If Christians talk about international students at all, they usually talk about them in one of two ways: as a necessity for sustaining our UK universities or as a transient presence in our church communities which doesn’t really contribute anything lasting to the church. The first is true, so we are told by those who know about university finances and judging by how much international students are paying for their courses it is easy to believe. The second is not true and it is sad that this perspective means that some churches do not see the great and lasting benefit of investing in the lives of international students; a benefit to the local church but even more significantly, to the worldwide church.
Endorsing International Student Ministry (ISM), Roger Carswell, evangelist and author writes,
“International Students present to Christians in the UK a most wonderful and challenging opportunity which is too good to miss and too strategic to ignore.”
Indeed! Those who work in ISM see the transforming power of God in students’ lives which in turn produces a missionary taskforce for reaching into the nations as they return to them.
The UK is the second most popular destination in the world for international students.(1) In 2017-18, according to the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA (2)), there were 458,490 international students in UK Higher Education institutions plus, according to the British Council(3), another 500,000 international students studying English in language schools. That’s almost one million Gospel opportunities with students from the nations, many coming from countries where Gospel witness is seriously restricted.
Take some of the least-reached nations of the world:
Iraq is number 13 on the Open Doors World Watch List(4), ranking it as ‘very high levels of persecution’. There are 1,400 students in the UK from Iraq.
Iran is number 9 on the Open Doors World Watch List, ranking it as ‘extreme levels of persecution’. There are 1,420 students in the UK from Iran.
Sudan is number 6 on the Open Doors World Watch List, ranking it as ‘extreme levels of persecution’. There are 270 students in the UK from Sudan.
Saudi Arabia is number 15 on the Open Doors World Watch List, ranking it as ‘very high levels of persecution’. There are over 7,950 students in the UK from Saudi Arabia.
What potential! Those engaging in ISM bear witness to the transformed students from the nations who have returned to share the Gospel with their families and their wider communities, many now serving God in both open and hidden ways. Most started their journey to faith in Jesus Christ in the home of a UK Christian, at a university chaplaincy welcome event or at a church-based international café. Is this not remarkable opportunity, given to us by our gracious God who knows full well how hard it is to reach these people in their own countries?
In expounding the size of this investment in the church through ISM we must not forget those who come as believers, from their diverse cultures and churches. Hopefully we are not so ethno-centric as to believe that they have nothing to contribute to our understanding of God and Church but apart from what we can learn from them, the opportunity to invest in them as Christ’s disciples is also remarkable… but that’s a subject for another day.
The views expressed in this blog post are personal to the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the GC network.