Do you have international students visiting your church? Here are 5 great tips from Dan King who works with the Fellowship of Christian University Students (FOCUS) at Monash Uni. His five points follow the FOCUS acronym.
Be friendly to the students you meet at your church. Students I have spoken to say that Aussies are friendly and welcoming when they first meet them. But somehow this doesn’t translate into a developing friendship. We may not feel the need to grow our network of friends. But students are away from family and friends so this is a great way that we can love them. So let me encourage you to go the extra mile and invite them back to your place for a meal, or take them out socially somewhere. Let that friendship really grow.
For those students who have English as a second language, it's very helpful if your preacher can provide a written outline of the sermon — or, even better, a full transcript. This will really help foreign-language students understand what’s being said from the Bible. Other helpful things the preacher can do is think about their illustrations and applications. If every illustration is about AFL and the cricket the point will be lost. Apt applications may differ from culture to culture, and you can’t be an expert on everything. But trying to understand where your students are coming from and relating the Scripture to their culture sometimes will make a huge difference. They will feel included and, better yet, you’ll be helping them understand and submit to God’s word.
Be curious about the students you meet. Ask them where they're from; what their home country is like; what their home city is like. Ask them about the food they eat back home. Find out what they're studying and how they're going with their course. You can also ask them spiritual questions: are there many Christians in their home country?, does their family have a religion?, what’s that religion like? Taking a real interest in them is really just part of being a good friend.
4. Use Them (for their good!)
This might sound a bit strange, but what I mean is: put these students to good use quickly. Sometimes, we bend over backwards to look after overseas students—giving them lifts, showing them hospitality, etc—but make them feel uncomfortable in the process. If they're from a culture that doesn't understand grace—where favours need to be repaid—then they might feel that an impossible debt is being built up. And I've known students who have left a church for just this reason, even though they were enjoying it. One way around this problem is to get them involved and give them opportunities to serve—even in little ways. So, if you're having them around for lunch, ask them to bring a bottle of drink; put them on the morning-tea roster at church; if you fancy learning a new language ask if they can teach you a few phrases. Look for ways that they can give as well as receive.
5. Speak Slowly
Many overseas students have learned English from textbooks or online—often with an American accent. They're not used to the Australian accent, and it can be very hard for them to understand us if we speak quickly or mumble. So we need to slow down. We also need to think carefully about the words and expressions that we might use. If I tell you that I've been burning the candle at both ends; that my week has been chockers and that I'm feeling knackered—you will know what I mean; but an international student would be completely lost! It takes concentration to self-edit what you were going to say to simplify it, and may feel limiting if you love your words! But it’s a very practical way to be other-person centred and will be much appreciated.
Photos: C.C. Chapman (header), AFS-USA Intercultural Programs (body); flickr