Seven years ago, Rich Mendola, IFI’s Global Ambassador, presented about IFI at Gull Lake Ministries in Michigan. Ellen and Randy, now IFI Grand Rapids leaders, just so happened to be in attendance. Their hearts were moved as Rich spoke, and by the end of the week, they knew where God was calling them.

“Our passion for using our gifts of hospitality and love of international students fit like a glove with the mission and vision of IFI,” said Ellen.

And so IFI Grand Rapids was born. But like any grass-roots organization, development takes time and effort; finding the financial resources, volunteers, partners, and students can prove challenging. Thankfully, other like-minded nonprofits decided to join forces with Ellen and Randy, providing skills, talents, ideas, and community to serve international students. These early partnerships gave the foundation for IFI Grand Rapids to serve students from various universities, such as Calvin, Cornerstone, GRCC, GVSU, Hope, and WMU, among others.

“The impact of the ministry has grown tremendously from two people saying ‘yes’ to the Lord’s prompting to where we are in 2024.”

“Through faithful efforts and God’s blessing, we have established programming, acts of service, mentorship, and Bible discussions on campuses,” Ellen shared. “The impact of the ministry has grown tremendously from two people saying ‘yes’ to the Lord’s prompting to where we are in 2024.”

Besides the regular IFI programs, like airport pickups and conversation partners, IFI Grand Rapids has some unique initiatives they’ve implemented, differentiating them from other locations: a scholarship program, a winter clothing drive, and Friendship Families through their partnership with Neighbors International.

  • Scholarship Program: This is a pilot program for both undergraduate and graduate students studying at Calvin, Cornerstone, and GVSU, a $2,000 scholarship is available. But this isn’t for anyone– the student must actively serve alongside IFI, have both leadership and volunteer experience, and prove to do well in their academics.
  • Winter Clothing Drive: IFI Grand Rapids partners with their surrounding communities to collect tons of coats, hats, gloves, scarves, and boots, among other winter items, for international students across four campuses. This type of service is huge, as many internationals have never experienced freezing temperatures or snow before, hence having no preparation in terms of winter gear.
  • Friendship Families: Through the partnership with Neighbors International, IFI Grand Rapids can provide Friendship Families to international students. What are “Friendship Families” exactly? These families are a home away from home for the students; they offer students a space off-campus for studying/leisure and a safe space to talk about their struggles as international students.

And guess what? IFI Grand Rapids provides all of this even though their staff is 100% associate staff, meaning they aren’t full-time or compensated for their work. In addition, many others who volunteer with IFI work full-time jobs and live busy lives.

“ …there’s lots of faithful volunteers making a difference in the world.”

Nevertheless, Ellen and Randy are optimistic, trusting the Lord and refusing to shy away from the challenge. “We do what we can with the limited available staff,” says Ellen. “It does provide a 100% opportunity for God to show up at the right time, with the right people, and the right stuff. And there’s lots of faithful volunteers making a difference in the world.”

IFI Grand Rapids continues to grow, even with laborers being few. With that being said, please pray for all of the international students currently being served, for full-time staff to come on board, and for the love of God to spread in their area. Also, please consider getting involved with this location if you live nearby! You can contact Ellen and Randy; they’ll plug you into the areas that best fit your unique giftings. Don’t worry– they have LOTS of opportunities for you to serve!