JEFFERSON CITY – Missouri may not seem like the hotspot destination for internationals wanting an American education. Yet even on campuses in small rural towns, Missouri colleges and universities are home to over 22,000 international students. In 2019, Missouri ranked 15th of all states in the number of international students studying in the state, according to the 2019 Open Doors Report from the Institute of International Education.
Hosting so many students from all over the world on our campuses is an incredible gospel opportunity—one that MBCollegiate Campus Missionaries don’t take lightly. “The college campus provides a unique and significant opportunity to see the gospel spread to the ends of the earth as we welcome international students,” says MBCollegiate Strategist Travis Hamm. “In bringing them the good news of Jesus, we can see these future world leaders return home as newly-formed missionaries.”
While some of our MBCollegiate ministries have always had a focus on reaching internationals on their campus, three have experienced an unexpected – but welcome – presence of foreign students in their ministries this fall.
Southeast Missouri State in Cape Girardeau is home to 308 international students this schoolyear. In just the first few weeks of class, The Lighthouse campus ministry engaged 235 of them – that’s 76%. Most of those attended The Lighthouse’s international barbecue for new students at the beginning of the semester. Around 80 have continued attending weekly meals on Monday, and 40 are signed up for a retreat to the Johnson Shut-Ins.
“We have shared the gospel with students who have never before heard the gospel, especially students from India,” says Campus Missionary Reese Hammond. His ministry intern, Jojo Conner, lives in the same apartment complex of many of these students and has been engaging them in spiritual conversations on an almost daily basis. A South African student came to faith in Christ and is plugged into discipleship, and three international students are involved in Bible Study.
Central BSU at University of Central Missouri in Warrensburg has gotten to show hospitality and love to a group of international students through the simple act of eating together. “Our hospitality during the dinner has connected us to students from all over the world,” says Campus Missionary Jerome Stockert. “Through our dinners they have both heard the gospel and seen it lived out.”
At one recent dinner, some Indian students asked Stockert about winters in Missouri. During the course of that conversation, Stockert learned that none of them owned any winter clothes. They scheduled a day to go shopping for coats and other winter essentials. “It was a beautiful day!” Stockert remembers. “Together we shopped and talked and ate [authentic Indian food]. The hospitality of Christ was on display for 9 hours straight!”
Barriers came down and the level of trust rose that day. “As a result, the spiritual conversations that I’ve had since then have become more fruitful,” says Stockert. American students from the BSU continue to connect with the international students through the dinners, and the gospel is being both demonstrated and declared through these new friendships.
At Missouri Valley College in West Plains, The Bridge College Ministry has connected with about 40 new students this fall, more than twenty-five of whom are international students hailing from Spain, Brazil, South Africa, Serbia, Zimbabwe, China, and Japan, among other places.
The Bridge has also been in contact with the international office on campus regarding 45 new students from Nepal who are in culture shock and need help acclimating. Campus Missionary Scott Westfall has met many of these students in the campus mailroom that he works in.
The university also asked their ministry to help with the Adopt-a-Viking program that partners students with a local family in the community for meals and places to stay during breaks and holidays. The program is geared to but not limited to international students.
“It’s still mind-blowing to me that a small college in mid-Missouri can have so many nations represented—57 countries and over 500 international students,” says Westfall. “I pray that we can love well and have opportunities to share our hope in Jesus with international students as well as the entire student body.”