The Navigators International Student Ministry was officially established in 1993, although work among international students had been underway for more than two decades. Today, more than 110 staff members participate in International Student Ministry in more than 40 locations.
Q: What makes the work among international students unique?
A: We often have to start with the very basics of Christianity. We run into students who have never heard of Jesus. With Christian students, one of the biggest distinctives is that we work in our culture to prepare people from other cultures for a ministry back in their own cultures. Our focus is to prepare them to be effective ministers back home.
Q: Do you find internationals to be receptive to the claims of Christ?
A: It depends on what country they’re from. Around 75 percent of the students we are involved with were not believers when they arrived in the States. Students coming from Africa have a much higher percentage of believers. China is very low. Japan is next to zero.
Q: What are some of the biggest challenges you face?
A: We have to be careful to not “Americanize” their spiritual life. What I mean is not getting them used to methods, resources, or expressions of faith that are more representative of American culture than their home cultures. This includes everything from church to Bible studies to Bibles.
Another difficulty is getting past their assumptions of Christianity. They think of America as a “Christian country,” but then they see all the things that come out in movies or on television and they get very confused. They ask, “Is this Christian?”
Q: Is it difficult for students to return to their home countries?
A: For some, this can be an extremely difficult adjustment. Quite often returning to their home countries is more difficult than coming to the States. Some of the students get used to the independence and relative affluence they experience here. We can’t solve all their problems, but keeping in touch with them, being someone to talk to who is safe, who understands, is a tremendous encouragement to them.
Q: What’s the best part of international student ministry?
A: The greatest joy is seeing students go back home and minister. To see them in their homes, in their natural networks, being effective ministers — that is very rewarding. We know that through them the Gospel is able to flow through their countries in a culturally correct way, in ways any westerner couldn’t even get close to.
International Student Facts and Figures
- Since 1954, international student enrollment has grown from 34,000 to more than 600,000.
- Of the four most populated countries in the world, three do not allow missionaries, but do send a large number of students to study in the United States (China, India, Indonesia).
- The president (or prime minister) of Antigua, Brazil, Chile, Costa Rica, Egypt, Georgia, Guyana, Honduras, Indonesia, Jamaica, Jordan, Latvia, Malaysia, Mongolia, Peru, Singapore, Thailand, and Tunisia are all former international students.