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Sharing the gospel isn’t a one-size-fits-all proposition.

That’s why leaders gathered for the Refugees and International Student Ministry Conference in April near Atlanta. The purpose was to gain an understanding of how to minister the love of Christ in word and deed to these two often-overlooked populations.

Organizers are hoping to raise awareness of the opportunities to welcome and reach the refugees and international students that are present in cities and communities across the U.S. This was the first of several conferences being planned.

“We hope over the course of a couple years to hold conferences in different parts of the country,” says Sue Spousta, coordinator of Foursquare Affinity Networks. Appointed to her post two years ago, Sue brings together Foursquare leaders involved in social justice issues or ministry outside of church so they can support each other and share resources.

“We’re trying to look out from the walls of our churches to the community to see needs, and to help our pastors and churches see how they can participate in those ministries,” she adds.

Sue coordinates several of the 11 Affinity Networks, including the Refugee Care Network. Sam Johnson, Foursquare area ministry to the Middle East, North Africa and Central Asia, facilitates the International Student Outreach Network.

“Sam had a desire to gather those working with, or interested in, ministering to international students, and have a conference so they could find better ways to do that,” Sue explains. So, they decided on a joint conference that would focus on both refugees and international students. At the gathering, Sam, who spent years living in the Middle East and elsewhere, talked about how cultural differences can lead to misunderstandings.

Americans earn honor through position and promotion, he explained, while in other cultures honor is bestowed. Americans value direct confrontation, but that can cause one to lose face in Asian culture. Personal space for Americans is an arm’s length away, while for Latin Americans, it’s much closer. That can lead the American to see the other person as pushy, while the Latin American perceives the other as aloof.

In Western culture, Christians typically present the gospel to people struggling with guilt, which focuses on what you did wrong; Eastern culture is more concerned with shame, which says there’s something wrong with you. Understanding the person’s frame of reference is crucial. “These are skills you need if you’re going to reach out cross-culturally, or even as a church that has a multicultural staff,” Sam said.

Trey and Gretchen Abney, pastors of the host church, learned about connections they need to succeed to reach international populations. “There are different organizations that have been identified by the government to settle refugees, and you can partner with them to provide for refugees’ basic needs,” Trey says. With Atlanta being one of the fastest-growing international cities in the U.S., he sees an opportunity to shift the focus of the church “from inward to outward, from programs to missions.”

Sandra Lee, pastor of intercultural relations in the Southeast District, spoke on her work with refugees in Florida as well as reaching out to Muslims “to extend a hand of friendship.” She appreciates the links she forged at the conference, and found meaning in hearing three immigrants share their stories. “You understand better how to help them when you know exactly what they’ve gone through,” she states.

Aldin Fafulovic, who grew up a Muslim in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and now serves as a campus minister through Reliant Mission, talked about how difficult it can be for students to be strangers in a strange land. Helping them with daily tasks, and providing a hot meal and a friendly face, are all ways to reach out.

These are great ways for Christians to get out of their comfort zone, to be open to where God is leading them. And there’s a hidden blessing, shared Aldin: “When people invite other people from around the world, they get to learn and expand their understanding. So, they’re gaining more than they’re giving.”

Other conference speakers included Megan Tragethon from Refugee Care Collective, who emphasized working in collaborative relationships with other agencies working with refugees; Karen Tremper, who spoke on a biblical theology of hospitality when working with refugees; Beth Hall, who helped attendees understand the culture shock international students go through; Heather Brown, who interviewed the stories of three immigrants to the U.S.; and Rachael Jackson, who expressed the need to reach the unreached both at home and abroad.

Interested in reaching out to international students or caring for refugees? Attend an Affinity Network Workshop at Foursquare Connection 2018. Register now or update your registration at no additional cost.

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is a writer living in Billings, Mont.