One of the incredible opportunities we have right now in America is to reach an increasing number of internationals. Immigrants, international students, international scholars, and refugees are all over our great melting pot of a nation. 40,000,000 people living in the United States were born outside of the United States. As of 2019, there were 1,095,299 international students in higher education from over 200 countries. Despite the number of internationals that live here, however, it is estimated that 80 percent of international students never set foot in an American home. This is not just a tragedy for the gospel; this is a tragedy of hospitality and foreign relations for our nation.
If you have ever gone to a foreign country, then it is very likely you were in the home of a national at some point early in your trip. Hospitality in collective cultures, like those in most non-Western nations, is a way of life. It is a primary way of showing honor to others. Hospitality in America, on the other hand, is often either reduced to a show or an inconvenience. The culture we are from will define how we invite those who are different from us into our daily lives. Every culture has something to learn from others, and hospitality is something that Westerners need to learn from cultures that excel in showing it. The fact that only 20 percent of international students will set foot in an American home in the four or more years they are here is a sad reality.
An international ministry leader tells the story of a Saudi Arabian friend who came to the United States to study. It is a common custom in many countries to bring a gift when you come to someone’s house, so he brought an extra suitcase full of gifts that he planned to give Americans when they invited him into their homes. Unfortunately, this young man was not invited into one American’s home during his entire time in the United States. When he returned home, he took the suitcase back with him completely full. Cue the monkey-covering-his-eyes emoji.
Welcoming internationals and refugees is a great way to get hands-on missions opportunities without moving overseas. For those whose circumstances, abilities, or capacities do not allow them to go overseas, the opportunity to reach those who are in their own backyard for the gospel is an incredible and strategic way to be involved in the Great Commission.
Consider some of these steps for starting in international ministry:
Identify four to six people in your church who could give significant time, attention, and ministry focus to reaching internationals and refugees.
Find an organization to partner with that focuses on internationals. Whether it’s a social service organization that assists refugees, a conversational English club on campus, a country-specific club in the city, or another existing ministry to internationals and refugees, find a way to get involved with work that’s already being done.
Task that team for one year simply to build relationships with that organization and with internationals and refugees.
Expand that leadership team to six to ten people.
Lead a couple of your own events as a church with that team. Whether you host an international club, lead a Bible study, or just put on a fun event for internationals, find a way to start gathering people together.
Start getting internationals and refugees together for fellowship and studying God’s Word on a weekly basis.
Invite them to church events that will help them grow in their understanding of the gospel.
Look for or create opportunities to get part-time staff focused on reaching internationals.
We have created a document that further explains how to develop and structure an international ministry. This resource is free for Upstream Members and available for purchase for $1.99.
We will also be offering a cohort this summer on international ministry development led by Eric Warren, International Ministry Leader for Cornerstone Church in Ames, Iowa. If you’re interested in being a part of this training, then please fill out this interest form.
Mike Ironside is Missions Pastor at Cornerstone Church in Ames, Iowa. He has served on staff with Cornerstone since 2006 in varying roles–from college ministry to pastoral staff to being an overseas missionary sent from Cornerstone for two years. Mike is the Director of Cohorts and Content for the Upstream Collective. He also serves as Chairman of the Board for Campus to Campus, a missions organization dedicated to getting US college students connected to church-planting movements among college students worldwide.