One of the most rewarding ways volunteers can get involved in IFI is through requesting an international student to befriend and meet with on a regular basis to practice English. Sometimes these relationships will lead to unexpected and exciting opportunities for volunteers to share God’s love.
When Nathan Persons in Columbus, Ohio signed up to become a conversation partner with IFI, he had no idea his first Pakistani friend would introduce him to 15 more. Their conversations quickly delved into meaningful topics and genuine questions that led to starting a group study of the Bible and the Quran.
Nathan was matched as a conversation partner with Raza* from Pakistan in 2017. For their first meetup, they shared a meal at a Middle Eastern restaurant. After exchanging the usual get-to-know-you questions, they swapped information on dinner table customs and stories about their upbringing. Nathan expressed genuine interest in what Raza had to say and did not shy away from asking deeper questions, including what Raza believed and why. Eventually, Raza asked about Nathan’s beliefs.
“He asked some of the common questions about Christianity like ‘Why do Christians believe in three gods?’” remembers Nathan.
“But mainly we talked about the similarities between the Bible and the Quran, such as the fact that salvation is taught to come through faith alone and that the name of Jesus is mentioned along with many other Old Testament characters in the Quran.”
Their next meeting was over tea at Raza’s apartment where Raza had also invited nine of his Pakistani friends! The discussion proved just as interesting as their first conversation. As they sat and talked, Nathan looked around the room and noticed there were only two beds for all four of the occupants living there.
“I found out that they were in need of things like pillows and mattresses.”
Seeing a way he could help, Nathan took James 2 to heart and utilized some connections with his church’s college group to provide help in these practical ways.
After their times to talk and practice English over tea, Raza would personally introduce more of his Pakistani friends to Nathan.
“The Spirit must have been orchestrating something,” Nathan recalls. Before long, Nathan began studying the Quran and the Bible with his new Pakistani friends. “We would read the Quran and ask questions to seek to understand. On another day we would read the Bible, they would ask questions, and I would either answer or come back with an answer later.” The friends cooked together and talked late into the night.
Even though Raza has since returned to Pakistan, he continues to refer friends to Nathan via Facebook. Several of the friends Raza introduced stay in touch with Nathan as well.
“I think the trust that was built between us was from the fact that there was a safe place for them to express themselves and ask questions.”
Nathan is incredibly thankful that his Pakistani friends have come to know God better.
“These men started with the view that the outward things that they do, the law, and the good works that they do alongside faith will allow them to be saved,” Nathan explains. “Now they will openly say — even to their Muslim friends — that it is through God’s mercy alone that they are saved and that God does not look at the outward appearance, but what goes on inside is what matters.”
Nathan only had six months to spend in person with Raza, but God used it to introduce him to so many others. Never underestimate God and the adventures He has planned through genuine friendships!
*Name and photos have been changed for safety reasons.