For over 50 years new international students and scholars, who arrive at the University of Wisconsin campus in Madison at this time of year, have been invited to a free tour of their new home city offered by residents of the local community and facilitated by InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. After visiting some of the most interesting attractions in the city, the tour ends up at the homes of local residents, so internationals get to see how Madison families live.
It’s an opportunity for all participants to make new friendships and find out about other cultures. It’s also an opportunity to inform the students about InterVarsity’s International Fellowship, which meets on a weekly basis during the school year.
Last year, 202 Internationals from 28 countries participated, along with about 120 volunteer drivers and guides from Madison area churches. A scholar from mainland China wrote afterwards: “Thank you for the Tour and everything you presented to us, not only the beautiful scenery of Madison, but also your kindness and hospitality as Americans and as Christians. I am not a Christian, but I have read some parts of the Holy Bible. I bought it in China and brought it all the way here. I am interested in the Christian faith.”
The first tour itinerary was written by former InterVarsity Christian Fellowship president John Alexander for his University of Wisconsin urban geography class. Around 1954, UW student Tom Kalish talked with Dr. Alexander (then faculty advisor for InterVarsity) about how to help share the love of Christ with international students through friendship and service. As a result of that conversation Tom led a tour each fall for international students. After his graduation from graduate school, Tom returned to Madison every year to lead the tour. Later, another UW professor, Dr. Archie MacKinney—former member of the InterVarsity Board of Trustees—coordinated the tour. Now the tour is coordinated by Terrell Smith, a campus staff member for International Student Ministries.
Local residents have the opportunity to experience what it’s like to be a missionary without leaving home as they share hospitality and develop friendships with some of the future leaders of the world. Internationals are looking for friendships and appreciate the contacts that they make during the tour, as well as the opportunity to visit the home of an American family. Those international students who join the weekly International Fellowship meetings have opportunities to practice their English language skills, study biblical texts, and build friendships.
Tours and similar introductory events for international students are initiated on campuses across the country. For instance, InterVarsity students at the University of Southern California-Los Angeles welcome international students during the International Orientation Fair at UCLA. The homepage of InterVarsity’s International Student Ministry states that 25% of the world’s future leaders are studying here in the U.S. right now, a half million of the best and the brightest from 210 countries.
A transforming introduction to the Gospel of Jesus Christ may be the most important experience an international student takes back home.
The story of one international student impacted by ministry