Disciple for the long term
In Matthew 28:19 Jesus tells us to “make disciples of all nations” not just converts. It is vital therefore that in all our dealings with international students we have the end in mind. We want them to be effective disciples of Jesus Christ in their home countries or wherever God calls them.
Here are three things to bear in mind:
Discipleship not paternalism
Although international students do have particular needs for care and help with cultural adjustment they are not “needy” people who can’t do anything for themselves. We need to take care not to become paternalistic but to treat them as responsible adults who have much to give. Friendships should become mutual with the students giving as much as they receive and in the activities we organize we should involve them and give them responsibility as soon as we can. If and when they become Christians we need to give them opportunities to serve and lead as soon as is practically possible.
When international students return home they will find reverse culture shock a difficult experience. For those who have become Christians there will be additional issues to face. They will encounter different discipleship issues to those we face in the West eg how to relate to ancestor worship and making offerings at the family shrine; or pressure from parents to marry a non Christian; or the demand that they work in the family business or seek a well paid job when they would prefer to do something else.
It is vital that these discipleship issues are addressed long before a student returns home and that they are helped to find out from Scripture how to do this on their own. Ideally, from the very first time an international student opens a Bible they are encouraged to ask how the passage read would apply in their home country as well as in their host country. It can also be helpful if a student is able to communicate with their family during their ‘exploration’ of Christian faith so that their trusting Christ and baptism does not come as a surprise.
Doing one’s best to connect students who have become Christians with churches or individual believers back home is also vital. Ask an ISM leader for help with this if you don’t have your own connections.
For students from certain countries eg Saudi Arabia, Laos and China there may be considerable dangers from governments and/or religious leaders if they become Christians. It is therefore essential that great care is taken when communicating with family back home and with the student on their return.