November 16th, 2010 at 4:07 pm
The University of Texas at Austin has thousands of international students, and at the Baptist Student Ministry, we see it as a great opportunity to reach the nations while they’re on our doorstep. We discovered a system to build relationships and share the gospel, and we saw God use it in some wonderful ways.
We met international students at our weekly international lunch and faith conversation called Crossroads. The UT BSM building is close to the international student office, and we advertised our events over there. From there, we invited them to our once-a-month dinner parties to build deeper relationships. After that, we used that foundation to meet up with people individually, love on them and share the gospel.
Research shows that families who eat together have a closer relationship. There’s just something about chowing down around a table with other people. This was a key component in our international ministry. The exact same things don’t work for everyone, but hopefully what we did will stir your imagination for how you can accomplish the Great Commission among internationals near you.
At UT, our goal was two-fold:
- Deepen our relationships with the international students we met for the purpose of sharing our lives and sharing the gospel.
- Introduce American students to the world of international ministry.
We formed our strategy around this purpose. We hosted a dinner party at my apartment once a month and kept it informal. We invited international students and asked them to invite their friends. We also invited a few select American students each time, because sometimes the only thing keeping Americans from loving on internationals is unfamiliarity. Dinner parties can often bridge that gap in just one evening.
One of my close friends, who also co-hosted these dinner parties with me, used to avoid international student ministry. The idea of trying to carry on a conversation with someone who didn’t speak much English intimidated her, and she felt like she didn’t have anything in common with them. Then she spent the summer in California working with a church plant – and ended up meeting a group of Korean students from a nearby university. She got over the communication awkwardness quickly to realize that they shared plenty of common goals, experiences and emotions. She came back and dove into international ministry at UT, sharing her story with anyone who tried to avoid getting out of their comfort zone!
We invited many different nationalities. It’s great to have themed nights with people from the same country, but when the Chinese lady is showing the Cuban lady how to use chopsticks while the Iraqi man explains his hometown schooling situation, it’s not just you who comes away more cultured. If everyone leaves knowing how to say “I don’t know” in six languages and offering to host it next time, you know it was a success.
However, there’s also something to be said for hosting a dinner party for a specific culture or nationality, especially if you’re trying penetrate into one particular culture. Evaluate your vision and purpose, and plan your strategy accordingly.
We provided a full meal for everyone, but we gave them the option of bringing food from their country for everyone to try. We planned everything to start 30 minutes to an hour later than the set time. Most people showed up that late anyway, and it only took us one time to realize that some people are from more relaxed cultures. If you know and plan accordingly, you’ll never get your feelings hurt or end up frustrated.
We borrowed our neighbor’s chairs and crammed everyone around the table. We never planned entertainment – everyone talked for hours. People would start to open up, and you knew you had moved past the “acquaintance” stage. We intentionally never had a “program” or an official gospel presentation. It was just dinner with friends. From there, we made individual appointments with people and started talking about more important things and sharing the gospel once we had established a real relationship.
We saw some great things happen with both international and American students through these dinners, and it came through a lot of trial and error. God can use anything, and we were just thrilled He used our dinner parties.
Story by Robbi Francovich, cross cultural minister at the University of Texas at Austin BSM
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