For the second year in a row, over one million international students are crowding onto USA university campuses, providing American Christians with one of the greatest mission opportunities in history. Can campus ministries rise to the challenge?
By Bill Bray, Campus and Missions Correspondent, ASSIST News Service
CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA (ANS — August 10, 2017) – Local churches in Charlottesville, Virginia, are helping campus ministries reach out to international students on the grounds of the University in a new, much bigger way — but can they keep up with the increased load? At least five local churches have added pastoral staff to help cope with the increases. Besides the churches, two campus ministries are focusing on direct personal contact with overseas students and visitors.
The Bible Fellowship, Charlottesville Elim Church, Covenant Church of God, Korean Community Church and Trinity Presbyterian have all hired ordained ministerial staff to help organize community volunteers to reach out to the new international students arriving this weekend. One of the new pastoral staff is an Indian national from Kerala who will work with Hindus at the University — one of the most underserved populations next to Muslims.
Nationally, there are over 1.2 million international students coming to the states during August and many have already arrived on nearly 3,500 campuses. Move-in day for the Class of 2021 at UVA is this Saturday, August 12 followed by “welcome week” orientations through August 19 when the rest of the student body arrives.
A similar ritual is taking place all over the country for the next three weeks. Studies have shown that the first 72-hours on campus is considered “critical” to bonding with other students and Christian ministries—although the orientation period extends throughout the first year.
Earlier fears that President Trump’s immigration reforms would affect student enrollment have proven groundless. A survey of the 20 biggest schools for international students have shown that in 14 of them, international student applications have increased or remained the same. Estimates of enrollment have reached within 2% of last year’s record-breaking admissions.
Chinese, Korean, Indian and Saudi students are the four largest nationalities but over 80 countries are represented by the international students here at the University of Virginia—and that is typical of most universities. The USA has been the leading “destination country” for international students since 2005 but similar huge movements of students are also flying to the United Kingdom, Australia and all the European nations this month. Even India and Singapore are attracting international students and many campus ministries like InterVarsity and International Students, Inc. are sending missionary staff abroad to cities like New Delhi, Singapore and Tokyo.
Campus ministries are scrambling to keep up with the increases—and not able to make much of a dent in the numbers of students being reached in the USA. More staff, funds and church support is needed. Without more volunteer church support, especially with critical “Friendship Partner” and “Friendship Family” programs, there is little hope that these students will be impacted for Christ. Without more intentional interaction from lay volunteers, foreign visitors cannot be reached.
According to Marc Papai, International Student Ministry director for InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, the big five campus ministries are only able to meaningfully reach about 40,000 of the students coming to the USA. Many independent missions and single-campus ministries are not included in this total.
In a study by Sarah Eekhoff Zylstra of The Gospel Coalition, Papai is quoted as saying, “I think God desires every one of those million international students to hear a credible presentation of the gospel. With our sister organizations, we may be affecting 30,000 to 40,000 in a meaningful way. That leaves the vast majority untouched.”
The “big five” mission organizations reaching out to internationals on campus are Cru’s “Bridges International”, Cai Alpha, International Students, Inc., IVCF’s “International Student Ministry”, and Reformed University Fellowship. A sixth, Overseas Students Mission, is an auxiliary group mainly concerned with helping international students return to their own homelands as indigenous missionaries.
The big five, and about 150 other independent organizations which are involved in direct evangelism and Campus ministries, are related to the Association of Christians Ministering Among Internationals (ACMI). International students bring about $32.8 billion into the American economy every school year. Annually, the actual statistics on numbers of international students are released in November by the Institute for International Education (IIE).
Photo captions: 1) International students give the thumbs up. (http://www.mastersabroad.co/top-scholarships-in-usa-for-international-students/ ). 2) International students in a class. (http://www.nvcc.edu/international/index.html ). 3) Bill Bray.
About the writer: Bill Bray, 70, is an author, retired foreign correspondent and frequent contributor to ASSIST News Service. He specializes in covering international student ministries and foreign missions. He has traveled to over 65 countries as a missionary journalist to report on missions and development ministries, returning to some countries as many as 30 times during his career. He welcomes exchange with readers and can be contacted by e-mail at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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