Longevity in International Student Ministry
Maybe it is unintentional, but people ignore other people who are different, said Evelyn Stilwell, a Fayetteville, Ark. resident who reaches out to internationals. The University Baptist church member said she wants to “spark” college students out of that mindset. “We get into a rut,” she said. “Young people raised in church tend to stay with church friends, go to college and do more of the same.”
The countries are coming to us, said Evelyn. It’s an opportunity to be on mission for Christ and one that Evelyn and her husband Bronson have felt called to since 1983 when they moved to the college town as young parents with little children. “We did what anyone can do,” she said. “We began to meet people in public places (the library, the park) and invited them to a meal.” Those acquaintances grew into friendships, and the Stilwells purposefully bought a house near the University of Arkansas campus which had more bedrooms. They then began inviting internationals to live with them. Currently, six internationals live there: from India, Panama, Timorleste, Serbia, Morocco and Columbia.
The now retired couple estimates they have been close to hundreds of internationals through the years; they’ve visited a dozen in their home countries–India, China, Columbia and South America–and attended four international weddings.
Evelyn said students from other countries want to be included because “often people who come from afar don’t have a myriad of connections.” Christians can connect with them and “become aware of physical, spiritual, social needs.” By meeting needs, we love others in Christ’s name. “We are called to love our neighbor, to love the stranger,” Evelyn said. “It’s a mandate; it’s the Great Commission.” To follow the Great Commission means getting out of comfort zones. “Invite people not like you to join you,” said Evelyn. “Love them. Include them. Welcome them.” But, how? “I think for a student, it can be as simple as: you see them on campus, you say, ‘Hi, where are you from?’ Welcome to Fayetteville, Arkansas.”