Last week we discussed how biblical hospitality has its pinpoint and passionate focus on strangers–a shifty and suspicious group we have been taught since childhood to steadfastly avoid.
Surely caution and good sense is called for when it comes to dealing with shifty and suspicious folks, but our heightened fear in this regard often causes us to miss out on the reality that most strangers are far from deadly, and there are millions of strangers in our midst whom we can–and should–host who are aching for biblical hospitality.
Consider, for example, one very large and pretty safe group of strangers:
The number studying at American universities each year staggering . . . nearly 1 million. No small percentage come from Europe, South Korea, and India. But there are a significant number from places like China, Saudi Arabia, Vietnam, and Egypt, where Christianity is restricted or severely controlled. This means they may regard us with suspicion!
Still, spend any amount of time with them and you begin to realize that everything the Bible says about strangers fits them to a “T.” Add to that the reality that many countries around the world send their best and brightest students to the U.S. to study and you begin to realize that not only do we have a biblical mandate to host them as strangers; we also have a strategic opportunity to impact how Christianity is viewed and treated by the next generation of leaders in Christian-hostile and restrictive nations.
You might expect international students to incur mainly financial or linguistic difficulties when they come to the U.S., but one of the biggest problems they face is our lack of hospitality. USA Today recently reported,
A study in the Journal of International and Intercultural Communication suggests that many international students are disappointed in their relationships with U.S. students. Author Elisabeth Gareis found that 38% of 454 international students attending 10 public universities had reported no strong friendships with U.S. students, and 27% were not satisfied with the quality of the friends they had made. Students from China and East Asia were most likely to be unhappy with relationships.
In my former work with China Outreach Ministries, an organization that reaches out to the 180,000 Chinese students and scholars who come to the U.S. to study each year, I can still clearly remember a young Chinese man that my wife and I invited to our home for dinner. He was a bright biology student at Boston University and had been in the U.S. for almost five years. That night he shared with us that this was the first time he had ever been invited to an American’s home. At first this was a shock to me, but over the course of the seven years that I worked at China Outreach I heard this over and over again from foreign visitors.
I recently wrote a post criticizing my own discipleship practices when I worked with Chinese students and scholars in the Boston area. But one of the works of mercy that we consistently practiced well was opening our homes. I remember seeing my colleagues pick students up from airports, invite them over for dinner, let them stay in their homes until they found a place of their own, help them navigate around our cities, and offer to help them learn conversational English better – and at all times they shared Christ in the process.
But unfortunately that kind of experience is pretty rare for most international students. Most receive absolutely no hospitality except the starchy institutional kind from the university they attend.
You’d almost think God had an opportunity here for ordinary Christians like us…
So how close do you live to a college or university with international students and scholars?