Back to Campus, RUF I Style

H. Guinn  |  August 18, 2016

At my church, people have asked me, “As an RUF International intern, does the beginning of the school year look much different from a regular RUF intern?”  Why, yes it does!  My internship looks different simply because international ministry faces both unique challenges and exciting opportunities.

First, international students have no concept of a campus ministry and do not arrive in the United States looking for one.  Whereas most American undergraduates would nod if I explained that I worked for a campus ministry, foreign scholars give me a blank stare.  In their home countries, campus ministries either do not exist or operate in secrecy.  

Second, international students feel crushingly lonely.  Their family may be as far as fourteen time zones away, and they are lost in a culture they do not understand.  They have no furniture, no community, and little access to transportation.  To make matters worse, few American undergraduates will ever attempt friendship with them.  Unless someone takes the initiative to reach out, most foreign scholars will spend their entire time at an American university in a cocoon of isolation.

These aspects of the RUF International internship make my job so rewarding!  I have the privilege of being able to offer gospel hospitality to the foreigner by meeting their needs for friendship and community.   Once I enter into true friendship with them, then we have the opportunity to explore the gospel together as friends.  Because hospitality sits at the heart of RUF International’s mission and opens the door for discussing scripture, the beginning of my year differs from a standard RUF year.

In order to meet the needs of international students, my campus minister came up with a beautiful idea: we would throw a welcome dinner for incoming students at the very beginning of the year.  A local church family would act as hosts, and we could invite members from several churches to come!  Because students arrive in the United States with nothing besides their suitcases, we could conduct a free furniture giveaway at the party.  At the end of the party, we would then advertise the RUF International’s version of large group.   He envisioned a party that blessed students materially, relationally, and spiritually.

Naturally, such a project requires lots of legwork before the semester begins.  When we are not driving around the city picking up donated beds and tables for the furniture giveaway, my campus minister talks to Americans at church to see if they would be willing to attend our welcome dinner.  We also have to think of a menu that caters to Hindu and Muslim dietary restrictions while satisfying Chinese taste buds.  Because students do not have cars, we also have to organize transportation for more than a hundred people to and from the party!

As the countdown for the start of the fall semester begins, I start to advertise the party to international students.  I attend orientation week and pass out flyers for the welcome dinner.  I ask older students to spread the word to newer students.  However, my favorite method of advertising is by picking students up from the airport and driving them back to their new apartments.  This act of service saves jetlagged students the perilous task of finding their way home in a new country.  I feel so privileged that I am the first friendly face they encounter, and I get to immediately tell them of a place where they can find community in the United States!  Having already experienced the warm hospitality of the church, new international students trust my invitation and decide to come to the welcome dinner.

The welcome dinner provides impetus for the rest of the semester in two ways.  First, when foreign students form connections with American Christians, they feel much more inclined to attend RUF International large group.    They want to meet the Americans who attend that as well!  Second, my campus minister and I deliver furniture to the winning students in our giveaway.  By personally bringing a bed or a table into a student’s apartment, we get to spend time building relationships with the recipients.  My favorite part of these visits is getting to try the delicious food that students usually prepare for us, such as Indian gulab jamun.  After visiting the home of a student, he or she wants to maintain that relationship over the course of the entire year.

The most stressful part of my year is the first large group, which bears no resemblance to your typical RUF worship service.  Keep in mind that most international students have no mental category for a campus ministry and have no prior knowledge of Christianity.  Therefore, we base our large group on Acts 19:9, where Paul sat in the lecture hall of Tyrannus “reasoning daily” with his disciples.  At large group (we call it Global Café), international students share a meal with Christian volunteers while discussing a passage of Scripture.  Right before our first Global Café, I always fear that students will not feel comfortable, but they always have a good time!

As I prepare for the start of the school year, God has to remind me of the importance of spending time with Him.  Unless my heart rejoices in Christ’s love for me, I simply will not possess the necessary energy to serve students.  Therefore, I meditate on God’s word and take my sinful fears to Him in prayer.   When you arrive on campus and prepare to start the school year, remember that you can only show hospitality to the stranger because Christ first offered His own hospitality to you.