Big Ideas & 'Best Of'



Approximately 20 million college students attend universities in the US and approximately one million of them are international students.

Do the math.  That means roughly one out of every 20 college students in the US is from another country!


It’s time for us to be more intentional about reaching international students.  That’s why I’ve written this Two Part series.  So before I share some ideas for HOW to minister to international students, let’s first consider nine reasons WHY:

1.  Jesus is (kind of) an International Student Himself.
2.  World Missions via International Students Is Hell’s Best Kept Secret.
3.  You Can Be a Missionary Without Learning Languages and Spending Millions.
4.  International Students Are Among the Future Leaders of the World.
5.  It’s Our Chance to Reach the Unreachable.
6.  International Students Expect to Learn About Christianity from Americans.
7.  Friendship is What We’d Need if We Were in Their Shoes.
8.  Internationals Give Christians One More Reason to Take Campus Ministry Seriously.
9.  Because Billy Graham Says So.

1.     Jesus is (kind of) an International Student Himself.

While Jesus can relate to foreign students who travel from one country to another, since he himself traveled from heaven to earth, that’s not what I’m talking about (though I have wondered if he experienced “culture shock” too).

When I say Jesus is an international student, I’m appealing to a comparison made in Matthew 25, where Jesus says in verse 40, “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.”  In that sense:

> Jesus is the hungry person waiting for someone to feed him.
> Jesus is the thirsty person waiting for someone to give him a drink.
> Jesus is the naked person waiting for someone to clothe him.
> Jesus is the prisoner waiting for someone to visit him.
> Jesus is the stranger waiting for someone to invite him in.

Throughout the Bible, the word “stranger” is synonymous for alien or foreigner (i.e., an international student).

When Jesus gave this teaching, he was affirming the very heart of God, who revealed His special love for the “foreigners in our land” time and time again in the Old Testament (see Lev. 19:33-34; Deut. 10:18-19; 24:17, Psa. 146:9).

International students matter to God, and they should matter to us.  Thus, when we “invite” these strangers into our country, into our homes, and into our lives, we are inviting Jesus himself.

2.    You Can Be a Missionary Without Learning Languages and Spending Millions.

I’m not suggesting that we ditch traditional mission work.  To the contrary, like casting a fishing net, the church needs to reach far and wide, taking advantage various approaches to making disciples.  We should be especially passionate about supporting the efforts of organizations like The Seed Company, that are going out of their way to translate the Bible for the 300,000,000+ people in the world who still don’t have one verse in their language.

Still, it’s important to evaluate the effectiveness of our efforts, as well as the use of our resources.  Consider the contrast between The Traditional Approach to Missions and The Alternative Approach to Missions:

The Traditional Approach to Missions (when we go to them).

> When we go to them, missionaries are required to: quit their job; form a team; raise support; apply for visas; study linguistics; move to another country; leave their extended families; drastically change their lifestyle; and sometimes even risk their lives.
> For example, one missionary agency reported that it costs nearly $100,000 a year for a missionary couple to live and work in Japan.

 The Alternative Approach to Missions (when they come to us).

> When they come to us, internationals: pay their way; acquire visas; and speak our language.  When internationals return home: they already know their culture; their language; have relationships; hold positions of influence; and are more likely to be effective in countries hostile to Christianity.
> Millions of dollars will be saved for the kingdom of God, which can be redirected in other ways.

3.    World Missions via International Students, Is Hell’s Best Kept Secret.

Jesus’s last words he gave before ascending into heaven have come to be known as “The Great Commission.”  Most Christians have read or heard Jesus’ instructions to make disciples of all nations, but not many Christians seem to act on it.

In his book, The World at Your Door, Dr. Tom Phillips says, “Statistics show that over the last 100 years less than half of one percent of American and Canadian Christians have actually participated in international missions and gone out to work overseas.”

A lot can be said about why this is the case, but that’s for another article another day.  The point I want to make is the same point Dr. Tom Phillips makes in his book:

With the world at our door, each one of us can participate in world missions today.

It’s been called the “Pentecost Parallel”.  When faith in Jesus as the Messiah came to be known as Christianity some 2,000 years ago, it happened during a Jewish festival called The Day of Pentecost.  Acts 2:5 tells us that, “There were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven.”  What an opportunity to preach about Jesus!  Instead of traveling to every nation under heaven in order to preach, the apostles were able to preach in one place where people from all over the world had gathered.  And by the end of the day, about 3,000 of those “foreigners” became disciples of Christ, who would eventually return home, bringing the gospel with them.

Do you see the parallel?  Their Jerusalem = Our Universities.

Herein lies the unique strategy of College Ministry.  Not only does the typical university have students representing all 50 states of the US, but they have students from all over the world.  And like the Ethiopian eunuch (in Acts 8) who came to Christ and brought the gospel to Ethiopia, many of these students come to Christ and graduate as missionaries.

If this has not been on the radar of your church or Campus Ministry, it’s time that it reshapes the vision you’re pursuing.

I love how Benson Hines puts it in his free book, Reaching the Campus Tribes. He says “The practice of college ministry is far more like Missions than like Christian Education.”

