By Gordon Govier

When I was a Stranger

On college campuses across the country approximately 100 InterVarsity staff are focused on a specialized ministry to strangers. They apply the admonition of Jesus — “when I was a stranger you took me in” — to the growing international student population.

The World Comes to the U.S. campus
The number of international students on U.S. college campuses grew by almost eight percent last year, totaling 671,616. The “Open Doors” report issued by the Institute of International Education in mid-November declared that the number of students from outside the U.S. attending U.S. colleges has never been higher.

At many schools InterVarsity’s International Student Ministry (ISM) staff work closely with the international student office, coordinating activities such as rides from the airport for incoming new students, temporary housing until apartments or dorm rooms are arranged, and other activities.

At the University of Louisville, InterVarsity volunteer Kristi Peterson also coordinates a friendship partnership program with other volunteers from local churches. “The international does not live with them but the family will call about once a month, take them shopping, have them over for a meal or a birthday celebration, things like that,” said ISM staffworker Bonnie Lecompte.

Internationals Invited to Thanksgiving Dinner
The Thanksgiving holiday is one of the best times of the year to show hospitality to internationals. The theme of the original Pilgrim Thanksgiving resonates well across cultures, and many international students are left on campus while American students go home for the holiday.

InterVarsity’s ISM ministry began coordinating a Thanksgiving meal for internationals at Louisville about six years ago and it has grown steadily each year. With 144 students participating this year, it could no longer be held in a home so they rented a conference room at a nearby Christian camp.

Louisville University’s international student center helped promote the Friday night dinner held the week before the holiday, and supplied funds to help rent the facility. Small groups from six Louisville area churches brought food for the dinner. Traditional American folk music was provided as part of the entertainment.

Volunteers are the key in working with Internationals
“One volunteer told the story of Thanksgiving, how the Pilgrims came to worship God in freedom,” Bonnie said. “We did bobbing for apples, which they thought was hysterical; there was water and apples flying everywhere.”

Bonnie estimated about 150 volunteers were involved, either bringing food or hosting one of the meal tables. “One of the families that sat with a Chinese girl invited her to church on Sunday. This girl had also been to our fall international conference. At the conference she said, ‘I want to serve God but I don’t know who God is.’ Sunday, at church, she became a Christian.”

Because InterVarsity helped connect local volunteers with international students, one student from China no longer feels a stranger to God.




You can make a direct financial donation to support InterVarsity’s work among international students by following this link.