Christian Education, Global Missions, and International Student Ministry
When my wife and I learned that the theme for this year would be “every tribe, tongue, language, and nation,” we were thrilled. Christian education and global missions are motivated by the same holy passion. As the Psalmist writes, “One generation shall commend your works to another and shall declare your mighty acts” (Psalm 145). This multi-generational vision of storytelling is at the heart of Christian education. Parents and teachers speak of God’s activity in the past (detailed in Scripture) and in the present (detailed in their own lives, churches and every academic discipline). The primary difference is context. Missionary activity is guided by the question, “Where are there tribes and nations without a Christian generation to do this commending?” The answer leads to sending and going. The missionary fills this gap of a missing generation that knows the Lord so that another culture hears the good news. Sadly, there are approximately 6,000 people groups with little Christian witness.
For me, an awareness of communities with a “missing generation” began in college. I remember the moment in 2002 when I found myself with a group of American college students on a mountainside in Western Turkey. From this vantage point, we could see a sprawling city of 500,000 people below. Our guide turned to us and said, “To our knowledge, there is not a single follower of Jesus in this entire community.” Something changed in me that day. Perhaps it was this new information; perhaps it was the Spirit of God, but I’ve never been the same since. In an increasingly post-Christian America, it’s easy to miss the blessing we still experience of a Christian presence within America. Despite the shuttering of some churches and the decline of cultural influence, I would venture to say that multiple gospel-preaching churches can be found in nearly every city in America. Yet there are cities in the world where one is hard-pressed to find any gathering of believers or, as in that metropolis in Turkey, a single witness for Christ. It is the job of the Church to send cross-cultural missionaries into these communities to take the place of the missing generation of believers and to speak of the mighty acts of God, specifically the gospel.
Many are heeding the call to go. For us, the call has been to stay. In God’s providence, international students from some of the least reached communities in the world are arriving on U.S. soil every year to pursue higher education. Most have little knowledge of Christ and the distinctives of his people. For example, they see the immorality and godlessness of much of western culture and assume that this is a byproduct of Christianity, rather than in opposition to it. One well-meaning Muslim friend attempted to convince me that Jesus is alive. He assumed Christians believe He is dead because of the crucifixion. These men and women have not heard the gospel and rejected it, but rather they’ve never heard it at all, nor have they spent enough time with Christians to see the radical transformation from the inside out that occurs when people encounter Christ. Sadly, we observed that many of these students leave the U.S. with as little knowledge of the gospel as when they arrived. To us this seemed unacceptable. So, by God’s grace, we have joined forces with others in the Cleveland area to change that.
How do we engage international students? In ordinary ways. We pick them up at the airport, offer temporary housing while they find apartments, help them pick up a mattress for their new home, and set up a bank account. We organize events throughout the year to enable them to visit American homes and rub shoulders with authentic followers of Jesus. Our goal is to offer life-changing hospitality and friendship so that they will leave with a newfound understanding of who Jesus is and a clear sense of His call to follow Him.
To facilitate more relationships, we relocated from a small bungalow to a larger home with more bedrooms, enabling us to have two international students live with us at a time. These young men become part of our family for anywhere from four months to four years. It’s become a way of life for us that is much easier than it sounds. We pray that these young men will encounter Christ as they hear the gospel and by observing our marriage, our parenting and our love for them that extends far beyond a lease agreement. We are consistently humbled by how God is at work. Recently, a student living with us shared with a friend, “I want you to meet this family; there is a light here that I’ve never encountered before. This is what true Christians are like.” Each semester, we have the privilege of sharing stories from God’s Word and placing Bibles in the hands of students, many of whom have never seen one and are curious to begin reading a book that is banned in their home country. What an honor! We are able to reach some and we pray often that God will place love for these students in the hearts of other households as well. The need is great.
In all this, we are more thankful to be linking arms with the amazing team of godly educators at WCA, who seek to nurture our children in the knowledge of the Lord. We know it’s not always an easy job! Yet, the teachers and staff do it with joy and perseverance. As we sit down with our Muslim guests each day and attempt to balance outreach with familial responsibilities, we feel as though WCA “has our back”, and we’re so grateful.
This summer, we have the privilege of traveling to the Middle East and serving among a people group that is 0.01% Christian. As we seek to fill in for the missing generation in that culture, we’re grateful to be part of a wonderful community here that continues to “commend His works” to our children and others’. Surely, for anyone who has encountered Jesus personally, there is much to commend! To Him be the glory! If anyone in the WCA community would like to receive prayer updates throughout the summer, please reach out through WCA; you can contact the Philanthropy Office Assistant, Rachel Kurak, at firstname.lastname@example.org. We would love to add you to our prayer list.