“When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God” (Leviticus 19:33-34 ESV)
I was walking down the hall of a sister Baptist church in South Carolina on the way out of the door recently with a Japanese pastor friend of mine who has a Japanese ministry there when my eye caught a poster that outlined Greer First Baptist’s giving for the International Mission Board, North American Mission Board, and state missions.
I stopped and saw that the breakdown of giving was as follows: International: 60%, North America: 25%, and State: 15%. I mentioned to my Japanese friend that as excited that I am that our local Baptist churches are committed to taking the Gospel around the world, I still see that the local church as a whole still has not realized that our country and even our state has become more and more globalized in the last 20 years and our giving reflects that.
The world has come to the US and more importantly, South Carolina. As RJ Voorhees, our College Minister, pointed out in his blog, “The Backyard Mission Field”, our mission field is right before us. We can do international missions without leaving Columbia or South Carolina. RJ also pointed out in his blog that “USC is our neighborhood mission field.” On a daily basis, there are an estimated 150 languages spoken on the USC campus and nationally, there are 1 million International students studying in our universities. The majority of International students come from China, India, South Korea, and Saudi Arabia. The International student population rose 10% in 2014-15 from the previous year. Institute of International Education President Allen Goodman credits the increase to the fact that the US has 4,000 universities, more than any other country and the other countries can’t accommodate all of their students. Some countries such as Saudi Arabia and Brazil are paying to send their students to study in the US.
First Baptist Columbia is the minority when it comes to ministering to Internationals around us who have come to study or work. There are not many churches with the vision or desire to minister to International students. We are in prime position to reach a majority of the world by reaching and ministering to the International students at USC, Midlands Tech, Columbia International University, Benedict, Allen, and Columbia College. We can make a huge impact on the Kingdom of God just within a couple mile radius. Many of these International students are future leaders who will return to their home countries to positions of power and influence, in business, government, and academia to positions of authority in nations and cultures that have been unengaged and difficult to access with or closed to the Gospel.
Dr. Douglas Shaw, President/CEO of International Students, Inc., published a strategy for reaching and evangelizing people groups through an International ministry. Dr. Shaw’s strategy as stated in his article “International Student Ministry: A Strategy for Reaching Unreached People Groups”:
Approximately 60% of these potential future leaders come from the countries in the 10/40 Window, many of which are closed to traditional missionary outreach. By 2035, it is predicted that 50% of the world’s leaders will have been international students. Those coming from the top 5 places of origin (China, India, South Korea, Saudi Arabia, and Canada) comprise 56% of all international students. By reaching these individuals with the love and Gospel of Jesus Christ, we can make a difference in the world, as these international students return to their home countries and reproduce their Faith in the lives of their friends, families and fellow countrymen. These returnees are ready-made missionaries in reverse!
This effort should be strategically directed toward evangelism, foreign and home-mission service, international church planting, and reaching the world’s academic leaders on university and college campuses across the US. Students who accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior will be bold witnesses for Him in their own countries, where they are able to connect to their culture, language, and society in ways that will make their ministry much more effective. By networking these returnees in their home country, they can become equipped to impact their nations with the Gospel of Jesus Christ!
The process begins by befriending international students who have come to the US to study, offering tangible services in a variety of areas, from providing transportation or inviting them to join a family activity, to teaching English skills or exploring the Bible. Along the way, we can share the message of God’s love and forgiveness through Jesus Christ. Pairing these students with American families can then help form deeper relationships. Bible studies and spiritual discussion groups can also be provided as students express interest. Then, as students prepare to return to their native country, they can be strategically networked with key contacts at home to help transition them spiritually to their “new” environment.
This context of trust and friendship forms a basis for helping returning students learn to share with others the opportunity to know Jesus Christ personally. For returnees, the growth process is nurtured as training continues through webinars, seminars and materials to help them mature in their faith and become an effective witness in their own spheres of influence. Eventually, every nation (even restricted access nations) can experience returnees coming home to have an impact for the Gospel of Jesus Christ and change lives for eternity!
To have a foreign mission field right in front of us is why the local church needs to reevaluate how they do ministry and how they fund missions. We must take advantage of the opportunity that God is providing us, the world on our doorstep. Let’s be missionaries by making contact with and building relationships with the Internationals around us so that they can know the saving grace and love that God has for them.
Rev. Ryan Dupree