Praying for International Students: A How-To Guide for Getting Involved

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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 portion of the interview was written by Kelly as she shared the “best practices” her family follows as they reach out to and welcome international students. This comprehensive list of ways to care for international scholars offers a place to start if you would like to begin reaching out in your community.

Read Part 1: How One Mom Committed to International Student Ministry

CP: How do you welcome international students into the busy life of your family? How does your family get involved in the work? Why is it good to include your family?

Kelly: It doesn’t just happen. You need to settle a few things in your mind and heart. You need to first adopt a new mindset: your life is busy and it will get busier. You need to be okay with committing time, energy, and resources to the Lord to be a part of fulfilling the Great Commission. You also need to be okay with international students seeing your home, family, and you in all your real life. That means people seeing your messy house, crumbs on the floor, dishes in the sink, and your imperfect family.

Second, pray. I am constantly asking God how I can obey 1 Thess. 2:8: “So we cared for you. Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well.” The Great Commandment, which says to love others as myself, also directs how I welcome international students. How would I want to be loved if I just moved to a new country without my spouse and with my young child in tow? I have a women’s prayer group, and we meet at 6 a.m. and walk around the campus twice a month, praying for international students. This is always bathed in prayer, all the time.


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After those two foundational preparations, there are the three “Be’s”: be hospitable, be intentional, and be frequent.

#1: Be Hospitable

I used to think hospitality meant inviting people over for a meal. It’s way bigger than that—thankfully! The word hospitality literally means “love the stranger.” Pray God would show you how to love strangers around you. We work this out by being intentional and frequent.

#2: Be Intentional

I can’t overstate this enough. Think of how you can welcome students and scholars into your world, and ways you can enter into theirs. There are both small ways and big ways to do that, as well as ways you can do this specifically as a part of your church life, your family life, and their daily life.

Small ways:

  • Invite, invite, invite. I am always thinking of ways to invite people into our normal lives. A good question to ask is: “What can I invite people into and not add onto my responsibilities?”

  • Food—everybody has to eat!

  • Holiday meals. We always have international students join us for holidays. One woman’s water broke at my dining room table on Christmas Eve! Major holidays provide an excellent opportunity to segue into the gospel.

  • Birthdays.

  • Picnics and barbecues.

  • Meals—not just dinner! I have no delusions of my cooking abilities. I like to eat, but I don’t like to cook. Martha Stewart would cringe if she came to my house for dinner. Having people over for a meal tends to stress me out. So we adapted. We ask people over for brunch (store bought pastries, fruit, tea, and strong coffee), we meet people for lunch on campus, we have people over for dessert. If I have to make dinner, I keep it simple: potluck, pizza, or something quick. If you read the Bible with your family after dinner, do it, after a brief explanation that this is something you normally do.

  • Walkie Talkies—I grab tea or coffee with a woman (I always treat them) and we walk around campus, drink, and talk. This serves multiple purposes: getting caffeinated, exercise, and relational investment.

  • Bake—when you bake, bake extra and bring it over; if you garden, take over extra produce.

Big ways:

  • Move. We intentionally bought a house close to campus so it would be easy for students and scholars to walk, ride a bike, or catch a bus to our house. Get rid of any barriers, including distance.

  • Buy a bigger house so you can host more people. We are now looking to buy a house with more space that is still right off campus, so that maybe we can have a student or scholar live with us. If you have the means, buy a rental property near your house and rent it to visiting students and scholars. Use your house as a place of ministry.

  • Buy a bigger vehicle so you can transport students and scholars. They come here with no car, and our public transportation system is not the best.

In church life:

  • Take the time to notice international students. Say “hello” and smile (if nothing else). Realize that, if the students are in a group of people from their own background, it may not be that they don’t want to meet Americans, they may feel uncomfortable and anxious. When I meet international students at church, I always invite them to sit with us. After learning about them, I try to connect them with people in my church who work or study in their area. I can’t, shouldn’t, and don’t do this alone.

