How often do I think about international students? How often had they been in my conversations as we’ve planned events? How often have I prayed for the nations to come and taste and see? How often have I applied any talk, Bible study or discipleship meet-up to what this might mean for our interactions with internationals?
Yeh…not so much.
I’ve spent some of the summer thinking about what it means to be a global Christian on campus, after it became very clear to a few people around me that this was a big blind spot for me.
As a way of getting my thoughts together, Stevie B suggested I wrote a response to the question below. I hope, as you grab a cuppa and take 15 mins to read this, or send it the way of international teams or CU execs who can do the same, that it will be a helpful intro resource, causing us to think through again what it means to really give every student on campus the opportunity to hear and respond to the good news of Jesus. I also hope it may give encouragement to those already involved, as ignorant and selfish staff workers like myself can often neglect or even forget about the important work they are doing. I’m thankful to people like Maddy Brown, Joe Sturman, Fred O Loughlin, Matt Fox-Lilley, Nay Dawson, Mini Song and Andy Briggs for their example in this field and for all their hard work and gospel service in this department. The fact that in writing this response to the quote below, it’s still a quote I can imagine coming out my mouth if I’m not careful shows just how much I, and we, need to think about this area.
“I don’t see the point in Globe Cafe, or in going out of my way to reach out to international students on campus, they speak a funny language, they have a different religion and they are different to me! Let me just reach the British students with the Gospel.”
Firstly, let me say I’m in many ways so encouraged by what you’ve just said. For starters, your specific, whole-hearted, focused passion to reach British students with the gospel is something I deeply admire. It’s wonderful that you have this passion. Secondly, I think it’s brilliant that you are under no illusions about what it might be like to meaningfully reach out to those of other cultures – it will indeed be hard! They do indeed speak a different language. They are indeed different to you. It’s good that you know this. So many students would glibly say we should do this and that for international students without really considering what it might cost, and thus they give up or never get started – you are strongly aware of the potential cost of this specific mission effort. That’s good. I’m encouraged by these points.
However, alongside the encouragement, I’d also want to challenge you in several places. I have come to believe that reaching out to international students is not an optional extra in the life of a Christian Union – the thing we do if we have enough people or some extra money – but rather that it is a fundamental core ingredient. Although not every single CU member will be involved in the weekly running of the Globe Café, it is the responsibility and duty and privilege of every Christian on campus to see cross-cultural evangelism as a priority – in prayer, in giving, in lifestyle. I speak these words deeply aware of my own need to constantly repent in this area, so I hope we can grow together in our convictions in the coming discussion.
Firstly, and I suppose my main question which underpins all the other smaller points would be this: “Where does your passion for reaching British students with the gospel come from?”
Because I’d strongly suggest that with a little bit of thought, we’d see that almost any good motivation for reaching British students with the gospel would also send you out to internationals. Let me show you what I mean.
For example, if you are motivated to reach British students because the Bible tells you to, then you should also be motivated to reach internationals, because the Bible is clear on the cross cultural aspect of mission. Paul went across boundaries. The early church went across boundaries. Jesus went across boundaries. Outwards is our trajectory. The ends of the earth is our destination.
If you are motivated to reach British students because of God’s love, then you should also be motivated to reach internationals, because God’s love is for people of every tribe and tongue and nation. Jesus died for Jew and Greek. And Korean and Malaysian and French. There will be a great multitude from every tongue, every nation, every people group. God’s love for the British lad in your rugby team is no greater – shocking, I know – than for the introverted Chinese computer science student in your flat. We may find it hard to love across boundaries. So did God. And yet he loved. He loves! And every student on campus belongs to the God of love.
If you are motivated to reach British students because of the great need and the strategic opportunity at Uni, or by the lack of other opportunities your British mates will get to hear the gospel in this declining post-Christian culture – then you’ll be motivated to reach internationals too, many of whom come from cultures that haven’t ever heard of Jesus. There are students in our halls of residence from countries where missionaries are banned. They have never heard of Jesus. They are now on a campus in Britain seeking to engage with this culture for perhaps just one year. We have an opportunity here to win converts for Christ from nations where they are no converts for Christ! Yes we must reach British students. And YES we must reach internationals. For the need is great. All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Chinese students, Indian students, Pakistani students, German students, American students, Italian students, Latvian students – they have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. There is only one mediator. They’ve not heard of him. The need is great.
