IFI’s ministry in East Peoria, Illinois launched in 2017 and befriends students at Illinois Central College. Jim Hanes (City Director) and his wife, Paula, shared Jesus’ love in Sénégal for 16 years before returning to the US and befriending international students. They now mobilize many others to grow friendships with students from a variety of countries. In this article, Jim shares how to use every opportunity to build bridges and point your international friends to Christ.
Learn more: eastpeoria.ifipartners.org
Written by Jim Hanes — IFI City Director in East Peoria, Illinois
Jesus is the most important person in my life. He saved me from anger, loss of purpose, despair, loneliness, and fear. Of course, I want to tell everyone about Him. And I want to try to do what He tells me to do. Some of the things Jesus tells us in the Bible to do are found in Matthew chapter 25.
“I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.”
Here are 4 tips about how you can be on the lookout for similar opportunities with your international friends:
Tip # 1: Be consistent in the Word of God
Because my days often begin with prayer and Bible reading, when I hear from a student, it is amazing how frequently thoughts from God come into my mind as I read their texts.
One Japanese student, a young mother who attends a Discovery Bible Study with us writes, “When my son comes home from school, he has strange thoughts in his head. How do I keep him from being confused between public school philosophy and my faith in God that I want to share with him?”
The thought that came into my head was, “I am a parent. I wonder about that, too. A great resource that was given to me decades ago is the book ‘The Power of a Praying Parent’. Is that book in Japanese?” When I googled it, I found that IT WAS!!! So, we bought her the book and gave it to our friends (who are also IFI volunteers) who spent time in Japan and who know Japanese. The wife gave the book to the student, and she explained how to use it.
Was the student hungry, thirsty, a stranger, in need of clothes, sick, or in prison? I don’t really know, but she had a need, and God let us help her meet it.
Tip #2: Don’t over-complicate it
Sometimes what a student needs is as simple as knowing someone cares.
A student from Austria once called me via WhatsApp. He stuttered and sounded far away from the phone. He had been struggling recently, and I think he missed home. I was bringing 28 bottles of water to his apartment anyway (that he left in my trunk the previous day). So, when I arrived at his apartment I gave him the bottles. Then, I looked at him and said, “Do you need anything else?” He stammered again, and then I asked, “Do you need a hug?” He walked right up to me, and he gave me a hug. Later that night, he texted me and told me that the hug was exactly what he needed.
Tip #3: Be ready to offer help in larger ways
Although helping in small ways usually is exactly what a student needs, sometimes they need more. Be open to the leading of the Spirit and responding in the way James 2 directs us in situations where a student needs more involved help.
A student from Nigeria called me one night and said we had to talk. My wife and I met him at the campus cafe, even though it was closed. He told us that he was depressed, and the night before he wanted to drive his car into oncoming traffic. Immediately the thought came into my head, “Ask him if he is right now thinking about hurting himself or others.” I asked him, and he said no. Then I asked, “What do you need from us?”
He was homeless, and he told us that he needed to get into an apartment and begin to get his life back in order. He also wanted counseling, and I immediately called our pastor, who we ourselves have received counseling from. We met our pastor at our home within 20 minutes, and we prayed with the student. Later that month, by God’s grace, our volunteers provided half of his apartment deposit money, two couches, two microwaves, a lamp, a kitchen table, four stools, and a comfy chair for his apartment.
Tip #4: Learn to connect Bible stories to student needs
Everyone likes stories. Relating Bible stories to student needs is a gentle way to help direct their thoughts and introduce them to the word of God.
Another student from Germany met me for coffee. He is a cultural Muslim. We began talking about the differences between Christianity and Islam. I told him that many of the stories of the prophets are found in the Bible and the Quran. He did not know that. If fact, he only knew stories told to him; he had not read the Quran himself.
The thought came into my head, “Tell him about Joseph.” I asked him, “Do you know that the story of the prophet Joseph is almost identical in both the Bible and the Quran?” He said he did not know that. I inquired, “Do you want me to tell you the story of Joseph?” He said yes. Then, for the next fifteen minutes I told him the story from memory. It is a long story. Halfway through I asked, “Is this story boring you?” He remarked, “No, no, please continue!”
At the end I told him how God loved His people and used Joseph to save them, and that this story is a precursor of the story of Jesus, who God loved and used to save all people.
All students have needs. By the power of God’s Spirit we can find out what they are. God will tell us. Do they need a book, a hug, an apartment, a story? Do they need food, drink, clothes, health, freedom, a visit? I want to share with them my hope in Jesus. There are many ways to share in word and deed. By serving our international friends as needs arise, we are fulfilling Jesus’ command to meet these needs in his name.