“Our work with international students is not our ministry per se, it’s our heart…What a shame it would be if they came to the States and were never invited into a Christian home! What an opportunity missed.”
What does it mean “to be God’s person at God’s time in the life of another?” For Doug and Jackie Perseghetti it means that whether at home or traveling abroad, every encounter with another person is an opportunity to put God’s mission for them into practice. Over the years they have reached out to students from foreign countries enrolled in our local universities. Doug and Jackie enjoy sponsorship as an occasion to be God’s person and walk beside the students during a season of their life. They have hosted students from China, Taiwan, Korea, Turkey, different parts of Africa, Central and South America, Australia, Austria, Saudi Arabia, and India. At times they have had 20 to 30 students over at one time, but mostly they keep it to a one on one experience.
International friendship groups or sponsorship programs are designed by churches and universities to match students from foreign countries with fellow students, faculty, or members of our community. The idea is to help the students and their families, if present, to feel welcome and encourage them to experience and learn about our American way of life.
“Our work with international students is not our ministry per se, it’s our heart. The folks we work with are here to go to school. It’s temporary. They have places to stay, food to eat, and clothes to wear. The needs we meet are not physical needs; they are the needs of the heart. They are curious about us, how we live, and our culture. Students can be lonely and in need of friendship, and we have found them very curious and open. Unfortunately many of these people come and go from here having never set foot in an American home. What a shame it would be if they came to the States and were never invited into a Christian home! What an opportunity missed.”
“Hosting one or more students is a chance to speak into the heart, emotions, and soul of someone else. To show them they are accepted. Encourage them to try new things. We had two girls over from Korea once to make Christmas cookies with me,” Jackie said. “It was their first time to use electric beaters and unaware that lifting them from the batter while spinning was not such a good idea.” It was shocking and hilarious for everyone and Jackie remembered the girls mailed the baked cookies home to Korea to share the experience with their families. “No doubt in crumbs, but having them over to laugh together and share is what it’s all about.”
Jackie spoke freely about some of her personal challenges with people from different religions.
“In my heart I had to give over suspicions that I had against certain religious beliefs of some of the people we have befriended. We can be very suspicious and judgmental. To allow God to put me into a place of vulnerability, to love in spite of the fear, to love in spite of what our culture says, to single out that person and see beyond all that. We met this particular family once a week. One time at their house they opened up the conversation by asking us a question about the Bible. Our jaws dropped open and we had the opportunity to engage them. The wife and I connected like kindred spirits and opened up a flow of open conversation about religion.”
Sponsoring International students is a great place for families to get involved, especially families with little kids. “Families with little children should not be intimidated to open their home to an international family. In our years of experience, International students love little children. They can open up with them. They don’t feel they have to perform or worry about language, simply play with them, hold them on their lap, and enjoy that simple connection.”
Doug and Jackie agree that holidays are a perfect time to have people over. “What else are they going to do? It’s an easy in to invite a family over to experience a holiday meal. Time to share food, compare traditional cooking recipes, and a chance to expose them to Christianity.”
I asked Doug and Jackie if they had any thoughts to pass along to families who might be interested in having International students over to their home for a meal or family excursion.
“I think the biggest thing is not to be the missionary to them. You lose sight of more that God is trying to do. If you are trying to be the missionary, they become your project. You become the great American answer all, you know that “super person.” That does nothing to breathe life in another person. But if you come into it as ‘this is a great adventure, I get to learn about your country and I don’t even have to go there’ type attitude, then you encourage open engagement.”
“Openness can never be black and white, this is right this is wrong, because if you do that you are communicating a sense of failure on their part, judgment. No question should be considered silly, only a safe place to talk openly and be real from each side. Be open to their stories, just listen and wait, and God always comes through. With a little word of encouragement or just a little opening, plant a seed. Sometimes you get to do more than plant a seed. You get to bring people to Christ. We believe it’s most important to be available, not necessarily able, just available and open. Let God do the rest.”
Are you ready to get involved? Are you ready to be God’s person at God’s time in the life of another? Singles, newlyweds, families with small children, and people of any age, would you consider opening your home to share a meal or something as small as a trip to the local grocery store with someone who is in America for the first time? If you read this and have questions or are interested in getting connected with international students please email the Apex Going Team at firstname.lastname@example.org. New students have arrived with the beginning of school and the holidays are approaching quickly on the heels of summer.
Author: Carrie Kempisty
Photographer: Hilary Tebo