The door to international student ministry is wide open for the Canadian church. Recently the Canadian government announced plans to double the international student population in Canada by the year 2022 to 450,000.
While the Canadian government focuses on the economic impact of international students, the Canadian church must focus on the impact this trend will have on world missions. No longer do we have to travel overseas to reach the world, the world has come to us.
International Student Ministries Canada (ISMC) has been responding to this opportunity for 30 years (the anniversary was March 15th). Our mission is :to empower international students to impact the world through Jesus Christ.” In Vancouver, ISMC has ministries on six university campuses, including Simon Fraser University and the University of British Columbia.
UBC has the largest international student population on a single university campus in North America. Their 2013 enrolment showed 9,372 international students from 151 countries attending their Vancouver campus. SFU, BCIT and Langara have 5,359, 2,063 and 994 international students respectively.
However, it is not just the larger schools that are responsible for Vancouver’s international student population. More and more school districts are accepting international students from kindergarten through grade 12.
Vancouver also boasts more than 100 private language schools which bring in international students from every corner of the globe. Of the 128,000 international students in BC, approximately 60,000 are here on a short-term basis.
It doesn’t take a seminary degree to minister to international students; it mostly takes a loving heart and willingness to come alongside the student. For many, what they need first is friendship as they deal with loneliness.
A recent study by the Canadian Bureau for International Education showed that while 78 percent of international student desired more exposure to Canadian family life, only 42 percent reported having many Canadian friends.
There is an open door for the church to meet these students felt needs. Other types of ministry to international students include ESL/conversation clubs, celebrating cultural events together (ie an Easter service or Thanksgiving Dinner) and hospitality.
Cultural sensitivity is needed when ministering to internationals. While we might find we have a captive audience when speaking to the student about the gospel, most students tend to place more importance on your actions than your words (at least initially).
Be sure to love the students regardless of what their response is to the gospel. Many have had very little contact with Christians before and will have been warned to watch out for them. One of the best ways to engage with students is to ask questions about them.
Perhaps most importantly, we need to remind ourselves that international student ministry is a clear movement of God. He determined these students would come to our doorsteps (Acts 17:24-28) so they might hear the gospel.
This situation is reminiscent of the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:5-12), when God had sovereignly gathered people from ‘every nation’ to Jerusalem to hear the gospel. Like the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8, many of these students will return to their homelands bringing with them the good news of Jesus Christ.
There is a clear window of opportunity for the church in Vancouver to reach out to the growing international student population. Through unconditional friendship, students are experiencing firsthand the love of God and are coming to an understanding of the gospel.
Stephen Scott is ISMC’s Vancouver City Director. If you would like to know more about international student ministry, contact him at Stephen@ismc.ca