionaries cross culturally, however this article intends to highlight the open door of international student ministry