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How You Can Engage Refugee and International Students in Your Community


By Emily Drayne

Did you know there are more than 1 million foreign students on the campuses of American colleges? These students come from more than 200 countries around the world. The five countries that send the most students to the United States are China, India, South Korea, Saudi Arabia, and Canada. Many times, these international guests don’t even see the inside of an American home during their time here. It’s estimated about half the world’s future leaders will study on American campuses.

Did you also know that more than 65 million people worldwide live as refugees or displaced persons? In 2016, more than half of the world’s refugees came from three countries: Syria, South Sudan, and Afghanistan. Allow the names of those countries to sink in. Think about the cultures, religions, and practices that take place in those countries. Imagine how spending time in the United States, and how a Christian influence, could forever impact their lives.

We have a unique opportunity to reach these people in ways we may never have considered. We need to think of what we can do as the body of Christ to welcome people of all nations into our churches and homes.

What is being done to reach these groups? In 2016, the International Conference On Missions started the RISE Project. RISE stands for “Refugee and International Student Engagement.” The RISE Project serves as a practical resource for churches and campus ministries to help reach out to people who are in our communities and on our campuses. Generous and passionate churches and individuals donated more than $110,000 to start this grant fund. Since 2016, about $62,000 has been given to more than 10 programs across the country that are reaching out to America’s international guests.


Simple, Practical Steps

An outreach “program” doesn’t have to be elaborate or inventive to qualify for a grant. Inviting a person from another country to your house for a holiday meal or to watch a weekly sporting event goes much further than you might think. My aunt and uncle hosted Thanksgiving at their house when I was growing up, and they would invite someone from another country to come and eat with our family each year.

As a 12-year-old, I didn’t understand why we had nonfamily members at our holiday dinners . . . but after our family talked it over and it was explained it to me, it was fun to see who would be at our next dinner!

We would talk to our guests about what we did for a living or what was happening in school, and they would tell us about their holiday traditions and their home. It was a great learning experience for our family.

There are so many creative ways to begin outreach programs in your community.

An example of a practical outreach to international students occurs at Campus Students for Christ at Western Illinois University in Macomb. CSC used grant money to buy bicycles to loan out to international students who didn’t have a way to get across campus or around town. In countries such as China and India, many people rely on bikes to get to work and the grocery store. To arrive in America to study but have no way to get around can be a hard adjustment. Loaning a bicycle is a practical way of meeting a need that stops short of being charity or making someone your “project.”

From Arizona to Missouri to Pennsylvania, groups have started several types of ministries in hopes of sharing the love of Christ. Recall that in the Bible, Jesus often would meet someone’s physical needs before broaching the topic of their spiritual needs.


Where to Start

Has your church or campus ministry group considered starting a ministry to international students or refugees, but hasn’t figured out where to start? The options are nearly endless.

Loaning out space in your church building can be an effortless way to start a relationship with an international group that is looking for a place to meet. One group applied for a RISE Project grant to start a thrift store. Many times, people arrive in the U.S. with little more than the clothes on their backs. They don’t have furniture—nothing to fill a dorm room or apartment. Offering discounted home items can meet a great need. And when that need is met by a Christian organization that wants to pursue relationships, it’s all the better.

I encourage you to investigate the RISE Project. Training videos, blog pieces, small group studies, sermons, and online resources are available to help your group start an effective ministry in your area. The process for submitting a proposal is simple. The details are listed at www.theriseproject.com.

The grant committee serving RISE is made up of men and women who are committed to seeing these funds used for maximum impact in each community.

Another resource to investigate is Crossroads International Student Ministry, led by Greg Swinney. Greg has more than 25 years in campus ministry and international student work. Even if you’re just starting to research the type of ministry to start, contact Greg and his team via www.crossroadsinternational.net and they will be happy to help you.


The Key: Hospitality

Look around your city, town, community. What nationalities are represented? Research that country to learn the history and background of the people, the cultural dos and don’ts to know. Small steps taken to understand someone’s background will go a long way to introducing them to Christ.

The RISE Project was founded on a key verse: “Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing so some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it” (Hebrews 13:2). The love of Christ compels us to welcome those who do not know him so that we can share his Word with the world.

The impact you have on just one student may have a lasting effect we can’t fathom. The power of his Word is beyond anything we could hope to achieve on our own.


Emily Drayne lives in North Carolina and has served with the International Conference on Missions since 2011.

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