In 2019, Joy left her home in Zambia to pursue social work in Michigan. It was a huge shock for her, as she felt American culture clash with her Zambian culture. She felt alone and pleaded with God to give her a community where she could be loved and could give love. 

Weeks passed and still no luck. Feeling defeated, Joy decided to take a walk around her campus pond. As she vented her frustrations to God, she heard someone behind her. Getting nervous, she picked up her pace, hoping to lose whoever was in her tracks. Her attempt was useless, as the stranger managed to catch up. Little did Joy know, this stranger was exactly what she needed at that moment. 

“God told me to tell you that he sticks closer than a brother,” the stranger said. “He’s here for you.” 

Her comment spoke right to Joy’s core and where she’d been lacking. 

“Since that day, I was changed,” Joy stated. “God heard my prayer and used this very welcoming person to remind me that He is with me and will never forsake me.”  

And how true that statement was. In no time, some of Joy’s friends invited her to an IFI event, her first introduction to the organization. 

Even though those friends ended up not showing up, Joy decided to be bold and go anyway. She soon connected with IFI leaders, Ellen and Randy, who according to Joy, were the most welcoming people she’d ever met. God was there for her, just as the stranger at the pond had said. 

“Ellen loved me so sincerely, even calling me her Zambian daughter,” Joy shared. 

Joy finally felt at home. She adored Friendship Friday evenings at the lake and was encouraged to see IFI reflect God’s diversity. She enjoyed it so much that she accepted an internship position with Ellen during her junior year of college. Joy had gained the confidence to share her story and struggles with other international students like herself. She finally realized how God was using her experiences, even the unpleasant ones, for good. 

“It was easy for me to jump in and interact with people who seemed lonely,” said Joy. “I loved speaking life to them, regardless of their beliefs. Being an international is what bridges the gap.” 

“Being an international is what bridges the gap”

Those years of connecting and working with IFI would be the driving force to her next adventure– a student development graduate program in Chicago, Illinois. 

IFI made her realize she wanted to pursue this major, as it unlocked her passion for spreading belonging to those in need. She didn’t let her identity as an international stop her from practicing what she’d been shown during her undergraduate years; she knew she was just as capable and that it was time to give back. 

“Foreigners can still show hospitality”

“Foreigners can still show hospitality,” Joy said. “I want to help students find everything they need, just like Ellen and Randy did with me while in Grand Rapids.” 

Once she settled down in her new home, it was natural for her to wonder about what international students were around and how she could start connecting with them. Talk about perfect timing: just as she moved to Chicago, Nick Miller and his wife Alison, former IFI leaders in Athens, Ohio, also moved into the Windy City. They were about to launch a new IFI location, right then and there. 

“They moved the same month I did!” Joy said. “Ellen, Randy, and Rich (IFI’s Global Ambassador) connected us later on and we’re off to a start.” 

Joy and Nick had their first official event soon after. Nothing fancy, just some graduate students around the table to share food and community. 

“Community is community, everybody needs it” 

“Even if you’re a grad student, you want to be seen and heard,” Joy stated. “Community is community, everybody needs it.” 

God was weaving this tapestry all along, from the moment Joy stepped off the plane in 2019 until she pursued her graduate program in Chicago in 2023. And He isn’t finished yet. As Joy steps in obedience into one of IFI’s strategic cities, she trusts the Lord has something great. 

“I think something can be created here and am thankful Nick pushed me, as I wasn’t sure about it at first,” Joy said. “I’m excited to give back, for the upcoming partnerships, and how it will give God glory.”