Declare his glory among the nations (Psalm 96:3).
Do you ever feel that reaching the nations is the job of a few select missionaries? One of the amazing things about the world we live in today is that God is bringing the nations to us. People from all over the world come to study, live and work in Wales and through them, we can send the gospel to all nations. I work in international student ministry, but the same principles apply to everyone. Reaching out to international people in our own communities is not only amazingly strategic but also a huge blessing to the church.
The nations observe
‘I’m really disappointed with my course. Life is difficult.’ These were the reflections of my Eastern European friend Yury. He had started attending our international student activities on a regular basis a few months earlier. As we sat in the coffee shop I asked him about his PhD and how he was finding life in Cardiff. He wasn’t enjoying the course and was finding life both difficult and frustrating.
Yury had hoped to find meaning in his life through studying, but as we talked he shared that he hadn’t found the fulfilment he was looking for, and he had come to realise that his life had no real foundation. At that moment, Yury wasn’t fully convinced that the gospel provided the answers he was searching for, but we pray that one day Yury will respond to the gospel and find the meaning, hope and joy that can only be found in Jesus.
Like Yury, many international students come to the United Kingdom with the hope that their academic achievements will give them all their longings and desires, but many quickly realise that their studies can only provide so much and they start looking elsewhere for answers. At this point in their lives, we have an amazing opportunity of pointing them to Jesus and showing them how they can have life to the full (John 10:10).
With so many people from around the world knowing nothing about the gospel, sharing the good news with them can often feel overwhelming, but it’s important to remember what God is calling us to do. We are called to love our neighbour, point them to Jesus and pray for them, but it is God who opens their eyes and gives them the faith to respond. I find this a huge motivation and encouragement.
The nations respond
When I was told that Shen, an international student from East Asia, had become a Christian, I struggled to believe it at first.
He had been attending our Globe Café for a while but had been quite negative about the group. We once took a group of international students to watch The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe so that we could discuss it afterwards, and as we were walking out of the cinema Shen passed us telling his friends not to have anything to do with our Globe Café. Therefore, when I was told that he had become a Christian… let’s just say I was highly sceptical.
A few weeks later Shen came to the Globe Café with one of his friends, and I noticed he was very eager to talk with me. I sat down at their table and he said, ‘This is my friend Li. I want you to study the Bible with him. He needs to know Jesus.’
Shen had indeed become a Christian, and he now loved to talk about Jesus and invite many of his friends to study the Bible. After a few weeks, he also invited Jing to the Bible study group. He was especially keen that she would attend as he secretly wanted her to become a Christian so that he could go out with her. After a few months she did, and they are now married.
Shen and Jing continued to invite their friends to the Bible studies while they were in Cardiff, and since they returned to East Asia they have become very involved in their local church. They now have plans to start Bible College and dedicate their lives to sharing the gospel with those that have never heard.
They are a huge encouragement to me, both in their passion to reach the lost and as a reminder that even the most unlikely of people can respond to the gospel.
People come to the United Kingdom for all kinds of reasons, but God sometimes uses their time away from home as an opportunity for them to hear the gospel, often for the very first time. We might never know who will respond, and take that faith back to their own country and share it there.
The nations bless
Welcoming those from other cultures into our church helps us see that the gospel is for all nations and encourages our involvement in world mission. A church full of people from other nations leading, serving and sharing their lives powerfully expresses the way in which the gospel reconciles all peoples to himself (Eph. 2:16-20) and to one another through the cross (1 Cor. 12:13).
Hospitality was a key part of Ayub, a Christian student from Central Asia, becoming involved in the life of church. At Highfields, we organise a hospitality scheme where international students are invited to spend time with church families as a way to show practical care and build enriching friendships. Children grow up with people from different cultures in their homes and we get involved in each other’s lives. We see people like Ayub growing in their faith and becoming a blessing to us. We often think of international students as being those in need of our help and support, which in many ways is true, however there is so much that they give in return. Over the years Ayub has attended and served on the international student team, student Bible studies and now the 20’s group. On Sundays, he can often be seen serving on the tech team or welcoming people as one of the stewards, and he takes on numerous other duties throughout the year.
Ayub and his wife Sara will be leaving us later this year. While they will be greatly missed by our church, we’re excited to see how God will continue to use them to bless other churches.
I am often struck by how we are blessed by the insights of those from other cultures; approaching a biblical text from a different cultural background helps me to understand an aspect of Scripture that I had not seen before. No one particular culture has a monopoly on understanding all that the Bible says; God desires for his church not only to reach all nations, but to be taught by all nations. There is also a ‘sharpening’ nature to having other nations in the church; they can help us discern what is just a cultural tradition of ours (as good as it may be) and what is actual biblical truth.
Finally, looking around the church on a Sunday or during a mid-week meeting and seeing people from many nations praising God is a beautiful picture of the glorious future to come (Rev. 7:9-10).
Please get in touch if you would like more information about international student ministry, or find out how your church could be involved: email@example.com
All names have been changed.