Just take a look at the statistics from the Institute of International Education*. From the top ten countries sending students to study abroad in the US, six have less than 5% Christian and eight have less than 20% Christian. We’re talking about China, India, Saudi Arabia, Taiwan, Japan, and Turkey, and numbers upwards of 400 thousand people, which includes countries where even saying you are a Christian is illegal, not to mention evangelizing.
And these are not just ordinary citizens; many times they are the elite of their society because of their brilliance or social status and wealth, which means they have the potential to have an incredible influence on their country in the future. To put this in perspective, 63% of these students primary source of funding is personal and family, and the number one field of study among them is business and management. These students know that in a global society where markets are connected around the world, the best way to secure your high status is to reinvest in the global market and play the system, albeit to the disadvantage of the masses without access to higher education, capital, or investment opportunities.
What is the investment the US is making in international students? It is to ensure that they will have positive relations with them in the future and to open up opportunities for trade and investing in new markets around the world. But, there is another investment that is being made, and it is by a small group of Christians who are antithetically using hospitality and service as their primary tool to invest in these international students. We are lowering ourselves and serving them because we want to speak a different language than the world. It is because we believe there is another kingdom that is opposed to the system of this world, and this new kingdom says the first will be last and the last will be first. And when international students get a hold of this vision, the Spirit of God comes upon them in power and they start living by a different set of rules -- they start obeying God and not man -- they reinvest their life to serve those without power and opportunity. And all of this is because a small group of Christians obeyed God by investing their lives into these students and taught them the principles of the Kingdom of Jesus Christ.
So what happens when an international student catches the vision for the kingdom of God? That’s what I want to find out, because I’ve seen students return to their home countries to serve the poor, to preach the Gospel in their cities, and to use their careers to serve children without opportunities when they could have taken jobs in bigger cities, with bigger salaries, and with higher status. These students followed the way of the kingdom, for Jesus taught them the kingdom of God is like a mustard seed that starts off minuscule but grows into the largest of trees. And he also taught the secret to this growth; the seed must first die and be planted in the ground before it can be raised to life. This is what we are doing when we invest our lives in international students. We are planting seeds across the world that die to the world and its systems and are raised by God to plant a counter cultural kingdom where moth and rust cannot destroy, where the enemy and ruler of this world has no power, and where the glory of God reigns for eternity.
International student ministry is bigger than the students you will befriend. It is about the God of all nations who is calling everyone until Himself and wants to use you to join Him in His mission to save a lost and corrupt world with the Good News that is for all peoples, rich and poor, old and young; the Good News of His kingdom come.
Will you believe in a bigger vision for international students?
Is God calling you to be a part of His plan for making disciples of all nations by reaching international students?
If your answer is yes, then I would encourage you to pray about how you will specifically obey God’s call to reach international students, and I’m excited to pray with you about what it means for you to be involved with this ministry and in what ways you can serve and obey our God.
*http://www.iie.org/Research-and-Publications/Open-Doors (Accessed July 7th, 2013)