Each year, over 400,000 students will travel from nearly every nation around the globe to study at UK universities. A further 500,000 will also head to the many language schools across the UK, in order to learn English.
That’s over 900,000 individuals headed to our shores for anything between two weeks and five years, depending on the level of study. 900,000 short-term strangers in our land, and they’re not only here during university term-time. As we jet off on our summer holidays or sit down to Christmas dinner with our families and friends, thousands of students are in the UK far from home, friends, family, and anything familiar. How do we welcome them into our church families throughout the year?
Genuine care for the individual while listening and asking questions can cover many cultural blunders.
Language barriers and cultural differences may make it seem overwhelmingly difficult for us to even start thinking about this. Faux pas are something we want to avoid for obvious reasons! Yet, genuine care for the individual while listening and asking questions can cover many cultural blunders. So, what does it mean for Christians in the UK to love these foreigners among us (Leviticus 19:34)?
Firstly, it means offering a welcome. A welcome that doesn’t depend on where someone’s from, their religion or status, but because they are fearfully and wonderfully made by the God of the universe. Whether it’s a friendly smile, a cup of tea or a lift from the airport, a welcome to all people is important.
Secondly, it means mission. Students flock to our shores each year from countries that have limited or no access to the gospel and where missionaries struggle to get permission to enter.
Students flock to our shores each year from countries that have limited or no access to the gospel and where missionaries struggle to get permission to enter.
Let me tell you about Amir*…
It was a warm summer evening and I was playing the card game ‘Dobble’ with a group of volunteers and international students. We were at a café run by local Christians to welcome international students. After a quiz about French landmarks accompanied by brie and crackers, there was an announcement that an optional Bible study to discover more about Jesus was about to begin. One of the group, Amir, was keen to keep playing card games rather than join the study. As we played cards, the conversation naturally turned to the study he’d chosen not to join in with. He had been to one previously, so we talked about what he’d learnt, what he thought of Jesus and how the study had changed his views.
Amir is from Saudi Arabia which ranks number 15 on Operation World’s persecuted Christians list. The chance of him going to a Bible study and chatting so openly about Jesus in his home country is very low. Yet, in a café, around a card game, many miles from home, that’s exactly what happened.
What if they went home with something more precious than a degree or language qualification?
The great commission commands us to “go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely, I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20)
Remarkably, in the UK today we find ourselves in a situation where the nations are coming to us, and then returning home. What if they went home with something more precious than a degree or language qualification? In some instances, these students are living just next door. How can we be family to those who are far from home?
- Pray: Pray for these students as they head far away from home to a new culture with unfamiliar sights and sounds. Pray that they would feel welcome and that they would have the opportunity to find out about Jesus whilst they are here.
- Welcome: Do you live in a university city? Why not sign up to host a student for dinner? You can do so using our Register as a Host form. Or check out what is already happening in your local area on our website.
There’s a role for all us – making cups of tea, or leading a Bible study. It’s all part of making disciples of all nations, often without needing to leave home!
We hope you find videos, articles and resources on our website that inspire you and your community to share Jesus – and please do feel free to share these on social media or in church gatherings. If you see something that you would like to post on another website, however, please get in touch so that we can help you.