International Students, Hospitality, and Squishy Statistics

August 18, 2019 § Leave a comment

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The venerable Ed Stetzer, at Christianity Today, has added his voice to those calling for the need to show hospitality to international students visiting the US. He also brings attention to the squishy statistic of how many students are never hosted in an American home. He writes,

The informal number people in the field quote says that three out of four international students never set foot in a North American home during their time in school. (I can’t find any original statistics to verify it, but most people in the movement say it is true and fits their experience.)

Last year I wrote about this oft-used statistic, but I remembered it as 80% (rather than 75%). Leiton Chinn is familiar with the same figure, and I quoted him, again from Christianity Today:

Ever since I began encouraging the church to welcome and host international students over four decades ago, I have heard the repetitive declaration that 80% of international students never enter an American home. Even though I have sought to find the research that reported such a claim without success, the reality is that the majority of students from other countries do not experience being hosted in an American home.

A quick search of the Internet has the three-out-of-four stat (or something close to it) showing up in quite a few places, though I’ve not found the numbers highlighted by anyone outside the Christian community. They state that “75 percent,” “as high as seventy-five percent,” “nearly 75 percent,” “about 75 percent,” “over 70 percent,” or “70%” of international students never enter—or, as some say, are not even invited into—an American home.

Regardless of the exact number, Stetzer points out that this is an important situation for the church to consider. About the 75% statistic, he says,

If accurate, that’s concerning. These students come from all over the world and we’ve been given an incredible opportunity to show them hospitality. But as far as I can tell, most of our families are not taking advantage of it.

Now I love hospitality, but what I love even more is when people have the chance to hear the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ. One of the (many) reasons why we should be grateful to have international students on our college campuses here in North America is that their proximity to our homes gives us the opportunity to share that message with them.

Many students are coming from countries where it’s illegal to be a missionary. In some places, Christians are losing their lives even trying to practice their faith, much less share the gospel. For them to be surrounded by churches and believers is a bigger deal than we might recognize at first. We thank God for opening this door of ministry to us and, for the sake of these students, we need to take advantage of it.

Seventy-five percent? Eighty percent? What if it were twenty-five percent? Maybe we should be content just to say “too many,” and then act accordingly.

(Ed Stetzer, “Ministering to International Students,” Christianity Today, August 16, 2019; Leiton Chinn, “Making Room at Your Table for Interventional Students,” Christianity Today, November 9, 2018)

[photo: “Welcome,” by Prayitno, used under a Creative Commons license]

Two Who Help International Students in Small Ways That Turn Out to Be Very Big

March 7, 2014 § Leave a comment

I’m going to brag on a couple friends of mine. Both of them are shining examples of devoted service to the international students who come to our communities. Both of them live in small cities in the Midwest: one in Pittsburg, Kansas, and the other in Joplin, Missouri. And while they are content to serve in quiet ways, each has recently been highlighted in local media.

Helping Students Get Around . . . on Two Wheels

1653027386_4dba5e754a_qFor over three decades, Don Smith—through Campus Christians—has been ministering to the students at Pittsburg State University in Pittsburg, Kansas. Throughout that time, more and more of those students have come from other countries.

In fact, today, a significant part of Don’s work is collecting, repairing, and distributing bicycles to the more than 450 international students at PSU. It was this bicycle ministry that caught the attention of The Joplin Globe, which ran a story about him.

Don told The Globe that he got the idea to loan bikes to international students 30 years ago, when he saw a similar program at the University of Missouri. That story means something to me, as I was a student at MU 30 years ago, living at the Christian Campus House, the place where Don got his inspiration. A few years later, I became the campus minister to inernationals at CCH and took over the bike ministry. But Don’s efforts go well beyond anything that I was able to do.

One of the first lessons he learned was how to keep bikes in the program. It was easy to give bicycles out. “But the first year,” Don told The Globe, “not one bike came back. Not one.”

The solution came in two parts: using stronger locks and charging a deposit of $35, which is refunded when the bike is returned. That’s increased the return rate to about 75%.

Since the beginning of July, Don has distributed 200 bikes. And as word has gotten around, American students are taking advantage of the ministry as well.

Word certainly has gotten around, not only about the bikes but about all the work that Don is doing. Two years ago, he received the Ralf J. Thomas Distinguished Service Award from PSU, and last month he and his wife were honored by Ozark Christian College, their alma mater, with the Seth Wilson Outstanding Alumnus Award.

(Andra Bryan Stefanoni, “Have Bike, Will Travel: Campus Minister Provides Wheels to Students,” The Joplin Globe, February 14, 2014)

A Mom to Many

2956042901_4e983192a0_q“Mom.” That’s what scores of international students at Joplin’s Missouri Southern State University call Linda Keifer. For nine years, she and her husband, Jerry, have invited guest from around the world into their home.

“It started with a few, and then they invited their friends,” Linda told The Chart, Missouri Southern’s student newspaper. “This is what God wanted us to do.”

Several students also shared in the article what they liked about being part of the Keifers’ extended “family”:

“It’s family Sunday: to eat, relax, listen to each other, to talk about worries, hopes, dreams and wishes,” said Stephanie Kiessling from Germany. “They are sharing the American tradition and the international students [are] sharing theirs as well.”

And Lei Lei, from China, said, “When I speak to them, I feel like I’m talking to a genuine mother and father. They make me feel appreciated, welcomed, and at home.”

Linda’s ministry came full circle last year when she and Jerry traveled to Asia, becoming the guests and receiving hospitality from the students and their families.

Being part of a family means sharing in the highs and lows. So when Linda was diagnosed with colon cancer last year, the students gathered around the Keifers and comforted them. That comfort has continued as Linda has gone through surgery and receives treatment.

Just a few weeks ago, Jerry told me how much the students’ kindness has meant to them. That’s often the way it is: When we reach out to help others, we often receive as much, if not more, than we give.

(Xiaoyu “Jamie” Wu, “Mom Opens Home to Students,” The Chart, October 31, 2013)

Don and Linda wouldn’t meet a strict definition of “globally famous,” but that doesn’t mean they haven’t gained international fame, at least among those who have been touched by their simple generosity, by those who call them friends . . . and sometimes “Mom” or “Dad.”

[photos: “Bicycle,” by JMC Photos, used under a Creative Commons license; “Door Knob,” by zizzybaloobah, used under a Creative Commons license]

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