  • Invite scholars to women’s and men’s events, and those with kids to VBS. If you invite people to these things, alert other ISM volunteers so they can welcome your friends.

  • Christmas Eve and Easter services.

  • Book groups or Bible studies.

  • Our international student ministry plans and hosts day trips and our whole family joins. Having a larger vehicle comes in handy!

  • Our whole family is involved in the Christianity Explored course.

  • We participate in the international Sunday School.

  • Invite internationals to go to Christian conferences with you. I invite international women to join me in attending The Gospel Coalition’s Women’s Conference.

In family life:

Sometimes it can feel overwhelming to invite someone to one’s home. In that case, inviting people to something that will generate conversation and be memorable can be helpful. If conversation seems to lag, these activities cover that:

  • Go to the park or beach.

  • Game or movie nights..

  • Go to the library.

  • Swim lessons—kids swim and moms talk. Go to the gym together.

  • Some families invite internationals to go skiing, camping, fishing, and boating with them.

  • Seasonal activities provide so many opportunities to invite people in, such as apple and pumpkin picking in the fall, or making pies or applesauce. In the winter, cutting down a Christmas tree or sledding.

  • Our university hosts festivals and other activities for families and community members. Invite internationals along.

  • Sporting events: tailgating and going to a game together. We host an annual pizza party and then walk to watch the homecoming parade.

  • Theatrical and musical concerts, or events related to your international friend’s area of study.

  • Visit internationals in their labs, watch their performances.

  • Invite internationals to join your kids for summer camps on campus.

  • Participate in university-sponsored events like Chinese New Year.

In their daily life:

  • When people are over I tell them to bring their laundry. They eat, we hang out, and they get laundry done.

  • When they first move in, take them shopping.

  • Help them navigate life in a new country and culture by advocating for them in confusing situations, such as when kids face bullying at school, or sticky cultural situations at the university.

  • Read and edit their resumes. Offer career advice.

  • Tap into local church networks to be a part of meeting needs. One example would be providing baby supplies for families expecting a child.

  • Look for ways to serve: help internationals find a mechanic; ask them if they have experienced anything since they’ve arrived that was confusing that they’d like to “ask an American” about. Respect and answer these questions if you are able.

#3: Be Frequent

  • Try to contact your international student friends at least once a week. Friendships and trust build over time. The more time you spend together, the more friendship and trust builds. We do something with internationals at least once a week.

  • Use social media. Find out what platforms they use and get on them.

We started getting involved with ISM five years ago when our daughters were 7, 5, and just turned 3. I used to think having kids would hamper ministry efforts. The opposite is true! The vision my husband and I have for our family’s ministry is twofold: model and train. We want to model the Christian life so our practice matches our teaching. We want our girls to grow up and believe it’s normal to evangelize, pray, and disciple. You don’t have to be an adult to begin ministry. Once they become Christians, they have the same Holy Spirit, have been given spiritual gifts, and are called to use their gifts and obey the same commandments as their mom and dad.

We look for age-appropriate ways to incorporate our girls into what we are doing. When they were young, everyone seemed to flock to them and it opened doorways for relationship building. My kids build friendships and play with the kids of visiting scholars. As we are driving to do ministry work or before we have people over, we ask our girls to pray for our time and the people coming over. Our girls share the gospel and talk about God and the Bible with the kids of people that come over. They are learning how to converse with people who are different from them age- or culture-wise.

Other examples include when I hosted a mug and muffin study at my house, and the whole family pitched in with preparations. While the study was going on, my husband held video game tournaments in our basement with our girls and the children of the visiting scholars. My husband works on campus, so he invites men to have breakfast or lunch with him there. He started an on-campus Bible study with other co-workers before COVID, and is discipling a new Japanese believer.  

FOR REFLECTION

What are some ways to practice intentional hospitality, intentionality, and frequency in your relationships with internationals?

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Further Reading

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WILL YOU JOIN US IN PRAYING FOR LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT IN CHINA? PRAY FOR:

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