From Anchovies to Africa
Before Samuel Buliga Although John opposed Christianity, he expressed curiosity about Samuel’s faith. Samuel patiently shared the gospel, gave John a Bible, and invited him to church. Initially John resisted each of Samuel’s overtures, so Samuel told John that he would pray for him. When Samuel escaped from Eastern Europe in 1988, he came to America. Later he learned that John had become a Christian. Samuel understood that his prayers and relationship with John were like colorful tiles that God used to build the mosaic of John’s conversion.
Recognizing the importance of such relationships in evangelism, each semester Dallas Seminary professors Dr. Michael Pocock and Dr. Mark Young require students enrolled in their Introduction to World Evangelism class to cultivate a relationship with someone from a different culture.
When student Brian Smith took the course, he worked part-time as a valet at an exclusive apartment complex. One evening Daniel Deng, a recent immigrant from Africa and a Christian, delivered pizza to the apartments. Because of the course requirement, along with his own interest in the African people, Brian struck up a conversation with Daniel and they became fast friends. Brian learned about Daniel’s home country of Sudan while Daniel learned about America. Since both young men felt God’s call to share Christ with Africans, their friendship became mutually beneficial. Daniel now serves as an evangelist to Dallas’s large Sudanese community and Brian is preparing to go to Sudan as a missionary.
Another strategic relationship developed between Jim and Traci Wallace, Dallas Seminary students, and Xin Zhou and Yanping Liu, students at the University of Texas–Dallas (UTD). The two couples met through the International Students, Inc. (ISI) Friendship Partner program. They discovered common experiences as all four had studied in the same Chinese and American cities and spoke Mandarin and English. Relationships flourished as they shared food, fellowship, and fun. The Asian couple’s curiosity about Christianity matched the Wallaces’ desire to share the gospel.
Dr. Pocock, who chairs Dallas Seminary’s World Missions and Intercultural Studies department, believes that people whose lives are transformed by Christ during their years of academic preparation in America make a significant impact when they return to their home countries. “The friendships developed often transcend the semester, establishing the foundation for long-lasting relationships and are an effective strategy for world evangelization,” he said.
ISI is a nondenominational Christian organization working on college and university campuses across the country. More than 662,000 international students and visiting scholars representing over two hundred nations currently attend American institutes of higher learning. Many of these students come from countries that are closed to missionary activity. ISI matches international students with Americans through their Friendship Partner program. Friendships flourish as partners discover shared interests, attend sports or cultural events together, provide practical assistance, and include each other in everyday activities. As trust develops between the students and their American friends, opportunities arise for sharing the gospel.
At their first meeting Yue, a student from China, surprised her DTS friendship partner, Heather Turner, by asking directly if Heather was a Christian. Yue peppered Heather with questions about Christianity and six weeks later, celebrating Thanksgiving with Chinese friends, she trusted Christ. “Her e-mails spilled over with excitement about her decision,” Heather said. At a Christmas concert that Yue attended she told Heather that she wanted all her family to know Jesus. As Heather fulfilled a strategic class assignment, God blessed her by using her as a tool in His design for Yue and her family.
When Christians develop friendships with international students, opportunities arise not only to introduce individual students to Christ, but also to impact their family and friends.
Most communities offer such opportunities—mission fields “ripe for harvest.” As Dr. Pocock notes in his book, Cultural Change and Your Church, “America is no longer a monocultural place; instead American communities are becoming a kaleidoscope with vibrant new faces. People from virtually every nation in the world come to our homeland and these visitors offer strategic opportunities for completing Christ’s mandate to reach all nations.”
Typically when missionaries move to another country, they must spend years learning a new language and cultural practices to gain the acceptance of the community leaders. Mission planners target such leaders, who are respected and are in close contact with their people. Conveniently international students in North America are also included among these future leaders. If they become believers in Jesus Christ while on North American soil, they have a great potential for changing their communities back home. Returning international students have the benefit of already knowing their own languages and cultures. And often unlike foreign missionaries, they are naturally accepted and are rarely viewed as threats. Thus their influence and impact is immediate.
The opportunity to share the gospel is a natural outcome of Christians reaching out to internationals. Just as interest in world missions increases as families learn about other cultures, goodwill and understanding also grow when people from different backgrounds connect. ISI team leader Kent Marshall said, “The Friendship Partner program is a way for individuals to be effectively involved in international missions, and it teaches participants friendship evangelism, cross-cultural sensitivity, and strategic thinking about outreach. ISI values its partnership with Dallas Seminary.”
Jesus Christ told His disciples, “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matt. 28:19). As His disciples we are to take the gospel to the ends of the earth, and now some can do so without ever leaving their own homeland. It has never been easier to influence so many leaders from all over the world, as God creates His extraordinary masterpiece—a mosaic mural reflecting faces from every tribe, language, people, and nation (Rev. 5:9).
Nita Thomason, EdD, a friend of Dallas Seminary, is a volunteer coordinator for The Lost Boys of Sudan.