Sep 14, 2015

Mobilize, Reach

Mind the Gap: Connecting Families with Internationals

Tom Knight, strategist with #NoCampusLeft, writes about the importance of mobilizing families in the work of reaching internationals for Christ.

If you ride the MTR in Hong Kong you will always hear the recorded message to “mind the gap” as you exit the subway car.  It is actually said in Mandarin, Cantonese, and English.  Sometimes we needed to be reminded of things that we know, but easily forget.  We can see the gap between the car and the platform, but it is easy to get distracted.

As campus ministries welcome the nations to their colleges and universities this fall, there is one group that is often overlooked as a natural ally:  American families.  Though much has been written about the huge increase of international students, especially from China, seeking undergraduate degrees, it still remains true that there are thousands of graduate students and scholars on our campuses.  Most of these graduate students and scholars are older and have different life-patterns around campus.  They may be in labs during most of the day, assist as TAs, or actually teach classes. Some of them are married, and may have a child with them.  Some of them can actually spend the whole day speaking their native language with roommates, professors from their own country, and lab mates.   They are not hanging out with American undergraduates.  There is a gap between the American undergraduate and the international graduate student.

This is where American families, and single Americans, can be a huge blessing to international students, and a great complement to the traditional collegiate ministry. Families bring varied support for students with children, for students who are stuck on campus and want to experience more of America, and for guidance about American culture from those who have more life experience.  Families can bring loving relationships and home-based hospitality that students often cannot.

So how does a ministry connect international students and scholars with families?  Many collegiate ministries help with airport pick up, shopping trips, and short homestays, but many also overlook the host family programs that universities often organize.  Usually there are more students wanting to be in the program than families participating.  Colleges are accepting applications from people in the community.  Are Christian families volunteering?  Do Christian families in the community even know about the opportunity to participate?

Of course, collegiate ministries can also partner with families to minister to undergraduate students as well.  Generally, students can reach their peers or those several years younger than themselves, not those who are older.  Families, however,  can reach not only graduate students but also undergraduate students.  Collegiate ministries must see families as allies and not competition.  More points of Gospel interaction are good, not bad.  Families can display the Gospel in numerous ways through normal daily life shared with a student.

Collegiate ministries can launch a whole new arm of ministry to international students with the help of families.  If your ministry has not partnered with families to reach international students, then keep reading to see how you can “mind the gap.”

Tips for connecting families with international students.

  • Visit your college International Student and Scholar Office and ask about a host-family program.
  • Look online at international stats on the college website to see what nations are represented.
  • Start with your own family.  As a collegiate leader your actions speak volumes.
  • Talk with friends and family in the area to see if they would like to host a student.
  • Reach out to others in your church to see how you could connect families with students.
  • Consider partnering with families from sister churches, or even other evangelical churches in the area.
  • As a collegiate leader, ask to speak to church groups about hosting international students.
  • Consider using your experience with international students as a way to train families to reach international students by partnering with you.

You can read more from Tom and the rest of the #NoCampusLeft team at their site.


about the author

Tom Knight

Tom is a collegiate strategist in North Carolina, specializing in international student work. He holds a law degree from Wake Forest and an Mdiv from Princeton. He is the author of No Passport Required: Collegiate Ministry as Global Missions.