This project focuses on mobilizing churches, campus ministries, and individual Christians to be more intentional about loving our neighbors from other parts of the world.
By Greg Swinney
“Now we get to the fun part.” That’s what a team leader said at the conclusion of a meeting that awarded thousands of dollars of grants to churches and campus ministries around the nation. This process began nearly two years ago when Mike Schrage of Good News Productions International shared a dream with ICOM executive director David Empson. After discussing the details, the idea of the RISE Project was born.
Multiple missions organizations and local ministries cooperated to make the dream a reality. GNPI, The Center for Church Leadership, Crossroads International Student Ministries, Refuge, and others, along with Visual Poets (a video production company), worked together for more than a year. The International Conference on Missions was instrumental as a planning organization and helped pull back the curtain when the strategic initiative was unveiled at ICOM 2016 in Lexington, Kentucky.
The RISE Mission
RISE is an acronym for Refugee and International Student Engagement. The project focuses on mobilizing churches, campus ministries, and individual Christians to be more intentional about loving our neighbors from other parts of the world. With well over 1 million international students in our country and potentially 85,000 new refugees, what does the Lord expect of his church regarding this opportunity? Seeking openings to help strangers is a godly trait, and hospitality is a spiritual gift.
As people from every part of the globe join our campuses and communities, any church family or individual Christian can welcome them in a way that reflects the inclusive heart of God. RISE leaders describe the two groups (refugees and international students) as “the bookends” of global missions at the local level. Because of the shift in this demographic paradigm of the culture of the United States, it is now possible for the average family to have a profound impact throughout the world. And they can do this from their kitchen table.
Foreign students and people with refugee status arrive with high hopes of a better life and future. But it’s not easy. Culture shock, loneliness, and financial challenges often overwhelm new visitors. One Asian student who is learning English confided in a friend, “The study is not hard. I can study. The lonely is hard.” And a person who is classified as a refugee commented, “The healing [of friendships] was what was important to me.” Perhaps this is why the psalmist offers this word of hope: “God sets the lonely in families” (Psalm 68:6).
RISE Project leaders worked diligently to offer help to families and churches who desired to welcome these strangers in our midst. A helpful website (www.theRiseProject.com) offers many resources, links, articles, and a four-part video teaching series. The small group study includes downloadable study guides. The free series is an attempt to inform, include, and inspire the church to make disciples . . . of all nations.
Traci Harrod and Greg Swinney are the RISE Project’s “trainers.” Traci is founder and director of Refuge, a nonprofit organization that provides workshops, training, and consultation to groups that want to engage people who have come to the United States through refugee resettlement. Greg serves as executive director of Crossroads International Student Ministries. For more than 30 years he has worked with and among international students from all over the world.
In addition to producing helpful materials, the RISE Project raises funds that are awarded to grant applicants for special projects or training. More than $40,000 in grant funding has already been awarded to churches and campus ministries in Michigan, Illinois, Delaware, Pennsylvania, Indiana, and Arizona.
One ministry is launching a bicycle loan outreach for international students. Another used the funds to host a training session for church leaders to be more strategic in reaching those with refugee status near their church. In Michigan, a team of people remodeled a storage room in their facility and set up a thrift shop to offer free furniture, kitchen items, and other necessities for new international students. One ministry hires staff to focus solely on the growing population of foreign students at their large university.
“This grant will make a huge difference for us,” says Buzz Roberts, executive director of Christian Student Foundation of Pennsylvania. “When you consider the fact that 23 percent of the student population are international students at Penn State, and this number grows by nearly 10 percent every year, this will certainly make a big difference for us.”
The RISE Challenge
You can join this growing movement of modern-day missionaries. The best way to understand what an international student or person with refugee status would feel like is to put yourself in their shoes. Imagine landing in Shanghai, China, not knowing a single person, and having very limited financial resources. Try to imagine the new and strange things you would encounter. What information would you need or want upon your arrival? What experiences would you like to have while there? Food, language, laundry, transportation, and lodging are some of the most obvious problems.
Christians have many avenues to meet refugees and international students—community initiatives and university “Friendship Family” programs are a great way to begin. Then simply include others in your regular activities as an individual or family. Include such folks even if you’re just going for a walk or shopping, or to a concert, lecture, or basketball game. Before long they will look upon your home as their home away from home.
Isaiah 60:3 says, “Nations will come to your light.” This promise is being realized in our lifetime. Thanks to the RISE Project, we have the resources we need to reach the world from our kitchen tables.
Greg Swinney lives in Kearney, Nebraska, and serves as an adviser to the RISE Project grant approval team.