Following Jesus around the world: an international student’s testimony

We asked Ho to share about his experience as an international student. Ho is an OMF worker who grew in his relationship with Christ as an international student and now works in Northern Ireland helping international students meet Jesus there.

‘I was 21. I grew up in a Buddhist family in Cambodia. Four years earlier, I had heard about Jesus as a university student, and came to faith in him. Now I had arrived in Japan as a postgraduate student, excited about new people, new food, new culture and discovering new beautiful places.  

Before long, though, homesickness set in. I missed my family. I missed eating food from my home country. One of the most difficult things was that my mother passed away, just a month after I’d arrived. It was so hard for me not to see her face for the last time. 

It helped me a lot that I was introduced to a church which warmly welcomed international students. I was grateful for a Bible study and a community of local and international people who prayed and learned from each other. I got to know the international student workers, who showed love and concern, especially while I was grieving the loss of my mother. One of them would phone me and pray with me over the phone. This encouraged me, and I felt protected by the Lord through their prayers in the face of temptations and discouragements.  I learned from their example of loving God and others, and depending on the Lord.

Living overseas, I learned from both local and international Christians. I was welcomed to get involved in local church ministry, which helped me grow as a disciple of Christ through serving and learning from others. We shaped each other’s lives as we studied the Bible, worshiped, shared fellowship and fun together. I learned the importance of cross-cultural mission and experienced God’s invitation to be part of the exciting journey of serving him among people different from myself.

I realised how important it is for local Christian workers and volunteers to find a helpful way to support international students like me, both on and off the campus. Students who don’t yet know the Lord, from all kinds of religious and cultural backgrounds experience the same struggles of homesickness, difficulties with accommodation, language challenges and loneliness. During COVID-19, those who could not return home must feel this even more. Experiencing Christian friendship – both with other international students and people of different generations and backgrounds – gives people from every nation the opportunity to meet Jesus. Some of my colleagues came to faith in Christ while they were students overseas. Others who already knew Christ but needed encouragement not to let busyness or new relationships take over, and instead to find assurance of faith and to keep growing as his disciples in a very different cultural context. 

What are three key things that make a difference for international students?

• Be openhearted in your welcome and hospitality – go the second mile 
• Be genuine and interested in their life and culture
• Seek to be a trustworthy life-time friend, even when they move on or go home

If you do these things, you have a natural foundation for opening the word of God together. People may disagree, but in an atmosphere of love, trust and respect, it is much easier to listen and learn together.’

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