As always happens over winter break, the dorms close and the students leave campus. For the International students, it may be a difficult and lonely time. They are required to find temporary housing, and the distance from their family is even more evident as they watch other students leave to spend time at home.
Last winter break, International students were invited to house parties at two of InterVarsity’s training facilities, Bear Trap Ranch in the mountains of Colorado and Cedar Campus on the shores of Lake Michigan in the Upper Peninsula. Nearly fifty International students accepted the invitation to Bear Trap Ranch and forty International students were guests at the house party at Cedar Campus. They arrived with InterVarsity students and other volunteers to experience the hospitality of the staff at Bear Trap and Cedar Campus, the friendly smiles, the hot chocolate on a cold afternoon, and an extra blanket to ward off the chill at night.
The house party participants were organized into family groups of ten to twelve guests, including International students, InterVarsity students, and volunteers. House party guests spent several hours a day in their family group studying the life of Jesus in the Gospel of Luke. In addition, the family groups often ate together in the dining hall. Some family groups even participated in winter activities—ice skating and sledding.
Dr. Don DeGraff, a retired Physics Professor, facilitated a family group at Cedar Campus. He related the following:
“I was the leader of one group, which included six students from Taiwan and six students from China. The group included participants who are outstanding scholars with Ph.D. degrees, and others having less education, some with weaker English. Our two hours as a family group each day were spent discussing the passages from Luke about the life of Jesus. In spite of our diversity, a high degree of bonding quickly developed in our family, with those who are weak in English getting help with new words from the other family group members. The participants all asked some very deep questions as we learned of key events in the life of Jesus. Several times their questions spilled over to the next meal time.”
The family groups offered a setting of acceptance where an International student’s fluency in English would not inhibit being involved in the conversation. These groups were also gatherings where discussion about the eternal things of life was welcomed and encouraged.
K., a Korean woman, met her Savior during a family group meeting at Bear Trap Ranch. She was talking to Shirley Colbert, an InterVarsity staff to International students from Missouri. K. said that she had been going to church because her husband was a Christian, but that she was a Buddhist and had never really understood the significance of Jesus. K. told Shirley, “Here I learned Jesus.” Shirley invited K. to receive Christ as her Savior. K. prayed in her own words and became a Christian.
Many International students appreciated the family groups at both Cedar Campus and Bear Trap Ranch. N., a student from China, wrote to Tom Thompson, the leader of her family group, “I really enjoyed talking with you. If I had stayed in my hometown in China, instead of coming to U.S. a couple of years ago, I might not have chance to get to know Jesus. Now I am here in U.S., and maybe it is God who led me here, and provided me the opportunity to know Jesus and to learn Bible with a lot of others.” An International student who attended the house party at Bear Trap Ranch said that the family groups were his favorite part of the week because, “I could have time to think about Jesus who loves me.”
The week was over all too quickly. In the milling crowd of departing guests, one could hear snatches of conversation, indicating what the Holy Spirit did at the house party. “I have learned many things about Christianity, I met friends and had a wonderful time I will not forget.” said one student. Another student, who claimed to be an agnostic, said, “This week was a way to get closer to God.” During the week, several of the students had said, “Yes, I will follow Jesus.” As they return to campus, these International students will not soon forget the time they spent having fun, making new friends and learning about Jesus at Bear Trap Ranch or Cedar Campus.