At the MBCollegiate Conference in February, one of our Campus Missionaries, Greg Xander, led a breakout session on reaching and serving international students. In the decade plus since Xander took over as director of the Truman BSU, over 2,000 international students have had some kind of contact with their ministry. As I wrote about in a Pathway article in 2021, this wasn’t an emphasis Xander sought to have in his ministry, but he’s become a seasoned veteran of international student ministry nonetheless.
I asked Greg to share with me about his breakout session. His response has been edited for length and clarity.
On the focus of his session
My breakout session was around ministering to, reaching out to, and serving international students. For the first few minutes I let everybody share their ideas or the things they have seen that have had a good impact on connecting to international students and helping them hear the message of Jesus. It was great to let everybody hear from each other, because I know I don’t have all the ideas. More brains are better than one.
On being “gnats on the windshield of God’s sovereignty”
From there, we talked about specific examples some of them had with international students and interactions we’ve had. I spent time reminding them that it doesn’t have to be perfect because God chooses to use us. Sometimes we forget that God is always choosing broken and fragmented vessels. A real challenge is that we think we’re not good enough to share our relationship with God with others, or even talk about God because we’re afraid we’ll just mess it up.
So we just went through reminding them that they’re not going to mess up God’s sovereignty. I compared it to us being like gnats on the windshield of God‘s sovereignty. That got everybody laughing. We can have a ton of strategies, but the one thing that will most often keep us from moving or trying to engage with international students—or anybody for that matter—is always going to be fear.
On perfect love casting out fear
We looked at 1 John 4:16-18 which says that perfect love drives out fear, and that God is love. If we fear anything other than Him—like our performance or accomplishment or offending someone—that fear is always going to be a bad master. That’s why Scripture says to fear God, and why we need to fear Him and nothing else. It’s not just because He’s holy and incredible, which He is, but I think everybody gets that as much as our little brains can. It’s also because God is the only one who’s going to be a good master with your fear.
So if you connect all the dots in 1 John you get this picture: that if all you fear is God, then all you get in return from God is love…because perfect love drives out fear, and God is love, so there you go.
On breaking crayons
I had them take three or four crayons from a new pack of crayons. Everybody was holding and examining their pretty new crayons. They all were excited about the colors they picked…until I told them to break their crayons in half.
That was a riot because some people did that pretty easily, and some people really had a hard time with it. Especially the biggest guy in the room, a football player who didn’t want to break his crayons. He just felt so bad. But I made them all do it anyway. Why? God is still choosing us to do His work…broken crayons still color.
On living a compelling life
Maybe a fourth of the session was a little more strategy: how do we help draw other people to see international students as valuable, or even to see them at all? And how do we help move our community to want to be a part of it?
Step one is to live a compelling life. To live a life others would admire. That draws people who don’t believe but also maybe prompts their peers to want to know why they care or why they’re doing what they’re doing."Step one is to live a compelling life. To live a life others would admire." -Greg Xander #collegiatedisciplemaker Just Do Something to Reach International Students Click To Tweet
On being motivated by God’s love
To reach others, especially those who aren’t like us, we have to have a personal relationship with God first. We have to be motivated out of His love for us so that we can move forward serving not out of fear, guilt, or shame but out of His love that He already has for us. We need to be hearing His love for our own hearts while we’re trying to go and influence our community and reach others.
On being bad at things
We have to be willing to be bad at things to get good at them. A lot of times we don’t step out in things or start things because we think we need to be perfect right off the bat and do it all great.
I gave some personal examples of talking to international students and statements they would say. I would know the Christian answer to give but struggle to communicate it in a way that a non-Christian mind could connect to, especially from a different culture. This experience would always drive me to think about it later. I’d research and try to figure out how to say this in a way that makes sense to someone who is not a believer. Over time, these personal interactions with international students would leave me saying some things but also feeling like I needed to get better at that. This was fun to share some of my own failures, but you have to be willing to be bad at it so you can get good at it.
On Paul and Macedonia
We ended the session with the passage about Paul and a man from Macedonia in Acts 16. It’s a pretty classic passage I’ve heard over the years when Paul has a vision of a man from Macedonia saying “Come help us!” Instead of focusing on the end with the man in Macedonian, we focused on how Paul didn’t know where he was supposed to go. Even Paul, the guy who wrote so much of the New Testament, didn’t always know where he was supposed to go. But he kept trying.
In this passage, Paul tries to go to one place, and the Holy Spirit tells him not to go there. He tries to go to another place, and the spirit of Jesus prevents him from going. Then he has this vision, and figures out God wants him in Macedonia. I told the students that if you’re going to try and launch into new things, go into the unknown and talk to people, you’re now always going to know where you’re going. Paul was on a need to know basis, or I like to say, a need to GO basis. But Paul had such a passion – he just kept going and kept going everywhere. God kept redirecting him because he had a fire in him that was moving and going after God.
On just doing something
Sometimes ministry is like the garden of Eden. There were hundreds, thousands of trees you could eat from, but only one tree that you were not supposed to. Likewise, there are hundreds and thousands of ways to try to do things for God, especially if we know His character and Scripture. He’s given us a lot of freedom to do many things. There are so many good choices and ways to reach international students.
We’re drawn to the moments where we know, and we’re not drawn to what we do not know. We might be waiting to hear a certain message or experience a calling or have a vision to direct us. But in the meantime, just do something! You’re not always going to know exactly where you’re going, so just embrace the mystery of following God in faith, and just keep trying to go for Him, with Him.
On summing it up
The gospel travels best through human relationships, so live a compelling life. Let God’s perfect love cast out fear. And while you’re waiting to hear something specific, just do something you know He’s already good with. Loving people, sharing the gospel, serving others…those things are always a yes with Him.