Feb 19, 2018


Launching an International Student Work Within A College Ministry

Dennis Runner shares some practices that could help you add international student work within an existing college ministry.

What do you do if you are launching an International student ministry? Here are some questions that might be going through your head:

  • “How do I begin to connect with international students?”
  • “What about creating a registered student organization with the university?”
  • “Who will I work with? Which demographic will I focus on?”
  • “How do I discover and meet needs?”

My family and I arrived in late 2011 to launch International Campus Ministry (ICM) at Purdue University. We were to come alongside the Baptist Collegiate Ministry (BCM) already at work on campus. The BCM director, Ben, and his wife had been here 9 years prior to my arrival. They were a Godsend for me in so many ways, especially with their resourcefulness regarding paperwork and relationships with campus adminstration. Our challenges would come in forming the partnership of these ministries.  

The initial challenge was, “How to begin?” ICM started out to operate as an extension of the BCM. As this “extension” began, Ben and I saw a problem with the domestic students bringing international students to me with a kind of “passing the buck” attitude, while they focused just on other domestic students.

After a year and a half, Ben and I decided that it might be wise for ICM to launch out as a separate organization, but we would remain “brothers” in ministry efforts. We shared budgets but we planned separate events, with our own student leaders. We felt the international students would have a sense of belonging and ownership. We hoped current and future Christian international student leaders would be passionate and missional leaders, ready to engage other international students. This was a lofty, and at times unfair, expectation. We struggled with this approach for a couple of years.

What Ben and I observed was continued feelings of isolation and competition between the domestic and international students. The domestic students did not know what to do with international students. Should they bring them to BCM events or to ICM events? Should they come with the international students?

The other problem was attrition. Where would I find more Christian international student leaders? Will they have good leadership skills? Would they be sound in their beliefs? I began to sacrifice the screening process simply to get Christian international student leaders.

God has been gracious to both the BCM and ICM! We have learned a lot. Recently,  Ben and I implemented a new strategy by conjoining the two organizations. The organizations are separate in name, but the student leaderships are blended. We are using the effective screening process of the BCM. Also, we are creating more events that are accessible to domestic AND international students.

In addition, our leadership launched an international team to incorporate both domestic and international students for planning and proposing new event ideas. I have also clearly stated an open invitation to the domestic students for all ICM events. Our student leaders even created a “Global Friends” program to match international and domestic students. These changes are just the beginning. There are still dilemmas that we, as the leadership, will have to address, but there is a strong camaraderie.

Through the years we’ve concluded that if we had to do this again, here are some things we would change or encourage others to do:

  • For existing ministries, encourage a new staff person to go and interview other campus ministries. This will allow the staff person to not only know what is already happening on the campus, but give them perspective as to how God may use their particular skills and personality.
  • For existing ministries, be slow to make major decisions that affect organizational status and student leaders.
  • Develop relationships and train domestic students by collaborating with a BCM or campus church. If you want a growing ministry, you will need their help. Domestic students have access to international students that you will never have as a campus minister/staff. Domestic students can struggle to connect with internationals so they will need your help and encouragement. Hospitality and cross-cultural communications tend to be the weak areas of domestic students when relating to international students.
  • Learn about the school: the campus, the student organizations office, the International Students & Scholars office (or the like), campus funding opportunities, etc.
  • Attend cultural events of different ethnic groups (e.g., Chinese New Year, Malaysian Night, Indian holiday celebrations). While attending these events, talk with students.
  • Learn what cultures are represented at your school. The needs will vary based on this information.
  • Decide for yourself which demographic of international student you will focus on (e.g., Chinese, Indian, undergrad, grad, visiting scholar, etc.). The decision has pros and cons.
  • Use your hobbies or talents as opportunities to engage with international students (e.g., if you like to hike, take students hiking; if you like to play sports, go play with them; if you like to build; teach students to build; etc.). The hobbies and talents that the Lord has given you should not be wasted for the sake of relationships and the Gospel.

I love helping churches and individuals develop a heart for this strategic mission field. If you have more questions, feel free to contact me: purdueicm at gmail.com.

about the author

Dennis Runner

Dennis has served as campus minister and director of International Campus Ministry at Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN, since 2011. He has been married to Julie for 25 years. They have four children.