“If I knew it was going to be this difficult, I would never have come.”
“I haven’t seen my family for three years”
“At home I have to be really careful who I talk to about church but here I can talk to anyone!”
These are just some of the things that international students have said to me in the past year in Ireland. Others include: “Sunday is the one day I feel OK because of church” and also “It’s nice that people are friendly but what I really want is a friend.”
Over 25,000 international students come to study in Dublin every year, not to mention those who study in language schools. Though they are excited at the opportunity to learn and experience a new culture, there are very real challenges. Navigating a severe housing crisis, coping with culture shock, and trying to make friends in a new language, leaves many feeling lonely and isolated. It’s a vast mission field, but God is at work.
In my first year of ministry in Dublin, three things have struck me:
The value of a welcoming gospel community
Having lived as a foreigner myself, I’ve experienced the difference that a loving community can make. But in a country where the church is small and resources are few, it is costly to invest time and effort in serving students who might only be here a few months and then will move on to other parts of the world. It requires a mission mindset and a deep understanding of the gospel.
Wonderfully, I can name many Irish Christians who demonstrate this. They give, not for what they can get, but because of what they’ve been given. I’ve seen churches make a real effort to love and welcome internationals and many have had their time in Ireland transformed because of it.
God uses internationals
There’s A from South Asia, who loves the freedom she has here to share the gospel. One Sunday she brought nine students from her country to church! She takes every opportunity to learn so that she can go home better equipped to serve the church.
As an outsider herself, she would always notice a non-Christian walk into the room
There’s C, also from South Asia, who has really struggled with his mental health since COVID-19, and yet has kept trusting in Jesus and sharing his faith. As a result, two of his housemates from the Middle East have started to attend Bible studies regularly.
Then there’s V from Sweden who was out with the Christian Union in her second week inviting people to their events. As an outsider herself, she would always notice a non-Christian walk into the room and would be the first to welcome them.
The harvest really is plentiful
The highlight of this year was a two-week outreach over the summer. We hosted a café where internationals were welcomed and given the opportunity to practice their English and to explore faith. Each evening students were invited to choose between staying in the café to chat or attending the Bible study next door. Every evening there was a mass exodus next door!
K from Ukraine came one night and straight away was eager to come to the Bible study having started reading the Bible himself a few months ago. He kept coming back with more questions until one evening it became clear that he understood the gospel. A team member asked him if he wanted to follow Jesus. He said yes, prayed and returned the next evening with a big smile on his face.
There are internationals in Dublin who are just waiting for someone to invite them in and open God’s word with them. Pray for the Lord to send more workers into his harvest field and that through them many more would come to know and love the Lord Jesus.