Currently there are over a million international students studying at colleges and universities in the United States and millions more worldwide. We have a wonderful opportunity to welcome these students and to expand our view of the world through the gift of friendship.
During one fall season at Cal State Fullerton, new students responded to our offer to match them with American friends. Here are some of their comments:
“I liked your way of approaching towards international students. Thank you!!”
“I want to improve my English language and speak fluently and in professional manner. I want to know US culture and develop intellectually.”
“You are awesome, I like your service.”
“A wide welcome to the idea. I'd definitely like to experience diverse cultural and be a part...”
“My American friend should be of jolly nature and helpful, and can adjust with a pure vegetarian like me.”
“I’m looking to build a relation for life, hope to meet my new friends soon!”
“I want to have a very good time in friendly environment with loads of fun and also a chance to learn American cultures. Hellooo America!"
“I want to make friends because that lasts forever!!”
Needs, interests, and personalities may vary, but each one is a beautiful opportunity to touch the world by opening the door to a new friend!
During the spring of 2013, while serving in her sixteenth year as the Director of International Student Ministry at the First Evangelical Free Church of Fullerton, California, Paula Parker sensed God prompting her to write down some of the stories and discoveries from this engaging work. The focus would be helping churches build relationships with internationals in their own cities. This idea was exciting, but the timing was terrible. Her twins’ college graduations and her daughter’s wedding were only weeks away. Paula wrestled with God a bit hoping to postpone this work, but the conviction
Respectful interaction is a cornerstone of our friendship and outreach to students. It is also one way that we honor God’s will for us. I Peter 3:15 instructs, “Worship Christ as Lord of your life, and if someone asks about your hope as a believer, always be ready to explain it. But do this in a gentle and respectful way.” (NLT)
As followers of Christ, we gladly share many aspects of our lives with students including our love for Jesus. We also recognize the dignity, responsibility, and right of each person to make their own choices. We desire to share our faith when opportunities arise so that students might make an informed choice, but we do not harass, pressure, or manipulate them.
To help clarify appropriate behavior, we commit to several principles:
Unconditional Friendship - Our friendship is not dependent on the students’ religious or personal beliefs but is unconditional.
Truthful Invitations - When inviting students to an event, we are clear and open about what they will be attending. If there will be any Bible teaching or religious activity, we let students know at the time the invitation is given.
Thoughtful Social Etiquette - Many cultures cannot give a direct “No” response. We provide a face-saving way for them to choose not to participate.
Being clear about our role is very important to establishing and maintaining healthy relationships of trust.
Paula Parker served as the Director of International Student Ministry at First Evangelical Free Church of Fullerton, California from 1997 to 2013. She was also president of the International Friendship Council of North Orange County, a non-profit 501(c)3 organization, from 1999 to 2014. In both of these roles, Paula mobilized and trained volunteers, worked with university administrators, partnered with area churches of different denominations, met needs of international students, and directed a wide variety of events.
Currently Paula is a writer, speaker, trainer, and consultant available to assist those who are starting or growing a ministry to international students. She is passionate about facilitating connections between international educators, international student ministries, and churches to more effectively meet needs of students.
She serves as vice chair on the board of directors for the Association of Christians Ministering Among Internationals (ACMI), the primary networking and collaborative body of international student ministry workers in North America. She has been an active member of NAFSA: Association of International Educators for 15 years and is the coordinator of NAFSA’s Region XII (Hawaii, California, & Nevada) Christian SIG.
Paula has a bachelor’s degree in Christian Ministry from Hope International University. She and her husband David, a medical doctor, have been married for 28 years and live in Placentia, California. They have three adult children and a son-in-law.
IFM materials are designed to assist churches, Christian ministries, and individual believers in establishing meaningful relationships with internationals. Currently there are three booklets available with two more coming.
FRIENDSHIP MATTERS: Inviting the Church to Engage the World through International Student Ministry — Through short stories and testimonies, this booklet casts the vision for ministry to international students and explains how anyone can get started.
ALWAYS BE READY: Equipping the Church for Ministry to International Students — This is an interactive training workbook designed to assist leaders in equipping believers to minister to international students. It includes seven key topics, discussion questions, and a facilitator’s guide.
PARTIES WITH PURPOSE: Facilitating Strategic Cross-Cultural Events — Increase your ministry’s fruitfulness through intentional events. This practical guide is packed with tested ideas, party themes, menu tips, games, planning aids, and more!
FOLLOW THE LEADER: Walking in the Joy and Power of the Holy Spirit — Coming in 2017!
THRIVE: Cultivating Loyalty, Engagement, & Spiritual Vitality in Volunteers — Coming in 2017!
The cost of booklets is $5 each plus postage. To order, please use the “Contact IFM” link on the homepage. Please list the quantity of each booklet and provide a mailing address.