I have a ministry…that I’ve had for 15 years…but somehow didn’t quite realize it until recently. Several years ago in a class we had to share a little about ourselves and what ministry we were involved in, and I remember saying “uh, well, I’m not involved in any ministry right now.” – Gee, I felt lame and useless for the Lord. Yet, since 1997, my spouse and I have had over a dozen international students live with us from the countries of Germany, Austria, Finland, France, Estonia, Australia, Taiwan, India, Saudi Arabia and soon we will welcome our first students from Latvia. So…how is it that I have never quite seen this as a ministry?
One reason: Having a guest in our home has become so normal for us, that we just see it as, well, normal! We just do it…it is everyday life. Secondly, and I don’t want this to come across as too negative or critical, but we have never really been made to feel like we have a ministry by the church or fellow Christians. I feel that hosting international students in your home (or reaching out to them in other ways) is an undervalued and under-promoted ministry option by the church.
Please don’t misunderstand…I’m not insinuating that working with international students is the “best” ministry and you are un-spiritual if you are not doing it. The body of Christ needs people with a wide variety of gifts and ministry passions. Over the years in church, I’ve seen so many types of ministries promoted…prison ministry, working with the homeless, adoption/foster care, short term mission trips, sex slave trade awareness, crisis pregnancy centers, sponsoring low income neighborhood schools, etc. It is good when the church highlights different ministries as someone may become familiar with a new way to serve, and find their ministry niche. Yet, I have never seen international student outreach promoted as a ministry. Memories can be selective, so I asked my spouse to think back also, and he could not remember it being promoted either.
We’ve also generally not felt encouragement or support from fellow believers, with a couple of exceptions. Years ago at the church we were then attending, a young couple took a real interest in us and our students. They reached out to the students in a genuine way, and this helped us too. Having students live with you is indeed a responsibility. The support from this couple, and feeling that the “load” was being shared was such an encouragement. (This young couple went to the mission field, and not surprisingly, have been involved in successful church planting ministry in South America.)
Last year a ESL student was living with us, and she became frustrated that her english was not improving faster. Part of the problem was she was isolating herself at our house and seemed intimidated by American culture. She needed to be in more situations where she could listen to English being spoken, and practice her English too. We thought it would be helpful if someone might invite her to dinner, invite her to join them on a family outing, or meet her for coffee/tea. We put out the word, and not a single person responded. I specifically asked a woman of similar age who also had an interest in overseas missionary work – surely she would be interested in reaching out to our student! But, no, she gave me some vague excuses and declined. Sigh.
With a handful of exceptions, we have just felt like “lone rangers” in our ministry of hosting international students. Not even feeling like we had a ministry because it just wasn’t acknowledged as such…
Since outreach to international students seems to be undervalued and under-promoted, I am brainstorming ways to highlight this ministry option. (Note the word option. Again, this ministry is not for everyone.)
I suppose there are other ministries that also go unacknowledged or undervalued by the church! Or maybe you are involved in an unusual ministry of some type? Would love to hear about it! Please share, and how could fellow believers encourage you? Thanks for listening…
**Another related post here: Ignoring the mission field at our doorstep.