A large oak tree in my backyard serves as the host tree for an entire “nation” of birds. They come in pairs; they come alone. They come seasonally; they remain for months. They are large and small, beautiful and simple. Their colors are brilliant: red, blue, brown, black, orange, and yellow. They come and they go. Their attraction undoubtedly is the bird feeder my husband faithfully fills. Some eat directly from it; others feed on the seed scattered from the populated feeder.
Watching this convention of birds from my back porch, I thought of the visits, short and long, of internationals in America. Obviously, all analogies fall short at some point, yet I could not help but recognize similarities.
Some come as families for a short time; others come individually and stay longer. All bring the beauty of their cultural dress and appearance, customs and traditions. Usually, their attraction is education and employment opportunities. Some will remain and others will scatter the seeds of their education in their home countries.
I am blessed to be personal friends with 2 women who are passionate about interfaith witnessing. Teresa “Bit” Stephens is the international student ministry consultant for the Arkansas Baptist State Convention. And Debbie Moore spent 23 years as an International Mission Board missionary in different parts of Africa. She now serves as executive director of Arkansas WMU.
“International students are from countries that are difficult for us to get missionaries into, yet they are living among us. They come from Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq, Turkey, China . . . and other countries where access is limited,” Stephens said.
Indeed, the number of international students in the United States has increased for 12 straight years. Nearly 1.1 million international students attended American colleges and universities in 2017–18.
But it’s not just students who are flocking to America.
“We have more and more peoples from other countries and cultures living among us here in the United States,” Moore said. “Our responsibility is to meet them, graciously receive them, show God’s love to them, and love them to Jesus.”
Where can you find these wonderful internationals God has brought to America?
- Dine at an ethnic restaurant and start a conversation with your server.
- Travel to a nearby university.
- Visit city parks where international families often gather on Saturday afternoons.
- Walk through the international food sections of large supermarkets.
Getting to Know Internationals
When you find them, how can you get to know them?
- Invite them to spend Independence Day, Thanksgiving, or Christmas with your family in your home. They enjoy learning about American holidays and traditions.
- Help them learn to play an American sport such as baseball. Most internationals have grown up in soccer cultures.
- Practice conversational English with them as a basis for a friendship. Stephens said, “They long to have American friends. God uses these friendships to build bridges that will bear the weight of truth.”
Opportunities are endless. To play off an old adage, “When birds of different feathers flock together, it begins to look like the kingdom of God.”
For help connecting with and engaging internationals, check out The World Around Us. Learn about 12 people groups and how you can build relationships with them that can lead to sharing Christ.
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