The past week has been wonderful and crazy-hectic. God has been greatly at work in the hearts and minds of many international students at the University of Cincinnati. Here’s the story.
For years we have tried to have an active FriendSpeak program at Central. We use the same materials we’ve used on LST projects, but this is a domestic program. We help people with their English using the gospel of Luke as a basis. At times we’ve had two or three workers who had readers, but lately I’ve been the only one. Aissatou, my Muslim reader from Guinea, has come faithfully for over a year. We meet on Wednesday nights after Central’s Bread of Life Cafe, which is the scheduled time for FriendSpeak.
Meanwhile, last March I had another set of training lessons. Eight people studied the FriendSpeak materials and we were ready to go. But where were the readers? We tried flyers in grocery stores, schools, and other public places. I continued to put ads on Craigslist, to no avail. We had talked about how to reach UC students, but the university’s guidelines for posting advertisements on bulletin boards were almost impossible to deal with.
And then I tried the obvious that we’d overlooked. I googled “University of Cincinnati international students.” Behold, they actually have UC International Services, a group specifically designed to help international students, of which there are multitudes. So I emailed the staff and asked about hosting some international students for Christmas dinner–which worked out really well–and about offering free English conversation lessons. Nicole responded warmly and offered to put an announcement in her weekly email newsletter to 3400 students.
Nicole announced the program the second week in December and we received four inquiries. Three of those returned their registrations and we were on our way! We tried to have an information meeting and no one came, but the three who had signed up kept us optimistic since we understood it was winter break.
So last week I sent Nicole another announcement. We are thrilled with our responses. In December I was braced for too many to handle. After hearing from only four, I was pretty casual about the possibilities from this ad. So far, 28 people have indicated an interest in the lessons and 18 have registered.
That may not sound like many until you recall that only 8 people were trained. All week I have received numerous emails from international students interested in the lessons and in getting transportation there. I must answer each one thoughtfully and then respond to additional questions.
Our transportation dilemma has been worked out. One couple from church picks up the original three. One student has a car and will give two more a ride. One man from church will go to UC and pick up two more. One has a car and will drive from Kentucky. So they will all get there, it seems. Whereas transportation for the 6 miles to the church building seemed to be a huge problem, it is working out.
And what about the others who registered? Most of them are getting lessons in ways other than Wednesday nights. One couple is meeting with a reader on Sunday afternoons. Three of us are going to UC during the week to meet and have our lessons at Panera, near the university. Some are still on the waiting list, but I have three volunteers to train next week, plus one the Holy Spirit recruited and I trained yesterday.
We are all so excited! Tomorrow night, I will welcome them and give them all an overview of the program. I want them to know that these materials and this approach is used throughout the world in many cultures and faiths. Since we could not go to them, they are coming to us, and we are so blessed.
We have readers from China, South Korea, India, Iran, Bolivia, Taiwan, Turkey, and France. Isn’t that good variety? I can’t wait for us to have a party with all of them there.
So we all are praying a lot. We prayed for readers, and now we pray that we can have genuine conversations with them and develop authentic friendships. I still keep in touch with three of my previous readers and even visited one in Arizona a few years ago. These are true friendships and conversations that go beyond the weather and other superficial topics. We stand by the basic premise of the entire program:
The Word is the teacher. We are the illustration. We reach out to help them and the Word will speak to hearts that are open to it. We know we are but seed planters, and we are eager to seed those seeds sprout and flourish in open hearts. And if they don’t? Then we still have made new friends and helped with their skills. When we help others, we are being Jesus to them. Can’t beat that.