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Making the case for mission…and hard choices to make.

Where does our organisation or type of ministry fit in the list of priorities of a local church? Pastoral leadership, office and caretaking staff, local outreach workers, youth and children’s ministry probably all come higher up the pecking order than far flung mission initiatives or specialised ministry opportunities. One of those that can fall between the cracks when making the case for priorities can be International Student ministry.

In many university towns, as well as international students there are also refugees and asylum seekers (plus possibly other migrants, those travelling for work for instance).  Some of these folk have very obvious and immediate needs and churches are naturally and rightly motivated and concerned to help.  International students sometimes seem less needy, yet the strategic opportunity of international student ministry can be huge – they return home to take up significant jobs in business, academia, government, etc. and are the future influencers in their communities and beyond.

One solution for churches wanting to minister to both is to seek to minister to all internationals in the same context – a church may well not have sufficient people to do two separate things.  Yet, mixing the groups can cause other complications, for example the challenge of a mixed group of refugees (mostly young Muslim men, not used to mixing socially with women outside the family) and international students (in this case, young east Asian women).  Not surprisingly, problems, miscommunications, misunderstandings can quickly arise.

In addition, within international student ministry a key focus is on the preparation of international students to return home and it maybe that in a mixed setting this focus is toned down or even lost. Mixed settings aren’t fundamentally bad of course (in the end isn’t the church always a mixed setting?), but issues can arise.

For those trying to maintain a focus on international students, because of the returnee aspect, sometimes the lines are blurred – are refugees studying English language international students, and what about visiting scholars? Let’s pray for ministries and the churches that we are seeking to work with as we negotiate these tricky decisions and as we seek to prioritise.

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Alan Tower

Alan Tower

Alan Tower has served in Bolivia and Britain with Latin Link, initially in Theological Education by Extension, and currently as International Director, with his successor having been recently announced. Based in Reading with Margaret, they are members of Wycliffe Baptist Church and have four children: the youngest is the tallest, this year is a double GCSE/ A level exam schedule, and the eldest two have flown the nest to Cardiff and Salford. Alan has worked for Friends International since January and is the National Director. He enjoys running and political biography.
Alan Tower

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