By Abi Christian

More than Mentors

For the last three years, InterVarsity students at the University of Wisconsin—Whitewater have been serving international students who come to their campus. They have volunteered as conversational partners, attended international potlucks, and most recently helped launch a peer mentor program for new international students.

The idea for the program began with student Megan Gander, who took the chapter’s interest in internationals and began thinking of practical ways to show Christ-like love to them. She envisioned the chapter playing an active role in welcoming international students to Whitewater—showing students around campus, taking them grocery shopping, eating meals together, and simply befriending them.

Meeting the Need
“I’m all about planning and brainstorming,” said Megan. “I needed to find a role that was legitimate for building these relationships.” Megan contacted the university’s international student advisor and learned that while freshmen students participated in a peer mentor program the first few weeks of school, there was not a similar program set up for international students. Here was a need that InterVarsity members could fill.

When Megan began recruiting people to be peer mentors, a number of InterVarsity members readily volunteered. For the first few weeks of school, international students met with an American student, who answered questions about classes, the university , and living in the United States.

InterVarsity members also hosted an ice cream party for internationals during an orientation session. Attendees divided into groups for a scavenger hunt around campus, which helped familiarize new students with the university.

Through these events, international students were personally invited to InterVarsity picnics, bonfires, and outings to Brewers games. Megan saw many initial connections turn into casual friendships between American and international students.

A Spiritual Thirst
As the eventful schedule of fall tapered off, Megan prayed for new ways to serve internationals. One day, the president of the Chinese Student Association told her that there were Chinese students interested in learning more about Christianity.

Megan was thrilled. She offered to start a GIG (Group Investigating God), where students could study the gospel and ask questions in a safe environment. Several Chinese students and a handful of other internationals began meeting with Megan.

Over the spring semester, the students looked at various accounts of the gospel and discussed topics of their choice, such as what heaven might look like. Megan found free paperback Bibles through InterVarsity Press, which she gave to the students in the GIG.

She was not expecting their surprised and pleased reaction. “They kept saying, ‘This is for me? I get to keep this?’” said Megan. “There was joy that in their hands they held a Bible, something they may never have touched or even read before.”

One Chinese student in the GIG had heard the gospel from visiting Americans in China several years ago, and identified herself as a Christian. But as she studied with Megan, she realized there was much she had not understood about Jesus. Meeting with Megan helped clarify the student’s beliefs, and deepened her faith.

Megan has seen similar examples of growth in other students. “God has been working in them before they even came here,” she said.

Cultural Adjustments
Getting a group of students to meet consistently each week, however, was a frustrating challenge. Sometimes as many as six students attended the GIG. Other times, only one person showed up, or different people attended each week.

“My natural human response was to be upset,” said Megan. “But God has blessed those conversations too.” Through one-on-one time together, Megan found that students asked questions they may not have asked in the group, and she began to understand some cultural differences in work habits.

“On weekdays, these students are all about studying.” said Megan. She tried meeting in afternoons, or during different nights of the week, but weekends worked best. American students at Whitewater typically commute to school or hold weekend jobs, so internationals staying on campus have less activities competing for their time, and are more apt to take breaks from studying.

Despite the challenges and sometimes confusing language barriers, Megan is confident that God can use these experiences in the lives of international students when they return to their home country. Even if they do not yet follow Jesus, she hopes they will remember seeing Christ-like love borne out through InterVarsity members.



You can make a direct financial donation to support InterVarsity’s work at the University of Wisconsin—Whitewater by following this link.