I attended the Urbana missions conference while a grad student at the University of Minnesota. I had wanted to attend for a number of years but lived in Washington State which was too far away to consider the travel costs in the early 70s. When I was able to ride a chartered bus from Minneapolis to Urbana I went. As a foreign language and ESL major I was interested in linguistics and a number of missions opportunities. What grabbed my heart was a 30 minute presentation by an international student minister in a workshop that focused on Bible passages from Genesis to Revelation on God’s heart for the “foreigner among us”. That series of verses prepared me to serve high school refugees from southeast Asia coming out of the Vietnam era and arriving in Olympia, WA. Many of my students were traumatized and these verses fueled my challenge to my congregation a few blocks from the high school to take these kids in and to care for their families too. A ministry was born that eventually led to Christian faith for those of Buddhist background. One of the girls thanked me for keeping her from suicide by leading her to hope in Jesus. Since that time she has hosted 100s of refugees arriving at the Seattle airport. The church’s ministry helped establish future gospel witness in Vietnam as some students became believers and started businesses and funded outreach in their native land.
I moved to Minnesota to finish graduate studies and befriended international students, learned the biblical basis for a ministry to “foreigners among us” and eventually joined InteFACE ministries where I’ve been privileged to recruit and train cultural host families who have diligently served international midcareer professional “fellows” on US state department award programs for more than a generation. World leaders in government positions including supreme courts, department of education, the equivalent of CEO of the FBI, cabinet ministry posts in dozens of countries experienced Christian hospitality, gospel witness, and some as believers already chose paths of discipleship and fellowship. All experienced holiday events, field trips choices for ice fishing, sledding, shopping, national parks, historical sites, and so forth.
InterFACE Ministries is unique among international student ministries. We have a decentralized, yet very accountable administrative structure.Each year I am able with a local advisory council to evaluate ministry opportunities and priorities in my own community. The neighborhood in which I reside is extraordinarily multicultural: Latinos from central and south America, Native Americans, refugees from Bhutan and Nepal, For the past eight years I have served refugee families of Hindu belief systems. More than 150 people are part of my regular home visits and participation in birth, marriage, memorial, and holiday festivals and ceremonies. By taking the initiative to “scout” churches near where these families are now purchasing homes across the metro I’ve been able to form partnerships with more than a dozen churches that host vacation Bible camps, Wednesday night youth and children’s programs, holiday events, church and Sunday School. Most recently volunteers reunited a dozen kids from across the metro at a “Living Nativity” event complete with a “real baby Jesus” and animals.
Today the children and youth whose parents have permitted them to attend church and Christian programming are fluent in scriptures explaining the gospel. They have memorized music from more than 8 seasons of vacation Bible school and some have become believers. They are the language bearers to parents and elders who do not understand English well. Imagine my surprise to hear the gospel in English and Nepali being delivered in one Hindu home over an internet connection to a Nepali station in Canada! The family tells me they listen to Bible lessons every day on that broadcast in between news, features, and of course Hindu rituals.
I spent a number of years working in other international student ministries. Most of them had requirements difficult for me to maintain as a single parent with four adoptees from another country. InterFACE leadership prioritizes family needs so I do not feel guilty accompanying my young adults to medical appointments and unfortunately court appointments too. Life is complicated and difficult for everyone. The InterFACE family stands ready to offer support and guidance and understanding. Leadership is flexible and notes the uniqueness of every ministering staff member’s gifts, talents, training and calling. I am able to use my background in education, linguistics, ESL, social services, neighborhood development, and cross-cultural training.
Such a ministry as service with InterFACE Ministries is foundational to a network of friendships and professional resources since the staff members come from such a variety of backgrounds, training, life experiences, and expertise. Many of my best friends are international women whom I first served as cultural host, airport pickup, travel companion, and Bible study facilitator. Current international student and post-doc researchers continue to act as aunts and uncles with my children and grand daughter. In fact the Francophone student from West Africa allows me and the granddaughter plenty of practice in French and she’ll be able to attend a bilingual program for preschoolers! The student is happy with my tutor efforts in English composition and speech given his 4.0 record at the junior college.
Whether or not one chooses a full time ministry with InterFACE there is much room for volunteer leadership and participation. Every believer has a duty and responsibility to welcome the “stranger among us”. As staff members we get to welcome a LOT of these international students, fellows, researchers, immigrants, refugees, and sometimes even tourists!
Linda Leonard, Minneapolis