In our latest blog, Elizabeth shares about reaching out to international students.
It was a Saturday night. 11:30PM. I was just putting away the notes for my finance exam. Then the phone rang. I hesitated. Then I picked it up.
“Hi Elizabeth. I need a favour. Julia* has called asking if I can take her to the emergency room [A&E]. She really needs to go tonight and doesn’t know what to do. I’m not in town. Can you take her?”
A hundred thoughts went through my head.
I want to go to sleep. I don’t do nights. I will miss church if I stay up all night. The emergency room at this hour on a Saturday night?
Then that all familiar whisper of the Holy Spirit. “Go. This is ministry.”
When I fell into bed at 4:00AM in the morning on Sunday, I did so to another whisper of the Spirit, “Sometimes ministry is messy, inconvenient, tiring, wonderful, beautiful and wall-breaking down.”
I look back on that night now and realise that God was teaching me something about reaching out to international students and people, even before I moved overseas for the first time. Since then, He has taught me a lot which brings us to a question I’ve been asked.
How do we best reach out to those who have come from another country to ours?
The answer is actually much simpler than you might think. We realise that we too are foreigners, and we realise that, while sometimes it will be messy, it doesn’t have to be hard.
First, you and I have to realise that we are foreigners. In 1 Peter 2:11, Peter addresses his readers with “dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles …” Similarly, Hebrews 11:13 reminds us that the saints in the chapter of faith admitted “that they were foreigners and strangers on earth.” Ultimately, whatever your passport says, if you a follower of Christ, this world is not your home. This should be a freeing thought on so many levels, not the least of which is that you are not so different from the student or refugee who walks through the doors during a Sunday gathering. You are both foreigners in a strange land. But you do have a key advantage: you know how to live in England!
This is where the second realisation comes into practice. It’s not that hard to reach someone who is from another country. You can help them live here. All you have to do is be their friend and walk with them.
How do you do that?
Walk with them on a Sunday morning when they are so terrified that they barely made it through the door. Walk with them into your home, even when they have to make it through the maze of Lego blocks on the floor. Walk with them to the dining room table, even if tea is a pizza you picked up on the way home from work after a long day. Walk with them into the supermarket – they need buy groceries as much as you do! Walk with them into A&E or through the grief that they will experience when something happens at home or they miss an important family event.
You won’t always get it right; you’ll make a few cultural faux pas. Some days it will be messy, even inconvenient. But guess what? In the middle of the mess is where you meet. Most internationals would rather be in the middle of the mess with you than alone outside the neat clean lines. It’s where they see you are real. It’s where they trust you and let you in. It’s where they build the community that they so desperately need after having left the one they know.
It’s in the ordinary of life where someone understands your imperfection – and begins to realise who changes you from imperfect to Holy and Righteous. Whatever it is that you think an international person needs, toss it out. What they need is Jesus. The most likely place they are going to find Him is by looking at you.
*name changed for privacy