Seeking authentic relationships in a new land

Seeking authentic relationships in a new land

November 16th, 2010 at 4:07 pm

Gayatri arrived on a college campus a few months ago. She left everything familiar behind to pursue her education here in Texas. Her family is concerned for her well being while she lives here among us. You would too if it was your child packing up suitcases to study abroad for two or more years.

So imagine how you’d feel if you knew that they had encountered some kind people upon their arrival in another country. Take that feeling and use it to engage in a relationship with an international student studying at one of the college or university campuses near you.

It’s quite simple really because all you have to do is spend time relating to someone who is hungry for authentic relationships anyway. How would you or your church group get started engaging international students? There is probably a Baptist Student Ministry (BSM) already established at a campus near you, so your first step would be to contact a BSM director serving on that campus. Let them know you are just starting and are in need of some guidance on how to get a relationship started. They will seek to get you connected.

If there’s not a BSM on a local campus near you, contact the university directly and ask which staff member is responsible for international student admissions or programming. Set up a meeting time to introduce yourself to the staff member in person. University administrators initially are often suspicious of outsiders wishing to work with their students so they need to get to know you as a person before they might allow you to work with their students. While meeting with them, ask what is one thing they wish they could provide for their incoming students but are not able to. Often BSM and church-based ministries have started out as a result of a conversation like this.

On some campuses, we discovered that students simply needed rides to the grocery store from time to time. On others, we have discovered that a welcome gift would be appreciated and helpful. At the university where I work, I first took a student to the local market and brought him back to his apartment. As we unloaded his groceries into his new place, I noticed there was not a single piece of furniture in the entire unit. I asked him where he had been sleeping since he had arrived and he opened his closet door to show me the rolled up sheet he pulled out every night. As I drove home at the end of that day, I realized we had an extra futon couch in our garage that was unused, so I took it apart that evening, crammed it into my compact car, drove back to campus and knocked on his door. I asked him to come down to the car so I could show him something and I shared with him that he could have this futon to sit on to study during the day and to sleep on at night. He gladly accepted it and we carried it upstairs and put it back together.

If the idea of starting out a new friendship seems daunting at the moment, you might want to get your feet wet first by volunteering to help with a one time or ongoing weekly outreach project. Because each campus situation is unique, these projects may be specific to one campus but not to another. For example, students at one university may be living in furnished residence halls while students at another may be living in unfurnished apartments on or near the campus. Each BSM typically has some type of outreach event where you can come and meet some international students.

Once you have met an international student and established a new relationship with them you would simply have to nurture the relationship. You can do this in a number of ways. Invite them to your home for a meal. Ask about their birthdays and other important occasions and seek to celebrate these. Meet some tangible need like locating an indigenous market where they can purchase familiar items. Ask good questions indicating interest in their values and beliefs. Take them to a sporting event with your family. Basically all you have to do is invite them into your life and allow them to experience first-hand what an American Christian family is like. Every time you meet together, be totally authentic about your faith. Nurturing conversations about values, beliefs, and faith is not difficult at all in the context of an authentic friendship relationship.

Story by Beth Smith, BSM director University of Texas at Dallas

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