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.
CP: Tell me about the specific work you are doing now with international students, especially during the realities of COVID-19.
Kelly: I am following up and continuing to invest in relationships with the women I already have; that is, with brand new believers and unbelievers. The ways I do that are keeping in touch with them via social media, and hanging out with them when I can (obviously socially distancing). If I bake something, I bake something extra and bring it over. That sort of thing. I just finished an online Zoom book study, and am just having them over to our house.
CP: Is [the university near you] the primary way you’ve connected with international students?
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Kelly: Yes. I primarily interact with Masters, PhD, and visiting scholars. Visiting scholars are professors in China, and they are coming for one year to do extra research. That sort of work has also opened up doorways for me to interact with faculty who are also internationals. I work more with an older crowd.
CP: How did you get started in ISM [international student ministry], and what compelled you to go from living a “normal life” to making international students a part of your life?
Kelly: I love sharing the gospel with people. I love talking about Jesus, I love answering questions about the Bible. That was what hooked me from the beginning. Evangelism and discipleship light me up. Evangelism is what got me interested in ISM, but what has kept me in ISM are the people, the gospel opportunities, and the potential global impact that international student ministry has.
When we moved here and I found out the church we attend was hosting a Christianity Explored class and needed table leaders, I signed up. I was drawn to that, because it wasn’t a situation where I have to convince people to be interested in Christianity, but people were already coming who were interested. That made a huge difference. It just so happened that the 50 people who came were primarily Chinese. I wasn’t really nervous about that, because my aunt is from Beijing.
What kept me [in ISM] was the people: the team of ISM volunteers at my church and the internationals themselves. Our church has a team of core international ministry volunteers who love the Lord and have a heart for the nations, the leader of that ministry is fantastic, and I loved all of the people at the tables themselves.
Their life stories were fascinating, and they were asking questions like: “Kelly, who is Jesus?” or, “What is the Bible about? What is the gospel?” I would have these questions almost every week. When do you get that in ministry?
What also helped me get started was my church already had something established. As a mom with three young kids, it was something I could just plug into. I didn’t have to start anything, I didn’t have to plan anything, I didn’t have to set anything up or clean anything afterwards. It was all totally in place and all I had to do was show up and get plugged in.
CP: You have kids, you have family – that’s already such a busy life. And you’re bringing other people into that life by doing international student ministry. What compelled you to go from living a “normal” life to making international students a part of your life?
Kelly: There are three things that really compelled the trajectory of my marriage and our family:
#1: The Bible and what God has said
There are several verses. The first is the Great Commission, where Jesus tells us all authority in heaven and earth has been given to him, and we are to go and make disciples – not converts – but disciples of every nation, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them all that I have commanded you. That has been one of my life verses. The second one is similar to that, in 1 Thess. 2:7-8, Paul says that, just as a nursing mother cares for her children, he shared not only the gospel, but his life. That is what it’s got to be for us as a family. Another verse that has really impacted me is that I am not my own, I have been bought with a price. It’s not my life; it’s the Lord’s life, and he can do with me whatever he wants. Another verse is in Luke 10:2, Jesus is about to send out the 72. He says to them that the harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few, and to ask the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into the field. That means God has a harvest out there, so I want to be part of harvesting it!
#2: The desire not to waste our lives
The second thing that really impacted us was my husband and I were college students sitting in the big open field at the One Day 2000 conference when John Piper gave his infamous talk about not wasting your life. That radically changed our lives. We were like: “We do not want to waste our lives. We want to invest in eternity. We do not want to buy into the American dream.” Piper quoted, in that talk, a plaque they had in his kitchen growing up. It’s a quote from C.T. Studd that says: “One life, ‘twill soon be past. Only what’s done for Christ will last.” I think about that quote, I can’t even tell you how many times a week. Our life is that little dash in between when we are born and when we die. What am I living for? What do I want to account for when I am before the Creator and Maker of all things? I want to be like, “God, I want my life to be poured out before you to say that I’ve run the race and I’ve given it my all.” That John Piper talk has been the filter through which how we have spent our money, how we are raising our kids, what we are doing with our time, everything.
#3: The example of other believers
The third thing is the examples of other believers in our lives who are already doing international student ministry. Their faithful obedience spurs me on in this work. There are these families who are doing what I’m doing, but even better. It’s seeing them doing it with kids or in their 80s. As Piper and my retired pastor says, there is no retirement for Christians.
Have you considered getting involved in international student ministry? What pulls you to that type of work? What are some of the barriers to it?