“When you agreed to let me live with you and your family, I bet you were afraid,” the student said. “I was scared of you, too.”
A Middle Eastern student studying in Kentucky desired to live with an American family to improve his English skills and learn about American culture. He was fearful though, because he did not know how the American family would receive him.
On the first night of his stay, he made an opening statement about his fear. And he was right. My wife and I were his new family, and we were concerned for our children (who were ages 3 and 1) when he moved into our basement.
France was hit with multiple terrorist attacks just one week prior. Our minds were filled with possibilities of terror. We looked at our children, ourselves, and our possessions. Then we looked at his hopeless and helpless state apart from knowing Jesus Christ. We considered canceling and taking the easy, comfortable, and safe route. My wife, being as transparent as she is, said, “I’m doing this for two reasons: first, I trust the Lord. Second, this is your job.”
It’s amazing what can change within individuals’ hearts when they live with one another for a couple of weeks. At the beginning, my wife was fearful, yet by the time the student climbed into his car to move back onto the college campus, she wept. She had grown to love him and his culture, and felt a deep burden for him to acknowledge Jesus Christ as more than a prophet, but as both Lord and Savior.
While this student lived with us, more than 75 percent of our conversation was about the Bible and Jesus Christ. It was incredible to hear questions come from his mouth like, “Who is Jesus? Why did he have to die? What does the Bible say about women’s roles in society?”
It was as though God was putting the ball on the tee, not once, not twice, but consistently for us to knock it out of the park. In the middle of his stay he even said, “The way you treat your wife, I want to do the same. My family is not like yours.”
This student not only got to hear the gospel, but also received the opportunity to gaze into a Christian family and see how the gospel transforms the way husbands and wives, parents and children interact.
Our children loved every minute the student spent with them. One day as the student walked in from the library, he had gifts for our children. He did this not for any special reason, but just because he wanted to.
To this day, as we put our little boy in his crib, he looks up at us and says, “bear,” to let us know to go fetch it. This reminds us of the student who gave “bear” to our little boy. This reminds us of both the joy of having the student live with us, while also remembering in our prayers that God would take the seed that was sown and grow it to bear fruit in his heart, resulting in repentance and faith.
Many international students who come to study within the United States will never be invited into an American home—70 percent to be exact. If we were to step foot into their country, the first things they would be delighted to do is to invite us into their home, feed us well, and enjoy our company.
When I visited South Asia, and spent time within an Islamic culture, it didn’t take long to have a family welcome me into their household. They rolled out the red carpet, offering good home cooking, a room to stay in, a bed to myself, while as many as four of the family would sleep on the other bed in the house. A family welcoming me like this was a breath of fresh air literally, stepping foot into a home and off the street where the noise, smell, filth and heat would about knock you off your feet.
God has commanded his people to be hospitable (Romans 12:13; 1 Peter 4:9; 1 Timothy 3:2; Titus 1:8, etc.). Hebrews 13:2 commands us, “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers.” The original meaning of hospitality is “to love the stranger.” A stranger is one who travels into a land that’s not his own. With both the biblical (Acts 17:26,27) and experiential evidence of knowing that God has brought the nations into our homeland as strangers, we have a great opportunity.
Open your heart
Be a friend to an international student. These students crave friendships with Americans. Many of them have a need that you can meet. They have English skills yet they are unpolished and need to improve. They would love it if you would sit down with them and, with a cup of coffee or tea, have conversations with them.
Take time to introduce yourself to him/her, open your heart to befriend the student who could be just as much of a blessing to you as you are to the student. You can start by contacting the international student office of the college campus nearest to you and ask them if you could volunteer in their international student friendship program. If you have a Baptist Campus Ministry near you, they can assist you in forming a friendship with an international student.
Open your table
Host a student or two in your home for dinner. Take most American college students overseas and what is the one thing they will miss? American food. Or, better yet, “Momma’s cooking.” Many of these international students would love to sit with you and your family and share a meal. You could take the opportunity to pray over your meal, giving thanks to God for his provision for not only the food and friendship, but also for His Son, Jesus Christ. Will you set the table for one more to join you?
Open a room
Host a student for a couple of days, weeks, or even months to have him/her live with you. Walking into a university library, I asked a student, “What are needs that you have that no one else is willing or able to meet?” He said, “I would like to live with an American family.” How would you respond after hearing this request? Would you consider opening your home to students who may never have the opportunity to hear the gospel, have a Christian friend, and may never get to see what the life of a real Christian family looks like.
Can you imagine what kind of impact you could make by opening your heart, your table, and even your own home to an international student? A stranger would be loved in word and deed, the Christian would be encouraged, and Jesus Christ would be glorified.
For more information contact firstname.lastname@example.org and we will assist you as you reach out to the nations right here in Kentucky. (WR)
Brennan Keller* is an international state campus missionary.