While the people of Covenant Baptist Church had a heart for reaching students, there was no emphasis on reaching international students until around 1977. By 1979, the church’s desire to work with international students had grown so strong that some members began to discuss incorporating a nonprofit to work toward that goal, and International Friendships Inc. (IFI) was born in the late fall of 1979. Phil and Ruth Ann Saksa, members of Covenant at the time, became IFI’s first full-time staff and were instrumental in IFI’s early years.

The Saksas always had a deep love for international students. Phil and Ruth Ann had been on staff with The Navigators in England for three years when they felt God was calling them back home to minister to students in America. They joined Covenant Baptist Church, and when the church asked them to join their international student ministry two years later, they answered God’s call with a resounding yes! Phil Saksa was named IFI’s executive director, and together, he and Ruth Ann began hosting all ministry activity at their home. The couple loved having students over, and through American students, they found a way to connect with international students on Ohio State’s campus. They frequently invited students into their home, sharing meals, celebrating holidays, and talking about Jesus. Phil and Ruth Ann’s shared passion for internationals, willingness to open their home, and desire to see God’s love shared with people from all nations suited them well for this ministry.

After 28 years in Columbus and 26 years working with IFI, Phil and Ruth Ann entrusted IFI to God and responded to His clear call to work with immigrants and refugees in the greater Detroit, Michigan, area–once again on staff with The Navigators. They had the vision to help international believers become disciples who would raise up more international believers. Today, some of these international disciples are part of IFI’s leadership, and are continuing IFI’s mission of extending life-changing hospitality and friendship to international students out of reverence for Jesus.