If you’re motivated to reach British students because people are broken, and God calls us to display and live out his loving character in kindness and compassion, then you’ll be motivated to reach internationals, who are from cultures as broken as ours and who are perhaps uniquely in need of love and compassion as they arrive in a strange land, a strange city, a strange campus. How would you feel if you got the plane to China, and you got all the way to the campus, and you got into your room, and no-one really engaged with you. Imagine not knowing what to eat, what to say, where to go. Imagine the locals basically ignoring you, perhaps even avoiding you because you “speak a funny language”.
Now imagine a group of locals putting on an evening for international students, saying they believe in a God who loves all people, and therefore they want to welcome and love as he does. Imagine someone greeting you, and sitting down with you. Imagine making a friend. Imagine you’re excited conversations with your home friends over Skype if even one local invited you round for food. Would it not be one of the coolest stories you’d have to tell? Would it not be one of the most heart-warming, kind moments of your stay? Would you not appreciate them so much? Yet we put on evangelistic events that don’t even account for other languages. We find it awkward to sit with the international in our lecture. We can’t be bothered ‘cause it’s hard. What a shame! If we really have a heart of compassion, if we really love because he loved us first, then we’ll be motivated not just for the Brits, but for each student. I normally deeply dislike the “What would Jesus do?” sentiment that’s so easy to justify almost anything by, but, I have to suggest that if Jesus were in our lectures, he’d gladly choose being pushed to the fringes of the in-crowd in order to love that Muslim girl from Oman who no-one speaks to. How challenging this is!
And so if you’re motivated to reach British students – I have to suggest that (unless your motivation is shallow, not centered in God’s word and his character) it follows that you’ll want to reach international students too. I feel the pinch of this too. But it is clearly true. How little we really know and love this God! Praise God that he’s transforming us to be more like him.
People or peoples?
Secondly, as John Piper so helpfully puts forward in his book Let The Nations Be Glad, there’s something beautiful about having a diverse spectrum of people won to Christ, as opposed to just as big a number as possible, and we get to play a part in that by reaching internationals. God is deeply invested in seeing a variety of peoples come to him, not just people.
What does this mean? Well, God is not merely interested in culminating for himself a big group of believers. If he were, it would logically mean we would focus all of our missionary efforts on the majority group – the biggest countries in the world would be the only ones we’d send missionaries to, or, closer to home, we’d only reach out to the “majority” student on campus – the white, British, undergraduates.
But Piper suggests that though God is clearly interested in bringing “many sons to glory”, he actually, on a more fundamental level, is seeking to win to himself people from within every people group. On the last day, Christ will be broadly and diversely glorified by the fact that from every single people group, people will praise him. We say, fair enough, but surely it’s the number of individual souls saved that is the highest priority, and so we should focus our efforts on the biggest group? This carries some weight, but if we think about it, what will more show Jesus as supreme on the last day – a big army from one nation, or a huge army of every nation? Surely he will be more glorified on the last day if those before him represent not just many people, but many peoples.
Adolf Hitler won admiration from masses in one country. Kim-Jong Il is ‘worshiped’ by 24 million North Koreans. But outside of their countries, their appeal doesn’t cut the mustard. History shows them not to be as great as the masses in their nation, at the time, would have suggested. But God the Father wants Jesus to be worshiped not just by a number of people, but by all the peoples right across the nations and throughout the centuries. He will then be shown to not simply be a fad or a phase in one big country, but an eternal and diverse, all-satisfying Saviour to people from every age, in every land. How sweet he must be, to win the adoration of the Tokyo Businessman and the Amazonian tribesman and every tongue and tribe in between!
For a band to win elation from thousands or even millions in the UK is one thing – but for them to be loved and adored and for their songs to be sung and name to be celebrated across generations and around the entire globe shows their greatness is far superior to that of even the most well-loved home growner who doesn’t make it abroad. It’s the same for Jesus. For him to be praised and worshiped, not just in Israel, not just by white, British undergraduates, but by 13th century Frenchmen, 21st century Chinese, 1st century Corinthians, 19th century Indians, 22nd century North Koreans will show his supreme worth on the last day. It is uniquely glorifying to Jesus to talk to a student from another tongue about his salvation. For if the two of you – from opposite ends of the world, in different mother tongues, with all your different prejudices and biases and politics and upbringing – agree that Jesus is the best, how stunning and glorifying to the King of kings is that?! In this context, suddenly, Globe Café doesn’t feel like a drag. It feels like the sharp end of what God is doing on campus. It’s often smaller in size, it’s often less snazzy in feel which means we’re often less interested. But true to the pattern of Jesus’ kingdom, the weak things, the small things, the looks-pathetic-as-he-dies-on-a-cross things, are the very things which God uses the most. Let the peoples praise him.
What’s at stake?
