Everyone around me wanted to learn new languages and cultures and study abroad and get to know international students. They liked food and music from other ethnicities, and they nodded their heads knowingly every time our university president talked about the importance of shared experiences around the globe.
I didn’t get it. And I didn’t care.
So when my InterVarsity staff workers asked me to plan activities for World Student Day for my chapter, I was a little taken aback. How could I plan our international celebration when I wasn’t one of “those people”—the globally minded, sensitive, curious people? The ones with “a heart for the nations”—whatever that meant?
I told my staff workers about my hesitation, and they told me to pray about it. So I did. And it propelled me into a great adventure.
My Dangerous Prayer
The annual World Student Day, sponsored by the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students, invites Christians everywhere to spend a day praying for university students and faculty members in every nation. It’s difficult, though, to pray for someone you know nothing about, so my chapter decided to hold an international celebration the night before in order to display and celebrate the diversity of our chapter, campus, and world.
I knew that in order for me to plan this event with integrity, I needed to care about these places and people. I needed to personally be excited about the chance to experience other traditions, and to understand why it is important to learn from them. I needed to learn to love the world, but I couldn’t do that on my own.
So I asked God to change me. I asked him to give me a love for the breadth of the world that he created, and to open my eyes to see the value and importance of diversity.
He did that very thing.
As I prayed, planned, and searched the Scriptures for the motivation behind the event, over and over again, I discovered how important diversity is to God. Here's a sample of what I found:
an invitation to all nations to come to God (Isaiah 55)
an affirmation that God created all people, and continues to value all of them (Psalm 67;1 John 2:2)
a promise that, one day, his kingdom would be complete—when every single culture joined together to worship him (Revelation 7)
Culture is a lens through which we view the world and God. In talking to people from different cultures, I’ve discovered that there are aspects of God that they understand more clearly than I ever have because of their cultural lens. We have things to teach and learn from each other about the God of whom we are all reflections.
I could, perhaps, have read and educated myself and come to intellectually understand all of these things, but nothing but a miracle could have changed my heart to actually care about them. Listening to my Korean friend describe the mountains she had grown up in, or hearing my Middle Eastern friend speak of the struggles facing the church in his country—these opportunities to glimpse the cultures that had shaped my friends were, suddenly, treasures to me. They gave me more knowledge, but they also gave me a clearer image of people created and loved by the same God who made me. By the time World Student Day was upon us, I was passionate about the opportunity to join with and celebrate my brothers and sisters around the world. I loved them. I saw them as valuable. And I wanted to pray for them.
My prayers that day were deeper, more intent, and more enduring than ever before, because God had given me a desire to pray. But that desire went far beyond the event. It led me to reach out to international students on my campus, inviting them home with me for the holidays. It led me to travel and eventually move to Ukraine—a country I couldn’t even have found on a map before—to work with students there.
Your Turn to Pray
This World Student Day, you may be where I was four years ago, wondering what the fuss is all about. Here is a challenge for you: pray for God to help you pray. Ask him to turn your heart to different people and countries, and engage your mind by reading the news or meeting with someone from another culture. Then, join World Student Day and lift the requests of the global church to the Lord in love for your brothers and sisters, in solidarity with them. Recognize that they are an indispensable part of the kingdom coming on earth as it will be in heaven. But be careful.