Food and its importance

In many cultures people get together over food. Meeting up, having fellowship, is hardly possible without sharing a meal.

Vision: what food can do for your international student ministry

Students long for connection and fellowship. Meals are a very good way to show hospitality and to meet the needs of hungry stomachs, but more important, the need for connection. To sit down, share a meal, share your life, is a strong and very effective way to build relationships. At the table is where you hear your students’ concerns, where you have fun and where you can invite students with whom you want to share the Gospel. At the table you can give students a sense of belonging. It is a place is where you can practice hospitality and show what it means to be in a Christian community.

Meals are also a very good opportunity to involve sponsors and churches in ISM. Although many church members feel daunted by the idea of sharing the Gospel with international students, they may still be happy to help cook for your group. Try to invite the cooks to stay for the meal. They will see that spending time, meeting up and seeing the student at your table is not as hard as they expected and they will probably soon be enjoying themselves!

Other church members might be great at relating to internationals (you suspect) but not be confident cooks. If so, just invite them to come as guests to the dinner table too.

Lessons learned

You want to be hospitable and welcoming to students from a wide variety of cultural backgrounds and religions. That’s why it is smart to always have a vegetarian option ready. Pork and alcohol are not a good idea in general. When volunteers cook, please instruct them accordingly. Don’t assume that everyone knows.

Many international students would love to prepare a dish from home and talk about it. It is a great way to involve students and helps to build ownership. Some have the possibility to be generous, but better check if they need compensation for the costs and find a solution.

Preparing food together is a very good way to break the ice, and to have good conversations when your hands are busy. Students are interested to learn recipes from the host culture, but it is also fun for you to learn something foreign 😉. Once after a simple dinner, we prepared a dessert together. It was big fun to work through the provided recipe, to see what roles people take in this team effort, and to wait for it while it was in the oven. Pictures were made and sent home to show the mums.

In some cities, a well promoted cooking workshop, attracted many new international students. Many students are ‘in’ for something new. Providing workshops in ‘sushi making’ or how to prepare a ‘Dutch kroket’ is a very good way to get to know new students.