Afzal (not his real name) found Bob Milliken by chance. In fact, he somehow stumbled upon the Facebook page for Bob’s rural church and started commenting on some of the posts. Bob, the pastor of the church, and Afzal, a musician in the Middle East, began a correspondence that led to a friendship. Before long, they were talking worship, and Afzal told Bob he is a Christian worship leader in his strict Muslim community.
Afzal is passionate about helping Christian musicians learn how to lead worship in their own communities. He had been discipling a group of 10 to 15 Christian musicians who wanted to learn more about expressing their faith through music and leading others to do the same. Afzal and his musician friends dreamed of starting a worship leader training program, and they asked Bob to help them.
Bob now meets with them weekly to study spiritual discipline online. “They don’t need help with the technical side” of music, Bob says, but he can help them with spiritual growth.
A Family of Believers and Faith of His Own
This is just one example of the long ministry to international folks Bob Milliken has had over the years. He grew up in a family full of Christian leaders and learned about ministry by watching his father, who served as president of Nebraska Christian College from 1952 (the year Bob was born) until 1984. Bob also learned by listening to stories of the visiting missionaries his parents hosted in their home.
“The missionaries were the most respected people in our world,” Bob says. “They had these amazing stories. Seeing the pictures they brought from Mexico or Tibet expanded my mind so much.”
While in high school, Bob had a crisis of faith and decided he didn’t believe in God anymore. But then, as a student at Nebraska Christian College, he was discipled by his professors. He began to grow spiritually and returned to his faith. He led the mission group on campus and worked to help other students see the importance of spreading the gospel to people in other cultures. He became friends with the college’s international students and gave one such student rides to classes they took together at a local community college. On the way, Bob listened to his friend talk about believers in Africa.
“I heard stories of their lives. I began to sense these believers from overseas had a deeper and more powerful faith than we did in the U.S.” Bob’s interest in international students grew more while working with GED students, many of whom were immigrants. He helped them with English and other subjects and got to know them better in the process.
“That was a wonderful experience, to get paid to talk to people from other countries and help them get more comfortable with life in the U.S.”
A Career and a Ministry
Bob eventually began studying at the University of Nebraska, where he earned a master’s degree and a PhD in English. Later, as a professor at that university and then Nebraska Christian College, he always reached out to students from other countries. In 2006, he began volunteering with a ministry called International Student Fellowship (ISF).
“My volunteer work with ISF has been the most focused ministry with international students I’ve had,” he says. Through ISF, Bob learned that the vast majority of people who come to the United States to study never are invited to an American home and never make an American friend. ISF works to change that by hosting dinner parties and events in volunteers’ homes. They help the students with such practical matters as giving them rides to the grocery. Their goal is to build relationships and show students the love of God.
They also take students on trips to famous places in the United States. Every summer, Bob leads student groups to places like Yellowstone or the Rocky Mountains. They camp and hike, spend time together, and become friends. They stay in the homes of host families who provide a glimpse of American life. These trips are a chance for students to learn about America and build relationships with each other and the Americans they meet.
Bob says he took a group of 18 international students on a camping trip last year.
“I had already bought the food for the trip, but on the second night, as we were getting ready for supper, they went to the store and bought chicken, sausages, corn on the cob, and sweet potatoes.” They returned and dug a pit to construct their own grill out of rocks and sticks. They buried sweet potatoes and corn on the cob in the coals to bake them and cooked the rest on the makeshift grill. “You guys have campfires for fun,” they told Bob. “This is how we eat. This is our everyday life.”
Relationships and Purpose
Bob loves the relationships he builds through his work with ISF. He meets people from different cultures, languages, and religions from all over the world.
“At our dinner parties, we have 100 or more students from different countries and from all of the continents.” Sometimes these young people want to learn more about Bob’s faith. They might do one-on-one Bible studies or small-group studies together. Sometimes they begin to believe in Jesus, and sometimes they do not. Bob’s favorite part is when they accept what the Bible teaches.
“When they come to Christ, they find a new purpose.”
Bob Milliken’s long career has included years of teaching at the University of Nebraska and Nebraska Christian College. He has worked in campus ministry and church ministry; he has found both to be challenging but rewarding. Through it all, he has remained passionate about reaching out to visitors from other countries who come to the United States to study.
“Our interactions don’t always produce faith,” Bob says, “but they always produce friendships.”