The event that launched International Student Ministry (ISM) on to the global scene was the Lausanne 2004 Forum in Thailand, where Diaspora Ministry and International Student Ministry were introduced as a new strategic ministry special interest group. The Lausanne Occasional Paper 55, Diasporas and International Students: The New People Next Door, produced by the joint Diaspora and ISM groups at the Forum, authenticated ISM across the world as a significant and strategic mission.
The first worldwide gathering of ISM leaders was convened in September 2017 as the Lausanne ISM Global Leadership Forum: Charlotte’17, with over 100 leaders from 70 organizations and 23 countries.
The stage is now set for the ISM movement to grow deeper roots throughout the world. We all need to be a part of it, as the growth of internationally mobile students continues, but the growth of ministers and ministries among international students continues to lag behind.
God is sending the mission field to our campuses in the form of five million international students globally today, and a projected eight million by 2025. Europe and North America have been the primary destination regions for international students during the previous six decades, but the Asia-Pacific region is rapidly attracting foreign students because several nations have national goals for recruiting lucrative students from abroad, for example:
During my 40 years of mobilising the Church for ISM, I have adhered to the foundational need to share the biblical commands to practice hospitality and welcome the foreigner, and also the multi-faceted and mutual blessings of ministry among international students. Why? Because without a vision there will not be any engagement.
As Jesus did with the crowds in Matthew 9:36-38, a pastor or ministry/mission leader needs to ‘see’ the providential presence of international students (the world’s future influencers) studying on their campuses in order to feel compassion or conviction to extend God’s hospitality to the lost sheep from many nations. Although the strategic importance of ISM is obvious, church and mission leaderships have often been oblivious to it.
In 1975, a former international student gave a powerful message at the World Missions Conference of Park Street Church in Boston. That message, ‘The Great Blind-Spot in Missions Today’, was about ministry among international students, and how the church often failed to see the tremendous potential for world missions to and through foreign scholars.
Opportunities for mission
The blind-spot has been gradually diminishing over the last four decades as the church gains a vision about the strategic value of ISM, and a better understanding of the opportunities for mission among international students and scholars:
Impact of international students
International students are potential world leaders (politically and in their professions), nation builders, and transformation agents.
Furthermore, Christian returnees can play significant roles in establishing the universal Church; many of the senior evangelical leaders in Malaysia and Singapore in recent years were students in Australia in the 1960s and 1970s.
John Sung came to Christ in the US in the mid-1920s and returned to China as an evangelist; revival in China spread like wildfire. Bakht Singh, a Sikh, was attracted to Christ over a span of months while studying in the UK and then in Canada. He received Christ and returned to be an evangelist to India, just like John Sung in China and East Asia: ‘Bakht Singh’s New Testament church planting model multiplied to over 500 congregations in India and 200 congregations in Pakistan, plus a number in Europe and North America.’
Informants and instructors
International students can also serve as ‘informants’ and ‘instructors’ that advance the mission movement. Two mega shifts in missions in the nineteenth and twentieth century were spurred on by the informants role provided by international students:
International students have played a tremendous role in the advance of missions understanding and needs, and will continue to be valuable instructors, if we are willing to listen and learn from them.
They are also gifts of God to the host nation and church: an African seminary student was instrumental in the conversion of an Episcopal priest in the US, who later became a bishop and played a significant role in the evangelical stream within the US Episcopal Church. That stream has flowed into the new Anglican Church in North America (ACNA) denomination, and in turn, there is now significant interest and movement among Anglican mission and church leaders to foster ISM in the ACNA.
Local churches are discovering how enriching it is to have a ministry among international students:
The reality is that most Christians are not ‘called’ to serve as long-term professional missionaries or as self-supporting ‘tent-maker’/BAM missionaries in another country. However, staying at home does not mean we cannot engage in cross-cultural, global ministry. ISM is one avenue for participating in world missions at home
What is your context of ministry, and what next steps could you consider in exploring how your ministry might include ISM in its strategic plan?
If you are a church-based ministry, are there any ISMs in your area with which to collaborate? If not, and you have international students in your community, perhaps your members would volunteer to be ‘host-families/friends’ through the local campus International Student Services office, or language conversation partners with a language learning institute.
If you are a campus-based ministry, how could ISM be promoted among your national students, and perhaps intentionally developed within your campus plans?
If you are a mission agency, should ISM be adopted for your pre-field missionary training of candidates and also as a continuing option for returned and retired missionaries? How might Christian international students contribute as potential informants, mentors, and advocates before and after they return home?
Questions about getting involved in ISM, resources, and future ISM-related events may be directed to Dr. Yaw Perbi, President of International Student Ministries Canada, and Emma Brewster, SIM International Coordinator for Engaging the University, the new Lausanne ISM Co-Catalysts, at [email protected]ismc.ca, and [email protected] respectively.
Leiton Edward Chinn has been mobilizing the church for ISM since 1977 and completed a ten-year tenure as Lausanne Catalyst for ISM in 2017. He served as President of the Association of Christians Ministering among Internationals [students] from 1999 – 2008. Leiton is married to Lisa Espineli Chinn, a former National ISM Director of InterVarsity USA, who was an international graduate student from the Philippines at Wheaton Graduate School.