How can Christians Reach Out to International Students While They are Abroad?

Dear Mr. Raju,

Thank you for being willing to answer questions on the forum this week! I am an American graduate student in mathematics, and I can easily say that a non-trivial percentage of people in my field are Indian. As I was reading your bio, I noticed you have gone to university both at home and abroad, and I have met quite a few people who have done the same, but I have not had the opportunity to engage in a conversation where I can genuinely ask the following question: what were some of the unique spiritual challenges that you encountered when studying abroad, and how can we as Christians reach out to help foreign students with their struggles being so far from home and at this critical time in their lives when they are often asking the tough questions about life (morality, meaning, destiny, origin)? I would sincerely appreciate any insight you have to offer, and thank you again for being willing to do this forum!

Best,
Elizabeth

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Thanks Elizabeth. That’s a very good question.

You are absolutely right. It’s challenging for anyone to thrive in a foreign country away from home, friends, and the community they have known all their lives. Your desire to reach them for Christ is admirable.

Most eastern cultures have strong family bonds. Eastern cultures are more group-centric or communalistic, whereas western cultures are more individualistic. In the west there’s a great emphasis on personal autonomy and identity whereas in the east one’s identity is tied to his family and community. Oftentimes it can be difficult for someone from a western culture to fully understand the extent of pain that an easterner experiences when moving to a new country.

It is fascinating to me as I read the gospels to see how Jesus interacted with people. Here are a few things we notice from his earthly ministry:

(i) In his interactions with people He did not start with a lecture, rather he would ask questions. This spoke powerfully to his audience and conveyed the message that He was interested in knowing and hearing them. Often I find Christians are quick to speak and share their views on life and God without giving people a hearing. Sometimes this can come across as arrogance.

(ii) Jesus sought to address their immediate physical needs before addressing their deeper spiritual problem. This communicated love and concern, breaking the initial barrier and building trust.

(iii) He did not make His interventions conditional. If you recall the story of the 10 lepers whom Jesus healed, it was not dependent on their belief or allegiance to Him. Although all 10 of them experienced healing, only 1 came back to thank Him.

(iv) In the gospels we find Jesus moved with compassion whenever He encountered pain and suffering. We see Him in tears at Lazarus’ tomb, empathizing with His family. Jesus was not one to hide His emotions; people could see His heart for them.

(v) Jesus was willing to cross social and ethnic boundaries in order to reach people. (The Samaritan woman in John 4). He would reach out and touch the ostracized and unclean as he did in healing the leaper in Matthew 8.

In the incarnation itself we see Jesus identifying with humanity, entering into our pain and griefs. We learn from Jesus that in order to reach people it is imperative that we first identify with them. Seek to know them and what they believe. Ask questions. Be willing to be vulnerable with your own life. They should feel loved and cared for by you. When you do, you will find people reciprocating and opening up to you. Also, continually remember them in your prayers and seek opportunities to minister to them. The Lord will open up doors

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