International Student Ministry

Gordon Govier
April 8, 2009

InterVarsity staff who work with international students get to try exotic foods. They develop friendships with students from almost every continent. And they just may be counseling the future leader of a foreign country.

“The U.S. State Department produces a list containing name after name of former international students who are leaders of their countries,” said Lisa Espineli Chinn, director of InterVarsity’s International Student Ministry (ISM). “That’s our mission field.”

More and more internationals study in the U.S.

There are 730,000 students from outside the U.S. studying at U.S. colleges and universities. InterVarsity has international student ministry on about 50 of those campuses and is expanding to more.

The University of Southern California, the school at the top of the list with the most international students, and the University of California Los Angeles, seventh on the list, are both slotted to receive ISM staff this year. Several schools in St. Louis, including the University of Missouri (UMSL) and St. Louis Community College, are also expected to get new ISM staff.

India is the country sending the most students to the U.S., 94,563 this year. Several years ago it overtook China, which is now number two. Speaking in a chapel service at InterVarsity’s National Service Center, Lisa noted that students from the two countries come from vastly different religious climates. “It’s a real challenge for us,” she said. “The Indian students can take Christ, and put him in their pantheon of gods. And the Chinese are still struggling with the concept of God. They say, ‘I don’t know him or know how to know him.’”

She noted that the number of Saudi Arabian students has grown rapidly in the last year, as has the number of Nepalese students. “Really, the world is coming here,” she said. “In Japan, one tenth of one percent of the population are Christians. Japanese students are here and they are open to the Gospel.”

InterVarsity offers internationals hospitality

The first ministry that InterVarsity offers to international students is hospitality. The new motto of International Student Ministry is “First to Welcome,” Lisa said. At some schools, such as at the University of Wisconsin, the get-acquainted tour of the local community has become an annual tradition. Students at Lindenwood University near St. Louis recently launched Culture Break, to fill a void of activities for international students during weekends. Another ISM holiday tradition is Christmas-season house parties for international students at InterVarsity’s Cedar Campus and BearTrap Ranch conference centers.

More than 1,000 people participated in the International Student Track at InterVarsity’s Urbana 06 Student Missions Conference in St. Louis. Lisa is hoping for 1,300 in attendance at Urbana 09 this coming December.

Lisa remembers talking with a Chinese scholar at the beginning of one InterVarsity conference. “I would never consider becoming a Christian,” he told her. When he saw her at the end of the conference he said, “That never is now a maybe.”

She concluded, “From never to maybe is a major work of God. God is at work among international students today.”

Download or listen to Lisa’s talk

Find out where InterVarsity has ISM chapters

You can make a direct financial donation to support InterVarsity’s work with international students by following this link.