The Gospel & International Studies: Can We Make the Connection?

Globalization, one of today’s trendiest buzzwords, is nevertheless an amazingly potent force. The world economy has become porous beyond imagination. Existing transnational alliances, treaty organizations, and long-standing boundaries are now fading in significance. The word “Europe” now refers to a single, economic commonwealth. The bottom line? The same global upheavals which are forcing international business to become so fast-paced and responsive demand that we “spreaders” of the gospel do the same.

Asian Partners International declared that eighty percent of nations with unreached people groups are now closed to traditional missions. One by one, developing nations turn away Western families believed to be Christian missionaries. Global trends like the resurgence of fundamentalist Islam, anti-American sentiment, and rampant spiritual darkness make Christian evangelism the most dangerous practice across vast swaths of the planet. All around us glare the signs of a world that has transformed many of yesterday’s mission paradigms into noble but unworkable relics of a former era.

Our response to these shifts lies within our control. We, as the Church of Jesus Christ and the human agents of the Great Commission, can strategize differently, with the Holy Spirit’s guidance, to better reach this fluid and challenging new world of ours. We can reach out beyond traditional boundaries and address the universal desire for wisdom, while leading seekers to the call and claims of Christ Jesus.

International Students in the U.S.
According to the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, approximately 260 leaders in the world today received their college education right here in America. What might the political and spiritual climate of our world look like if current world leaders—former international students—had been given the opportunity to hear the gospel and see it lived out in the lives of Christian Americans who reached out to them in love and friendship?

The core of ISI’s mission strategy is cross-cultural
outreach, or friendship evangelism. It’s showing
international students the love of God.

Unfortunately, we have found that while studying in the United States, the majority of international students (as high as seventy-five percent) are never invited into an American home, and eighty percent never enter an American church. And with over 750,000 students from all around the world currently attending American colleges and universities, that represents a strategic mission field with great needs that are being unmet.

“Smart missions” means spreading the gospel in a far more intentional, thoughtful, precisely-targeted, and strategic manner than ever before.

The Washington Post published an article in July 2008 entitled, “Churches Retool Missions Trips,” examining a growing trend away from large, expensive church mission trips and toward deeper church involvement in local communities—or “smart missions.” While it is true that God has done wonderful things through teams of his people on short-term mission trips, the article pointed out that increasingly, these trips are becoming impractical for many churches. Our God is not limited by the impractical, but he does ask us to invest wisely in our global mission outreach.

Missions Right Outside Our Front Door
No longer is it necessary to fly groups around the world to have an international impact for Christ. The emerging trend for church missions is to step into mission opportunities in your own backyard. Founded in 1953, the vision at International Students, Inc. (ISI) has remained simple: share the love and the gospel of Jesus Christ, along with Christian family values, with future world leaders during one of the most receptive periods of their lives—during their studies abroad.

By speaking the truth in love and trusting God for the response, we can make great strides in today’s pluralistic world. Most people sense love, or the lack of it, before they process the apologetics involved. Today, the acquisition of information is no longer a challenge. The Web alone has forever made that a thing of the past. But people continue to starve for acceptance, love, and an appreciation of their unique, spiritual journey.

Friendship Evangelism & International Students
When international students come to the United States, most are excited to learn about America. They’re eager to hear about our culture and make American friends. Many are desperately searching for real answers to real issues in life. Deep down, many of them worry about what’s ahead for them in eternity.

The core of ISI’s mission strategy is cross-cultural outreach, or friendship evangelism. This means being a friend to someone from another culture. It’s being real with your faith and showing international students the kindness and love God has shown us. We allow the Holy Spirit to do his work to open the door to Jesus.

To develop a meaningful cross-cultural friendship, we want to get to know the other person for who he or she truly is. The best way to do that is to ask questions about life in their country; their culture; and their interests, perspectives, and beliefs. You’ll find most international students are much more open and interested in dialoguing about these issues than we are, and in turn, will often ask you about your values and beliefs.

How can you show you really care about your international student friend? Ask him or her about things that are important to him or her. As your international friend shares about his or her life and challenges, listen to what’s going on below the surface. Just asking and listening to their words is not enough—listen to their heart.

Do what you can to help them meet their physical, emotional, and spiritual needs, or direct them to the right resources to help them.

Impacting Lives for Eternity
As you reach out to an international student, remember you’re touching him or her for eternity. And it’s very possible you could eventually touch thousands or millions of people. When somebody steps out to help influence the worldview, it is actually possible to impact the whole destiny of that country through that student.

Mohammed* was a student in America when a Christian student became friends with him. Eventually, Mohammed accepted Jesus. He received theological training, went back home and started a seminary in the Middle East. That seminary trained pastors from Middle Eastern nations to plant churches. As a result, nations typically closed to traditional missions are now hearing the gospel. It all started when one Christian reached out to one international student. That’s the kind of impact you can have. And it all starts with making a friend.

Our desire is to equip churches and individuals with the training and resources they need to reach out to international students—future world leaders—with the love of Jesus Christ. We would be happy to help you get started in a greater world mission impact right from your own community.

If your heart is stirred by the tremendous need of reaching out to international students, and you are interested in finding local ISI staff with whom you can partner to reach international students by becoming a friendship partner, or by getting your church involved, please contact the ISI home office by emailing [email protected] or calling (US)1.800.ISI.TEAM.


Indian-born, Dr. Douglas Shaw, once an international student himself, is the president/CEO of International Students, Inc. in Colorado Springs, Colorado. After receiving his initial education in Calcutta, Shaw came to the United States and earned both an M.A. and Ph.D. degrees. His professional experience includes ongoing work as a consultant, producer, and guest in various media endeavors, including television, radio, and multimedia. He travels extensively in the U.S., Europe, Asia, and the Far East and serves as a scholar in residence and guest lecturer on topics related to emerging world religions, the new world order, and systematic adaptations for the expanding dimensions of globalization.