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Reaching out beyond borders with Serve Asia

You might think Serve Asia, OMF’s short-term mission programme always involves going to East Asia. However, a new placement with OMF (UK) in Northern Ireland is opening up exciting ways for followers of Jesus to get involved in sharing his love with East Asians across the street.

One of the participants in the first Beyond Borders placements shares about their experience:

‘Hi, I am from Northern Ireland and served as part of the Beyond Borders team in 2023. This was a two-week placement. One week saw us get involved in an International Café with Friends International in Belfast, while for the second week, we joined some local OMF ministries.

What is an International Café?

Despite the name, this wasn’t just everyone hanging out drinking lattes and eating scones from around the world. This was a one-week outreach event for international students studying in Belfast. It had a café feel with coffee, biscuits and the works, but every night had an activity, chat and an optional Bible study. The themes included karaoke night, team challenges and American night. These were all designed to facilitate friendships with international students and share the gospel through friendship and Bible study.

What happened the rest of the time?

The rest of the placement included training and debrief sessions with OMF focusing on international students from East Asia, a taste of what their Returnee Focus ministry looks like and attending a local Chinese church. We also got to talk to OMF workers serving in Northern Ireland, sharing the gospel with international students and helping prepare new Christians to return home and thrive in their faith. I found the seminar on ‘Intercultural Church’ really inspiring and enjoyed spending time with some East Asian Christian students.

Seeing how intentional OMF workers are in evangelism and discipleship with international students was very helpful. I had previously been involved in befriending international students before and live near Belfast, so without the input of OMF, I could very easily have ‘gone through the motions’ and not been so intentional in following up with them. It was also really insightful to see more of how OMF helps international students who come to faith overseas continue following Jesus when they go back home.

What were your impressions of the week?

I was very encouraged by the week. Firstly I was amazed by how many students came to these events just from receiving a flyer on the day. I don’t think I would trust anyone on the street giving me a flyer, so this really highlighted how God drew people in.

I was also encouraged by how a number of students were hungry for follow up. At the end of the week, some students were asking for more opportunities to meet together to grow deeper friendships while others were keen for more Bible study follow up. This really highlighted the need for a team like this to be in Belfast, and probably many UK university cities, over the summer.

Finally, I was really encouraged by how many students went to the optional Bible study. We should not look to numbers for success, yet as it was the first time the summer international cafe had run in Belfast, it was wonderful to see how God showing us the need for this summer outreach. Often within the UK, or at least in Northern Ireland, many have heard parts of the Christian message and we can trick ourselves into thinking everyone has heard here and are choosing not to follow. Yet, seeing students hungry to hear about Jesus was a reminder of how powerful the good news is.

Who would I recommend this type of team for?

A real highlight of this team was that after the week of summer outreach was over the students were still in the UK and friendships could still develop easily. I was in the privileged position of living near Belfast anyway, but this nearness factor could be a draw for anyone in the UK. Often for international students in the UK, there is a desire to travel. City hopping around the UK is very popular. So the students also connected well with teammates from England too, knowing that they may see each other again on visits.

I would also recommend this team to anyone who is interested in trying out serving East Asians or serving cross-culturally in general. As it is closer than an overseas placement, you are meeting students who are curious to learn, but also love sharing about their home countries and cultures. This is a great way to get a taste of different cultures, while there’s also less stress about cultural mistakes as everyone is there to learn and have fun. From these short placements, there is the potential for lasting friendships to form.


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