The Bible has something to offer everyone. The book tells us God’s promises, plans and actions – all based in recorded history. The Bible is full of incredible stories including about who Jesus is and why he came to earth. In fact the Bible is the best-selling book of all time!
And, did you know 2020 has been named Year of the Bible? Many church leaders and organizations world-wide have endorsed the Year of the Bible movement, which aims to affirm and promote the value of the Bible for all people. The movement facilitates partnerships between like-minded organizations worldwide to accelerate Bible literacy efforts. IFI participates in this movement through our ongoing efforts to engage international students – including visiting scholars and their families, in Bible studies.
Here are some ways we can come alongside international students and discover what treasures the Bible has to offer.
1. Try a Discovery Bible Study
Through use of simple questions, the “discovery bible study” (DBS) method brings the Bible to life through letting the Scripture lead the discussion. Students are guided by the DBS questions to find the answers in the Bible themselves. And, as Jesus taught and brought others into God’s mission before they fully understood him, DBS follows the same practice of helping people to obey Jesus from the beginning of the studies.
A Chinese student, Huang, who attends a DBS in Columbus, Ohio, explains why she likes the DBS method:
“I like reading a Bible story, discussing it with others, and sharing my ideas. I have learned a way to study a Bible story with 3 questions: what the story is talking about, why it is important, and how to use it in daily life. This is very practical for me when I read the Bible during my own time. It makes the study more interesting and meaningful.”
DBS takes just a group and a facilitator. Common themes for study are available, with a list of scripture that pertains to them. For a source of DBS questions and topics, visit Discovery Bible Studies. The DBS method is easily implemented and reproduced by international students on campuses and beyond.
2. Discuss Student-raised Topics
Student questions and interests can lead to interesting dialogues from different perspectives, including those from the Bible. Topics for discussion might include, for example, life struggles and weaknesses, finances, forgiveness, reconciliation, conflict resolution, socio-political issues, marriage and relationships, dealing with failure and success, and family expectations and responsibilities.
The idea is to give everyone an opportunity to share their opinions and experiences and create a safe and unbiased environment. Collecting topics using a shoebox with a slot opening is one way for students to unanimously share their questions for discussion.
“This approach gives us a chance to discuss what the Bible has to say about these topics and share the relevant verses with the students,”
said George and Heena Chow, who lead IFI’s ministry in Houston, Texas. They noticed that the method connected everyone in the study group at a deeper level and brought out genuineness in their relationships.
We can show students honor in this study approach that features their own raised topics. Plus we help them explore issues near to their heart!
3. Encourage Bible-reading in the Students’ Own Language
International students can better understand Bible verses and concepts when reading or hearing God’s word in their native language. Although many students may want to read the Bible in English, they may not know that the Bible did not originate in English but actually in Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek. God wants to speak to students in their own heart language. Students can in turn feel more empowered in their own language to relate to God.
Learning Bible concepts in their own language can help students to more readily share with other students what they learned. Even an English speaking facilitator can incorporate use of native language in a study by inviting international students to read (and pray) in their own languages.
We can also encourage students to become involved with the local ethnic church – where the Bible is taught and followed within their own people group and culture*. Rather than mistakenly viewing the Bible as an English book or from Western culture, students can instead learn that God is speaking to them and their culture. All this gives international students ownership of their Bible understanding.
*There is a variety of ethnic churches so please be aware that not every ethnic church will be suitable for students. You can help your students know what type of things to look for in a local church. You can also consult with a local IFI staff person.
4. Overview the Bible Chronologically
God’s amazing love story to humanity and plan of rescue from sin becomes clearer in a chronological overview of the Bible. We can help international students understand the main Bible themes and the historical context. Teachings can be done in simple English to benefit any students less proficient in English. A chronological overview of the Bible shows the authority of Scripture because of how students can see the one unified story of God and man. Jesus himself practiced effective chronological teachings as seen in Luke 24:13-25 when he explained the Biblical history showing God’s incredible plan for Jesus to become the Messiah for all people groups.
Mike Burt, who leads a weekly IFI gathering in Columbus, has found that a lecture type study is preferred by Chinese visiting scholars. Mike’s curriculum consists of a ten month chronological study of the Bible beginning at Genesis 1:1 and ending with Jesus’ return to heaven after the resurrection. A chronological approach introduces key events of the Old Testament that help students to understand the New Testament and the significance of Jesus. Small group discussion with individual question and answer time follows each lecture. Mike developed the curriculum using “The Stranger on the Road to Emmaus”, available for free download.
“This type of teaching helps scholars to differentiate between the God of the Bible and Christianity compared to other world religions,” Mike adds.
5. Remember to Study With Children
And let’s not forget to share the Bible with the children of international students who visit our campuses. Jesus rejoiced at even little children receiving his truth. (Matthew 11:25) Life in the U.S. can be difficult for children as well as their parents. When we share the Bible with children we share God’s message of love, hope and joy for them.
Teach children in small groups based on age or reading ability when possible to allow for a focused study plan. Involve a local ethnic church member who can verbally translate English material into the children’s home language. When no adult translator is available, you can ask a child with sufficient language skills and to help translate for the others. Children appreciate helping! Include visuals and interactive materials for children to better engage and learn how much God loves them.
The Jesus Storybook Bible is a recommended resource and available in several language editions. For Chinese speakers a good resource is the Chinese Simplified Bilingual Big Picture Story Book.
6. Connect Students with Bible Translations In Their Native Language
Linking students to Bible translations in their home language allows for reading and study apart from group discussions. The Bible provides opportunities for students to be transformed by God’s word, understanding why Jesus came and God’s love for humanity. (Matthew 20:28, Luke 19:10; John 3:17)
Some host families have purchased for their students a Bible in the students’ home language or a version giving a parallel English translation. Resources for online Bibles in various translations include: BibleGateway.com (over 73 languages); Bible.com (over 1300 languages); “YouVersion” mobile application (over 900 languages). Free audio translations are also available at Faith Comes by Hearing (over 1342 languages). Whether accessing online or hard copy scripture to read or hear, students may continue to connect to God’s word.
What can result from participation in Bible studies – beyond the treasure of learning God’s word? Huang shares
“I have gained other treasures for me personally. I have learned to listen to people with patience during discussion and prayer time. I feel my heart becoming stronger day by day as I pray for others. By seeking more in Christ I have grown in faith and become a nicer person. Thank God for this power to transform me gradually.”
Which tip will you consider trying to help your international friends engage with the Bible? How can you help them to find treasure through God’s word?