Paula Parker on Why International Students Are a Gift to the Church

Paula Parker is executive director of the Association of Christians Ministering among Internationals (ACMI). Formerly, she was the director of international student ministry at EvFree Church in Fullerton, California. The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily represent those of BCNN1.


It was an unusual opportunity. A new role, just ten hours a week, had been created at my local church and now it was my job to help our congregation welcome the nations through a ministry to international students.

We began with a small group of volunteers and students. Sixteen years later, in cooperation with other local churches, we offered friendship, practical helps, and Bible discussion groups to more than 1,000 students each year.

These international students were eager to have friends. And they brightened our lives with their ideas and cultures. We learned so much from one another.

Consider some of their stories.

A student from Sri Lanka arrived wearing a cross necklace. When I inquired about it, she quickly responded, “I am a follower of the Christian God.” I asked if she had ever read the Bible or knew anything about Jesus. She said “no” but she had been praying to the Christian God and he frequently answered her prayers. She was eager to find out more about him.

Three students from Iraq were grateful for our friendship. In getting to know these guys, we learned they came from the cities of Ur, Babylon, and Nineveh! This prompted many meaningful discussions together.

Another student from China came already eager to serve in the ministry. Her grandfather, several generations back, had been led to Christ and discipled by Hudson Taylor. Her family was still walking with the Lord.

At one sports night in the church gym, a group of students from Saudi Arabia invented a game bouncing a soccer ball from their heads and feet into a basketball net. It was fun to watch and cheer them on.

Welcome parties were held at the beginning of each semester. It was common to greet students from more than 30 countries. But there was another element in this picture. Members of our local congregations joined in from every age group. From babies to senior adults, every person had value and created a sense of extended family for these lonely students. By God’s grace, the nations and the generations came together!

This is a low-cost ministry with big impact. Singles, couples, and families welcomed students into their homes for monthly meals. Unneeded furniture was donated and delivered into empty apartments. A Friday night fellowship was held in a local home and Bible discussion groups met on the college campus. A little made a big difference.

Global hunger is a very real problem. But spiritual hunger is every bit as real. Many of these students are truly hungry for the spiritual food and drink we can freely offer even after they return home.

Last year, I studied the Bible via video conferences with a student who was only here one semester before returning to her country. She had many questions and is now reading the Bible for the first time. Here are some of her responses:

“It is really interesting. Very astonishing what Jesus said.”

“I read book of Mark in one day! It was such a thriller, Paula! I had to keep turning the page to see what would happen next.”

“Matthew is my favorite book so far! Is it your favorite too?”

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Source: Christianity Today