How far are the nations from your front porch? They’re closer than you think. The nations are all around us. To reach them, we must understand who they are. Just like us, internationals are not all the same. Here are just a few of the types of internationals among us:
International students – Around 975,000 students from other countries are studying at universities in the United States. More than 57 percent of them are from just four countries — China, India, South Korea and Saudi Arabia.
Immigrants – The number of immigrants and their children born in the United States is approximately 80 million, or 25 percent of the total U.S. population. The number from Asia now roughly equals those coming from the Americas.
Refugees – As symbolized by the Statue of Liberty, the United States has long been a target destination for people seeking refuge from troubled countries. During the 2015 fiscal year, the United States admitted 70,000 refugees. More than one-third came from the Near East/South Asia (especially Iraq, Iran, Bhutan, Syria, Afghanistan). Another one-third came from Africa (especially Somalia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sudan, Eritrea and Burundi). One-quarter came from East Asia (especially Burma).
How can we connect with the nations in our midst?
Getting involved with the internationals around us is quite simple, but it requires intentional effort. If you’re not sure where to begin, here are six ideas to help get you started:
Start up a conversation with the clerk at a convenience store.
If you go into a convenience store and the clerk’s name tag, appearance or accent gives you the impression they are from another country, they just might be. Introduce yourself and ask them where they’re from. Decide to become a regular customer to get to know them better. Who would have thought that buying gas at a local convenience store could turn into a cross-cultural encounter?
Visit an ethnic market.
In some cities (and even some smaller towns), you can find a grocery store or market that caters to international people from Asia, Latin America, Africa or the Middle East. Make a point to go shopping at that store and ask a clerk some questions about the international products. (Tea, coffee and snacks are great conversation starters.) After the store owner or clerk recovers from their shock that a non-international would enter their store, they’ll be pleased to have you as a customer. They’ll be even more amazed if you try to build a friendship with them.
Befriend an international student.
Many international students (some say as many as 70-80 percent) never set foot in an American home. You can change this statistic. Universities often welcome volunteers from the community to serve as “friendship partners” with their international students. Go to the university’s website and search on “international student programs” to see what type of friendship programs are available. You might be just the friend that an international student is looking for.
Share a meal together.
Inviting an international neighbor or student into your home for a meal can provide the context for fruitful discussions. Universities often have programs where you can bring an international student over to your house for a meal. N.C. State University, for example, offers a program called “Breaking Bread” through the Office of International Services to give students a “taste” of American culture. Internationals also love to share food from their country with Americans. Sharing a meal together might even give these students a hunger for the Bread of Life.
Help a refugee family.
As illustrated in the article, “Assisting refugees opens doors for the gospel,” your church can demonstrate the love of Christ in practical ways to refugees. Organizations such as World Relief would love to have your assistance in helping a family coming to the United States from difficult circumstances. The World Relief office in Durham has numerous ways to provide assistance. Serve on a “welcome team” to greet the refugees at the airport and welcome them to the United States with open arms. Recruit some other families from your church to form a “good neighbor team” that will visit a refugee family on a regular basis. Become a friendship partner to assist a refugee in their adjustment to the United States. Relatively small acts of service can make a significant impact on a refugee family.
Give the gift of language.
Even if you’re not a teacher, you have a gift that many internationals desperately need: English. Share this gift by becoming a conversation partner with an international neighbor or friend. Some universities have “conversation clubs” where local volunteers can hang out and just talk with international students. You can develop skills in English as a Second Language (ESL) by attending a workshop or enrolling in a certificate program. Perhaps your church could start an ESL program to minister to the needs of internationals in your community. And what about learning another language yourself? Making the effort to learn another person’s language goes a long way in building relationships.
The peoples of the world are next door. To reach them, we just have to step off our front porch.