Perhaps you’re not convinced. Perhaps you’re still a “let’s just go for numbers” person – and, who knows, perhaps Piper is wrong. Perhaps I’m wrong in the way I’ve come to see the nations – plural – as being the emphasis of the mission field. Let’s say for a second that it is just about numbers.
Even if that was so, it would be immensely foolish to ignore international students. For the University of Birmingham, around 18% of their entire in-take are international students. That equates to nearly 5,000 people! Imagine if the CU ignored that number of people because “they speak a funny language”. Frightening. Or at Aston University, where over 20% of the campus is internationals, equating to about 2,000 students. To give you some idea, where I went to University, on my campus, in TOTAL there was about 3,000 students. So for Aston CU to ignore international students, numerically, is like Eastbourne CU ignoring two thirds of their campus! What about Wolverhampton? Well for Wolves CU to ignore internationals would be ignoring just under 3,000 students. This would be the equivalent of deciding never to tell anyone at the Eastbourne campus the gospel. If we are keen to reach people for Christ – we have to take notice of this! I don’t think God’s primary reach is for NUMBERS. But even if it was, then the % we’re ignoring if we just go for home students is staggering.
The chance to shine bright
But stats, though helpful in painting a picture for us, tend to be fairly void of life and love as they are, well, just numbers. Numbers about people, admittedly, but we tend to forget that. We tend to much more like “relational reasons” – motivations for doing something that are driven by a love for God or a love for people. Reasons that will comfort people and bring much glory to Jesus. Now, because as Christians we are called to love, we really do have an opportunity here to shine bright, bringing much glory to Jesus. Because anyone can love their mates. But loving internationals will make Christians visibly different.
First, it makes us different to other students. No-one on campus will go the extra mile to be kind to an international student. Much less to whole groups of them. Imagine what it says to the international student, but also to the British students who are watching – and perhaps scoffing – if we go out of our way to welcome and befriend!
But also, it makes us different to the Uni. Forget other students, what about how the Uni and the SU would react?! In Eastbourne, the SU weren’t doing much at all for internationals. A bit but not loads. And after some phone calls and a meeting, we asked if we could run and pay for a Quiz Night for them. They were blown away that we’d run a quiznight for 300 new arrivals for free! They even let us advertise the CU! It was amazing. The next year, with a change of staff, they asked us to come and do a quiz at their welcome evening, and provide a meal for every international. All well and good, a great opportunity, but with an annual budget of about £70 (!), we couldn’t afford it. We still went and did the quiz, but to our great surprise the SU had not coughed up the money for a meal. So there we were, around tables, at the welcome meal, with no meal. Can you imagine? People have come from China to study at the Uni. The Uni ask a group of 10 students with accounts amounting to a box of pound coins hidden in their wardrobe to cover the cost, which we couldn’t, and so they simply pulled the plug! Those internationals, those nervous, new, lonely international students didn’t get a welcome meal, because if we didn’t do it, the Uni wouldn’t do it. How terrible! And yet what a chance to stand out as Christians if we love and give in a world where even SUs are cutting corners! Nobody loves like the Trinity. But next in the list should be Christians. What an opportunity we have to stand out in this area. What a witness we could be!
He embraced the foreigner
Lastly – and this is perhaps the biggest thing that will change our cold hearts here – even with our cold hearts,Jesus didn’t treat us like we treat the internationals. He didn’t say “they speak funny” and “they’re different” and “it’s too hard” and “I’ll stick with what I’m used to” and “someone else will do it”. No he came to be one of us. He became a foreigner. Became like us. Endured the cross. He left heaven’s glories to be spat at and murdered so that foreigners like you and me could share the lavish love of his Father. If we grasp that, we’ll leave the chaplaincy, we’ll leave our cliques, and we’ll go to the nations, no plain ticket needed, no visa, no vaccinations, perhaps just moving rows in our lecture. But we’ll be at the very sharp end of God’s purposes on campus, calling the nations to be glad in him, calling the peoples to praise him.
– Watch the video to the right, be inspired, and be ready to see what God does!
– Be intentional – try and meet one international student this Freshers Week.
– Leaders – Run a CU evening international style, to envision the CU: The talk, internationals praying in their own language, maps around the room, praying in groups, food, flags everywhere! What fun! Click the photo for a video that may be helpful for such an evening
– Nag your CU Exec to go for it in Mission Week… could you have a series of international events at tea-time, before the main evening event?! A separate speaker? If you got 30 people there each night, would that not be worth it?! It needn’t be too much extra work. A core team could mastermind and run with this. Why not?!
– If that’s out of reach, can you run one good quality welcome meal in Freshers Week? Good food cooked on mass, go out with invites for the couple of days before? So do-able! Such potential.