JOPLIN – Missouri is home to over 17,000 international college students, according to the 2021 Open Doors Fact Sheet. Over half of those hail from China and India.
The great majority of those international students will eventually return to their home countries, giving college ministries an amazing opportunity to impact the nations – even those whose doors are closed to Christianity – with the gospel.
MBCollegiate ministries are reaching those students, and for some, like the BSU at Missouri Southern, it’s new territory. Prior to the international student fall orientation program, the BSU hosted six meals, feeding over forty students from more than a dozen countries with food provided by local churches. As a result of those meals, several people, including campus missionary Jon Smith and his wife, signed up to serve as “friendship families” for those students.
As the semester has gone on, Smith says, “We are seeing results in the form of stronger relationships there…. It’s still new territory for us, so we’re kind of learning on the fly, keeping expectations low, and praying for opportunities to evolve organically.”
Around ten international students have continued to come for the BSU’s weekly lunches. After one meal, a girl from Japan commented, as she was leaving the building, “I love that I am surrounded by Christians and that I can talk about God with you.” Smith sees her comment as “a good sign of things to come.”
Brent Masters, campus missionary with Collegiate Impact at Longview and Blue River Community Colleges, randomly met a student from Kyrgyzstan during a kickball event at a park in August. The student was wandering the park looking for community. Since then, Masters has been able to bring him to other events and share the gospel with him.
Campus missionary Reese Hammond at Southeast Missouri State University has always had a passion for reaching international students along with his wife, Lisa, who was involved with international student ministry, particularly to Indian students, in her own college days at Northwest Missouri State University.
At dinner with a group of Indian students recently, Hammond got to share the gospel with two of the students and is hoping to start a Bible study with one of them. International students come regularly to their Monday dinners, and Hammond says, “These students have been hearing the gospel, having spiritual conversations and meeting with our students more regularly.” They have three different evangelistic Bible studies planned for international students this semester.
Much of ministry to internationals focuses around building relationships, helping them have “American” friends and experiences, serving practical needs and introducing them to the gospel. It can be the slow work of patience, and the harvest isn’t always apparent.
But sometimes ministers get to see the seed of the gospel take root and grow. Recently, Paul Damery, campus missionary at Missouri Western, learned that an international student he knows came to Christ over the summer.
The student has been nominally involved in their ministry, Christian Challenge, mostly through playing sports with them at events.
Damery says, “Something clicked this summer, and he’s been growing in his desire for Christ and has begun meeting with me for basic discipleship Bible studies. I’m excited to see what the Lord does in his life.”