4.    International Students Are Among the Future Leaders of the World.

Just as American college students are among the future leaders of America, so too, international students from around the world are among the future leaders of the world.  And they will become those leaders in just five to twenty years after college.

Here’s just a sample of past and present world leaders who got their education in the US:

> A Princess of Japan.
> A Prime Minister of Belize, Israel, Ivory Coast, Jordan, Sweden, Turkey.
> A President of Cyprus, Ecuador, Ireland, Mexico, Nicaragua, Taiwan.

Even if international students don’t become top-level governmental leaders, they still possess a powerful influence over industry, education, economics, science, politics, technology, agriculture, and faith of their countries.

It’s also important to note that the majority of these students come from the upper levels of society.  That means they are among those whom traditional missionaries would rarely meet or impact in a personal way.

5.    It’s Our Chance to Reach the Unreachable.

Have you ever heard of “The 10/40 Window”?  Here are some quotes from The World at Your Door, that explain it better than I could:

“This is a geographical belt confined between the 10th & 40th degree parallel stretching from northwest Africa to across the eastern islands of the Philippines. The belt represents the majority of the unreached people groups in the world – people who have never had a chance to hear about Jesus Christ. Research shows that 97% of the people who live in the least-evangelized countries are located in the 62 countries that compose the 10/40 window.”

“Of the international students from countries closed or less than accessible to the gospel of Christ, over 50% are from this 10/40 window.”

“It is perhaps the most practical and strategic way for the average American to have a long-term impact on the unreached people of our world. Few American Christians will go to live in the 10/40 window countries, yet the majority of these Americans live within a few minutes of a student from the 10/40 window.”

6.    International Students Expect to Learn About Christianity from Americans.

Just as you would expect to learn about Hinduism if you went to school in India, or Mormonism if you went to school in Utah, so too, internationals who come to school in the US expect to learn about Christianity.

> They expect to be invited to church.
> They expect to be given a Bible.
> They expect to hear a public prayer.
> They expect to learn about Jesus.

Are we giving them what they expect?  Are we appeasing their curiosity?  Are we offering to teach the things that many of them have never had the opportunity to learn about?

Sadly, “Statistics prove that among the international students who study in the U.S., historically 70% have never been invited to an American home during their stay.  More than 85% are never invited to an American church or have any meaningful contact with genuine Christians during an average stay of four years.” ~Dr. Tom Philips, The World At Your Door

7.    Friendship is What We’d Need if We Were in Their Shoes.

Along the same lines as Jesus being an international student himself, I appreciate the time he said to his closest friends, “You’ve stuck with me through thick and thin” (Luke 22:28, MSG).  Even Jesus needed friendship.

Have you ever been overseas for a long period of time?  I have.  Over ten years ago, I was a student in the AIM (Adventures In Missions) program.  I was blessed with the opportunity to live fourteen months in Samoa, and six months in Australia.  It was a great experience, but it was tough too.

As you can imagine, it’s not easy for international students to adjust to a new culture, a new language, new food, and new roommates, while trying to manage school assignments and endure culture shock and homesickness.

That’s why developing genuine friendships is crucial to a fulfilling experience.  New friends provide the support we need.  They are people who respect us and are just as interested in learning from and about us as we are in learning from and about them.

The very first student I had the privilege of introducing to Christ during my first semester as a Campus Minister, was a hilarious guy from Vietnam.  Over five years later, he was even a groomsman in my wedding.

It’s the kind of friendship I would hope to find if I were the one in his shoes.

8.    Internationals Give Christians One More Reason to Take Campus Ministry Seriously.

Year after year, study after study shows that the most receptive time period in a person’s life is between the ages of 14 and 24.  More specifically, it is during the college years that most people who lose their faith lose it, and most people who find their faith find it.

It begs the question, “Why are the most receptive people in the world the most neglected by the church?”

College students need Christians to rise up and advocate on their behalf.  And what better reason to build a case for College Ministry than to appeal to the greatest opportunity the church has ever seen since Pentecost!

IMAGINE…what it would look like if every church and every Christian accepted the challenge to make an intentional plan for reaching the “mission field” that is the university campus, and do it with the vision of ultimately reaching the world!

The beauty of College Ministry, and more specifically, ministry to international students, is that it offers a practical way for church members and college students to personally participate in fulfilling The Great Commission.

9.    Because Billy Graham Says So.

In case you’re not yet convinced that you should be reaching international students yesterday, here are a few of my favorite quotes from some remarkable people:

> George Barna: “In his wisdom and compassion, God has brought the mission field right to our door and affords us the outreach opportunities of a lifetime.”
> Bill Bright: “Every soul is equally precious in God’s sight, but not every soul is equally strategic.”
> Billy Graham: “Every Christian in America should help reach international students for Christ.”

There you have it.  That’s the WHY behind reaching international students.  Keep an eye out for Part Two, where I share some ideas regarding HOW.


> What did I miss?  Can you think of another reason to add to the list?
> How did this post comfort, convict, or challenge YOU?