Responding to COVID-19—Hope & Hospitality for Internationals
A couple months ago, my city’s number of coronavirus cases spiked. Overnight, my husband and I found ourselves trying to balance work, homeschooling, caring for elderly parents, and social distancing. As we entered crisis mode, I became more empathetic to the dissonance many international students have shared with me as I’ve served them through International Student Ministry:
Displacement: “I just found out I had to move out of my dorm, but my visa prohibits me from leaving the country.“
Isolation: “I’ll have to break my fast alone during Ramadan for the first time.“
Grief: “I’m the first in my family to graduate in the US, and we were all so excited for my graduation. That dream is lost.“
Worry: “My father still has to go to work. The situation is so dangerous . . . [that] bread from the market has to be kept in the oven for 10 minutes.”
Shame: “My country is being blamed for this terrible pandemic, and I just want to hide. People back home are telling me I wasn’t with them in their need, but now I’m a threat bringing COVID-19 back home.“
Whether you’re an international student or not, you’re likely experiencing some of these emotions. In all of this, God has an invitation for you.
To International Students & Scholars
Seek God in Scripture
Regardless of how your culture views suffering, consider what the Bible says about it: “We are full of joy even when we suffer. We know that our suffering gives us the strength to go on. The strength to go on produces character. Character produces hope. And hope will never bring us shame” (Rom 5:3–5).
“I am very thankful for my Christian faith that allows me to navigate this crisis with great hope,” said one student from Jamaica. “This crisis has reminded us all that there is a bigger and greater purpose in life found in God.”
“Scripture comes alive in times of adversity,” said InterVarsity campus minister Alexis Barnhart. “One of my [African international student leaders] shared how she now more deeply values God’s compassion for the foreigner. . . . Her small group had studied the book of Ruth—Scriptures that highlight God’s heart for the vulnerable. Her anger and sadness are held in the hands of a . . . God who stands with the fringes and hears the cries of the afflicted.”
Whether or not you’re a follower of Jesus, God offers us hope, direction, and purpose for these trying times. Here are some resources to consider:
InterVarsity hosted our first national International GATHERING! online, and I was so blessed to meet people I wouldn’t have normally met. While we can’t be with others in person, we can still choose to connect. Eating alone isn’t the only option!
Some of us were raised in cultures that frown on asking for help or exposing deeper personal challenges. However, this pandemic is too big for any of us to walk through alone. Even if it feels uncomfortable, ask for help whether with groceries or speaking with a trained counselor.
ABCs for Americans
Adopt an International
Churches and InterVarsity alumni have stepped up to host “homeless” international students even as they risk their own health, a reflection of God’s love and hospitality toward us.
Hospitality isn’t only about hosting someone in our homes but also in our hearts. Is there an international student God may be calling you to invest in? Is there someone he wants you to reach out to or pray for daily?
Be Sensitively Inquisitive
Don’t assume each international student is going through the same challenges. Ask questions but be sensitive to how they could be interpreted (e.g., if a country has been criticized for its handling of coronavirus, certain questions about their government may be shaming).
Try questions like:
How have your dreams and plans been disrupted?
What are your top concerns for yourself, your family, and country?
How can I pray for you? Is there any way I can help?
Learn from international students whose countries are ahead of us on the COVID-19 timeline or whose leaders have done an exemplary job of flattening the curve.
Cultivate Emotional Health
Set an example by caring for yourself. Acknowledge your feelings of grief, fear, and anger. Do your best to laugh and try to still have fun even in the midst of this stressful season. Then empower your international friends to pursue emotional wholeness by being supportive and helping them find resources, like counseling, as needed.
International students or not, we simply don’t have control over the pandemic. But we do have control over how we respond. This is an opportunity to extend and be blessed by friendship. It’s an opportunity for discovery and growth. May we all embrace hope and experience hospitality in new and unexpected ways.
Currently, Eva serves as an Associate Director in the International Student Ministry department, helping all InterVarsity chapters engage with international students. You can support her ministry at donate.intervarsity.org/donate#895.
God’s invites us to not only join him in the suffering around us; he is also inviting us to explore our own personal disappointments and losses on a deeper level. This difficult time can be an opportunity to cultivate newness.