Internationals: Who Are They?
How far are the nations from your front porch? They’re closer than you think. The nations are all around us. To reach them, we must understand who they are. Just like us, internationals are not all the same. Here are just a few of the types of internationals among us:
- International Students – Around 975,000 students from other countries are studying at universities in the U.S. Over 57% of them are from just four countries—China, India, South Korea and Saudi Arabia.
- Immigrants – The number of immigrants and their children born in the U.S. is approximately 80 million, or 25% of the total U.S. population. The number from Asia now roughly equals those coming from the Americas.
- Refugees – As symbolized by the Statue of Liberty, the U.S. has long been a target destination for people seeking refuge from troubled countries. In FY 2015, the U.S. admitted 70,000 refugees. More than one-third came from the Near East/South Asia (esp. Iraq, Iran, Bhutan, Syria, Afghanistan). Another one-third came from Africa (esp. Somalia, D.R. Congo, Sudan, Eritrea, Burundi), and one-quarter came from East Asia (esp. Burma).
How Can We Connect with the Nations in Our Midst?
Getting involved with the internationals around us is quite simple, but it requires intentional effort. If you’re not sure where to begin, here are a few ideas:
1. Start up a conversation with the clerk at a convenience store. If you go into a convenience store and the clerk’s name tag or appearance or accent gives you the impression they are from another country, they just might be. Introduce yourself and ask them where they are from. Decide to become a regular customer to get to know them better. Who would have thought that buying gas at a local convenience store could turn into a cross-cultural encounter?
2. Visit an ethnic market. In some cities (and even some smaller towns), you can find a grocery store or market that caters to international people from Asia, Latin America, Africa or the Middle East. Make a point to go shopping at that store and ask a clerk some questions about the international products. (Tea, coffee, and snacks are great conversation starters.) After the store owner or clerk recovers from their shock that a non-international would enter their store, they’ll be pleased to have you as a customer. They’ll be even more amazed if you try to build a friendship with them.
3. Befriend an international student. Many international students (some say 70-80%) never set foot in an American home. You can change this statistic. Universities often welcome volunteers from the community to serve as “friendship partners” with their international students. Go to the university’s website and search on “international student programs” to see what type of friendship programs are available. You might be just the friend that an international student is looking for.
4. Share a Meal Together. People all around the world love to eat, believe it or not. Inviting a student into your home for a meal can provide the context for fruitful discussions. Universities often have programs where you can bring an international student over to your house for a meal. NC State University, for example, offers a program called “Breaking Bread” through the Office of International Services to give students a “taste” of American culture. Internationals also love to share food from their country with Americans. Sharing a meal together might even give these students a hunger for the Bread of Life.
5. Help a refugee family. As illustrated in the article “Assisting Refugees Opens Doors for the Gospel,” (link to article on the PNDNC website) your church can demonstrate the love of Christ in practical ways to refugees. Organizations such as World Relief would love to have your involvement in helping a family coming to the U.S. from very difficult circumstances. The World Relief office in Durham, NC, for instance, has numerous ways to provide assistance. Serve on a “Welcome Team” to greet the refugees at the airport and welcome them to the U.S. with open arms. Recruit some other families from your church to form a “Good Neighbor Team” that will visit a refugee family on a regular basis. Become a friendship partner to assist a refugee in their adjustment to the U.S. Relatively small acts of service can make a significant impact on a refugee family.
6. Give the Gift of Language. Maybe you’re not a teacher (or maybe you are), but if you’re reading this you have a gift that many internationals desperately need: English. Share this gift by becoming a conversation partner with an international neighbor or friend. Some universities have “conversation clubs” where local volunteers can hang out and just talk with international students. You can develop skills in ESL (English as a Second Language) by attending a workshop or enrolling in a certificate program. Perhaps your church could start an ESL program to minister to the needs of internationals in your community. And what about learning another language yourself? Making the effort to learn another person’s language goes a long way in building relationships.
The peoples of the world are next door. To reach them, we just have to step off our front porch.
Billy has an M.Div. from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary (SEBTS) and an M.A. in Teaching English as a Second Language from the University of Alabama. Billy serves as an adjunct instructor at in the ESL certificate program at SEBTS. He has taught ESL for Westminster Theological Seminary in the Mastering Theological English Program, for North Carolina State University in the Intensive English Program, and for Messiah University in the TESOL certificate program. Billy and his wife, Mary Jo, and their three children, lived in Taipei, Taiwan for nine years, where he served at Overseas Radio & Television, Inc., a Christian media ministry.
On International Students