A few years ago, God challenged our congregation, The Rock (Anaheim Foursquare Church) in Anaheim, Calif., to befriend international college students and share His love with them.
While the heart and passion were there, we really didn’t have the network to meet students from China, Saudi Arabia, India, South Korea and other nations. Still, we hoped to make a difference, especially when we learned that most of these students return home after college without hearing about Christ.
The nations are coming to our neighborhoods, and reaching out where we live is an easy way to make a global impact. Over one million international students come to the U.S. each year, and live in areas like ours with community colleges and universities. We discovered that some 150,000 of those students travel to our state, and that a local university hosts one of the largest contingents of Saudi students.
Through a partnership with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, International Friendship Council, International Students, Inc., and other college ministries, we discovered that international students enjoy American traditions and holidays. That’s when the idea came together of reaching international students through a traditional American Thanksgiving dinner.
Our friends at InterVarsity made the local connections for us with students, and invited them to our church for dinner and fun. We rolled out the red carpet for them and prepared an excellent dinner that would rival any Thanksgiving table. We gabbed and laughed, took selfies and exchanged contact information. Some of the international students joined us in a skit celebrating the first Thanksgiving, and we all worshiped the Lord together for His goodness and faithfulness.
Volunteers from our congregation served as table hosts and agreed to contact any students who might want to form deeper friendships. They made it a priority to connect face-to-face for coffee or lunch, and offered to pick them up for other holiday events at our church. In all, it was a tender, fun way to serve these students visiting so far from their homes and families.
I will never forget the thrill of seeing one young woman accept Christ and the joy we all felt knowing that our effort helped encourage her decision. It was bittersweet to learn that she was returning to her home country, China, the following day.
The Holy Spirit reminded me of God’s heart for “the one,” and I was so glad we were obedient to host this dinner so this young lady could meet Jesus. We took joy from the fact that Jesus went home with her! We also heard other testimonies after months of follow-up and relationship-building between our volunteers and the international students.
They may be from different nations, but they respond like we do to the friendship, generosity and love we lavish on them. We feel like it is a simple yet gracious way to demonstrate the love of Jesus. Best of all, we believe the friendships we form with international students during events like this will affect the nations as they return home knowing more about the Bible and salvation through Jesus Christ.