Thanksgiving often makes us think of family, a turkey dinner with pumpkin pie and pilgrims — it’s a day centered around giving thanks. Why not incorporate international students into the holiday greetings this year? Here are several ways your collegiate ministry and church can be involved.
Open your heart
First, pray for God to open your eyes and heart to the needs of students. Consider that many students will be in the United States for the first time. They may be experiencing culture shock, may not have transportation and would enjoy visiting an American home with a new friend. If you have ever been far away from home, you can imagine what they are feeling. Take the first step to welcome them in.
Include them as family
If you are in an urban area with local students, pitch the idea for parents of American students to consider being a “friendship family” through your local college or university. Many colleges organize programs that connect international students with volunteers from the community. Try signing up through an International Student Office. Usually, these programs ask that hosts meet with the student once or twice a month. This is a great way to connect with international students while also helping your local schools.
Host a meal
Contact your campus’ International Student Office and ask if there are opportunities to host a Thanksgiving or Christmas meal for students who do not plan to travel or are not able to do so. Though many students try to visit Washington, D.C., New York or other famous places across the United States, not all are able to. You could host this meal on Thanksgiving Day, Thanksgiving weekend or even during Christmas break. A Thanksgiving banquet could also be held on campus or at another location the week before the actual holiday — be creative!
Invite them over
Ask students if they would be willing to take an international student home for Thanksgiving or any weekend for that matter. This might push some American students out of their comfort zone, but it can be a fantastic way to bless an international student who is always stuck on campus. Being in a home opens the relationship up in new ways for trust, friendship and cultural learning. When I lived in China, I always enjoyed a meal in someone’s home. It allowed me to see things differently than if I just ate in the cafeteria every day.
Find volunteer opportunities around you
If you are new to international student ministry, find out if there is an established ministry in your area where volunteers are needed. Volunteering is not only a great way to help international students, but also a way to bless a ministry that may need American students to round out its mission. You might be able to provide student connections for the ministry, while the ministry provides homes where meals can be cooked and eaten. International student ministry is for the whole church, meaning both student and non-student volunteers are needed.
Regardless of how you mobilize your students, you will find sharing a meal with an international student is a fun, educational and meaningful way to be God’s ambassador to the nations.
by N.C. Baptist communications
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on Nov. 11, 2019. If you are interested in other ways of being on mission to international communities across our state and around the world, consider joining us in 2023 as we pray for the nations.