Editor’s note: Kelly is married to her college sweetheart, Scott. She is a stay-at-home mom and homeschools their daughters. Her family lives in the Midwest, and serves at a large Midwestern university.
This interview has been edited and condensed from its original form.
Read Part 1: How One Mom Committed to International Student Ministry
Read Part 2: A How-To Guide for Getting Involved
CP: What has doing international student ministry taught you about God?
Kelly: The most exciting and encouraging thing is that God is still on the move. God is still saving people. People are still becoming Christians today. I love it! Every time I see someone become a Christian, it’s a miracle before my eyes. God is doing it, and I just get to be the witness of the whole thing. That’s so encouraging for me. The second critical lesson is we need to constantly rely on God, not our own strength, wit, or personality. God has been gracious to let me fail when I forget that. A key verse is: “Unless the Lord build the house, it’s laborers labor in vain.”
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CP: Besides practical ways to get involved, is there any other advice you’d give to someone who is interested, but feels intimidated or anxious or unqualified? Like, “I’m just a normal person. I don’t know how to answer people’s questions about the Bible, I don’t know anything about other cultures. What if I offend them or do something wrong or make a mistake?”
Kelly: I totally empathize with all those feelings, and I don’t know of anyone involved who doesn’t still feel those to some degree or another. I would be worried if you said, “I’ve got it all together.” I would be worried about the state of your soul if you went into this and didn’t have any hesitations. Embrace the awkwardness. Of course it’s going to be awkward. Anytime you meet someone new for the first time, it’s awkward.
It’s not about you; it’s not about me; it’s about the Lord. My life is not my own, it has been bought with a price, and I need to be about God’s agenda. That needs to supersede everything else and push you out of that comfort zone. Our lack is an opportunity for God’s supply. You need to be a learner: connect and learn.
If you’re interested, but feel inadequate, that’s great. Connect with people and ministries in your church or parachurch ministries like Bridges International who are already involved in this. Start asking a ton of questions and learn from them. Even if your church or campus doesn’t have a Bridges International ministry, go online, connect with them, ask some questions, even request that they would start a ministry at your local university. See if your church has a Christianity Explored class. If it doesn’t, see if they’ll start it. Connect with missionaries your church supports. They are a wealth of information and resources about how to do cross-cultural ministry. Connect with international believers in your church. Brainstorm with them ways to reach more internationals. It is so important we’re working alongside brothers and sisters in Christ from other countries because they are huge door openers for ministry opportunities and a wealth of information.
If you are interested and want to learn more, go to your denomination’s missions conferences or listen to their online talks. When you go to a regular Christian conference, like The Gospel Coalition conference, choose seminars that deal specifically with international ministry topics. Read blogs about it – like China Partnership! Learn about other countries and cultures on your own, check out helpful websites about internationals or ministries. Befriend Christians from other countries—living in a university town provides that opportunity.
CP: Do you have any resources you’d recommend for people who want to get involved?
Kelly: Remember to start with your local church and denomination. Try to find resources to give people in their home language so language is not a barrier. Joshua Project is excellent to understand the state of the church in various countries and cultures. TGC has helpful articles and versions of their website in different languages, including Mandarin. China Partnership has a portion of their website for how to engage with Chinese people. Open Doors Data is a comprehensive information resource about visiting students and scholars that come to the U.S. That is helpful to find out what universities students are going to and where they are coming from.
These books are fantastic if you want to learn more about international ministry: Cross-Cultural Servanthood: Serving the World in Christlike Humility and Strangers Next Door. Apologetic books that are great to give away or use with Chinese are Song of a Wanderer, written by a Chinese scientist who earned his PhD from Michigan Sate University. This book shows how faith and science are not at odds. Another helpful resource is The Stranger on the Road to Emmaus, which goes through the Bible’s entire metanarrative. Most visiting scholars have little to no knowledge about the Bible, so this ties in how the Old Testament points to the New. Third Mill has been helpful as well.
What if I want to get involved but am intimidated? Being friendly goes so far; not just polite, friendly. Remember that they are people. Ask them about themselves. People are homesick—ask them about that, ask them about their families, ask to see pictures. They are human beings, and they are far from home.
CP: There is a lot of tension rising all around, and a lot of growing nationalism. Our work supporting the church in China is going to get harder on all sides.
Kelly: One of the compelling beauties of the gospel is now there is no longer Jew or Gentile, male or female, Greek or barbarian. I’ve had Chinese and Japanese women sitting next to each other at an evangelistic Bible study in my home, becoming friends, becoming Christians at the same time, and being in the same discipleship group. Only the gospel does that. That sort of heavenly citizenship supersedes any earthly citizenship we are a part of. And that’s exciting.
I got involved because I love evangelism and I loved the people, but also the gospel opportunity. One of the things that is so crucial about international ministry is about 90 percent of the people we interact with are Chinese intellectuals. Let’s be honest, if I went to China as a missionary, I would never have access to these people. Even if I did have access, they would never have time for me, because their lives are so busy. What would they care about what some stay-at-home mom from America has to tell them? International student ministry is critical, because you have people from the upper echelons coming to the United States. They have more freedom and more security to ask these questions. And more time. They don’t have that time when they are [in their home country]. We have an opportunity. God is bringing the nations to the U.S. and to U.S. campuses.
If we can’t get into those countries, God’s work is not stopped. He brings them here. Out of the top five countries that send international students to our state, three are closed. The majority of students coming to the U.S. are from closed countries, where you can’t go as a missionary. Not only that, these people are going to be the leaders of the current and next generation. If they can be won for Christ: praise God. Even if they don’t become Christians, what a wonderful opportunity to leave them with a good taste in their mouth; they at least personally have a relationship with someone who breaks down the stereotypes their national propaganda has been feeding them their whole lives. That is so unique.
How have relationships with people who are unlike you caused you to rejoice in your true identity as a citizen of heaven?