The Jones family shares about inviting international students into their home for dinner and fellowship.

Make Thanksgiving an international affair

by Tom Knight, BSCNC Collegiate Partnerships

Monday, November 13, 2017

With Thanksgiving fast approaching, we often think of time with family, a turkey dinner with pumpkin pie, and pilgrims giving thanks to God. We can forget, however, that the first Thanksgiving was an international event where Native Americans and English settlers came together to celebrate.

Today, we can continue to celebrate by welcoming international students during the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays, or for home-cooked meals anytime of the year.  

In 2016, over 1 million international students and scholars came to the United States to study. They are here as exchange students, undergraduates, graduates and scholars. Although they come from many different countries and religious backgrounds, they share one thing in common: they would like to learn about American culture and meet Americans both on and off the campus. This is a great opportunity for us as Christians to demonstrate God’s love, hospitality and friendship.

But how do you meet these individuals? Here are several ways you and your church can be involved.

First, pray for God to open your eyes and hearts to the needs of international students. Consider that many will be here for the first time and will be experiencing culture shock. They may not have transportation and would enjoy having an American friend. If you have ever been far away from home, you can relate to what they are feeling.

Be a friend family
Consider being a “friend family” through a local college or university. Many colleges organize programs that connect international students with volunteers from the community. You may sign up through a college or university’s international students and scholars office. Usually these programs ask that you meet with your student once or twice a month. This is a great way to help the college and the student.

Host a meal
Contact your local college to see if you could host a Thanksgiving or Christmas meal for students who do not have a plan to celebrate, or are not able to travel. Though many students do try to get out and visit Washington D.C., New York or some other famous place, not all do. This meal could be planned for Thanksgiving Day, Thanksgiving weekend or during Christmas break.

Find out if there is an international student ministry in your area where volunteers are needed. Volunteering is not only a great way to help students, but also an opportunity to make connections that can lead to great friendships. From there you will be able to invite your new friend and their friends for a meal, cookout or holiday party.

Regardless of how you get involved, you will find sharing a meal with an international student is a fun, educational and rewarding experience.

Editor’s note: Tom Knight serves as a senior consultant with the Collegiate Partnerships Team of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina. For more ideas on ministry to international students, download No Passport Needed, a free training manual for individuals and churches. Also, download the latest edition of the "No Campus Left" podcast in which Tom discusses "friendship families" for international student ministry.