There is – and should be – much diversity in campus ministry due to a variety of factors. This may be due to the campus and its nature; the Muslim person(s), their culture and their hunger for the Gospel; the nature of the international student administration on a particular campus; the gifting and style of the international student worker, to name some of these factors. Whatever the context, fervent prayer for the student(s) plus inviting others to join you in this pursuit is essential.
Many of these students come here feeling like they have arrived at the “pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.” They have a privilege that few of their peers have and that, if successfully carried out, will net them many valuable opportunities. While this may be true, the heavy pressures of academia, the different academic style, homesickness and their becoming accustomed to their new environment soon dull the glitter of that “pot of gold.” It is therefore essential to develop a relationship early on in their arrival. In a couple of months, their openness usually wanes significantly. I have frequently been told even years later that they remember our helping them when they first arrived. These early opportunities are invaluable and every effort should be made to take advantage of them.
Having lived overseas in several countries, we have learned that one usually needs considerable help in the beginning to get settled. It is the local person who can share with them some of the best shops and many other needs and opportunities. Along with this, travel to nearby points of interest that they would likely not know about is very valuable for them and greatly appreciated.
Cultivating the Relationship:
Trying to find repeated opportunities to meet the student is also essential. This might even be just a phone call or email message, an offer to take the person shopping, to go out to eat together or best of all, an invitation to your home for a meal. Questions may come up which should be seen as an opportunity. The person will want to know about your life and – quite possibly – what you believe. Remember, friendship forms the bridge over which the truth must pass, so strengthen the friendship.
Another important skill is asking good questions. These can be about their family, friends and growing up. There could also be questions about faith.
Servanthood is a strong teacher and something which they will not expect. Its power is very significant.
Many – if not most – Muslim international students come here believing that they have come to a Christian country. They tend to interpret most of what they see around them (including media) as “Christian” no matter how reprobate it may be. Our response to this attitude needs to be a godly life of piety and prayer. It is appropriate to pray in the presence of the person – after asking them for permission – for a concern they may have in the name of Jesus.
Most students believe that all Christians hold that Jesus is the product of a biological relationship between God and Mary.
Another widely held belief is that the Bible has been corrupted.
Terms such as Christian, Church, Conversion and Baptism generally have very different meanings than they do for us. While they are good, biblical words and concepts, it is usually best to use alternative words which communicate more clearly what you mean, e.g. instead of Christian, you might use “a follower of Christ.”
These and other issues are likely to come up.
Problems in Campus Ministry:
Many international students are working in their second or third language and find it very difficult to keep up with their work. Yet, they feel very strong pressure to succeed. They are usually bright, but they devote huge amounts of time to their work leaving limited time available to meet with you. Their availability may be during times which you find less convenient. That is part of the sacrifice of the calling. We must maintain respect for their academic pursuit while trying to remain in touch with them.
Another challenge may be pressure from fellow Muslim students not to get too close to Christians or to attend Christian meetings. You will rarely be aware of this pressure, but it is almost certainly far stronger than you would suspect.
Communicating the Gospel:
There are other excellent, full treatments of this subject, but it is worth mentioning that getting into the Bible with the student as soon as possible is very important. In some fashion, covering briefly the history of God and his people up through the Gospels is an excellent approach. I find it most helpful to use Matthew or Luke to begin.
A very helpful, brief resource is A Muslim’s Heart by Dr. Ed Hoskins (NavPress). He expands on many of these points in very helpful ways.