We serve internationals and partner with them to make Christ known among the nations
In the video below, Rich lays out why understanding IFI’s vision and values is so critical to having an effective international student ministry.
Hi, I’m Rich Mendola, the Executive Director of IFI, and I’m so excited by the step of faith that you’ve taken to be involved in advancing God’s kingdom among internationals. And you’re an answer to prayer really because we’ve been praying for more workers for this harvest field, especially as we’ve seen the number of international students increasing in the United States to now over 1.2 million. We know that there’s a lot of workers that are going to be needed in order to accomplish this task. And you responded, and I’m so glad about that. And we want to be able to help you through this Startup Kit to be successful in doing international student ministry.
You’ve heard about the purpose of this Startup Kit, and what I want to focus on now is understanding the vision and values of IFI – which is really the DNA. It’s what we want to see replicated wherever IFI exists. It’s at the heart of who we are and what we’re called to do, so it’s essential that we understand it. You’ve probably heard the expression, “flying blind.” You would not want to be at an airplane where when you went up you saw the pilot had a blindfold on and there was no autopilot. I think that would be pretty scary. And also, if you are in a room and you’re trying to work on a common task and everyone has a blindfold on, it’s hard to go in the same direction. It’s hard to stay focused together.
So we don’t want to fly blind in the IFI ministry. You want to be able to see clearly, and that’s what the purpose of understanding vision is. It’s so that we can all see the same thing together. We can see what God has called us to do. It can give us an ability to focus. It makes sure that we do the same thing together. And the values are going to help us understand how to fulfill that vision – what it actually looks like in practice.
Now, God has given IFI a wonderful vision. Our vision is “to serve internationals and partner with them to make Christ known among the nations.” So let me unpack that for you. You can see that it starts with these two things of how we go about our ministry, which is “we serve internationals and partner with them,” and it also describes what the outcome is that we’re looking for. And what an exciting outcome, that we’re going to impact nations for Christ! You know, we are part of this – the larger thing that God is doing in the earth to bless all the nations of the earth. We often refer to that as the Great Commission. IFI is part of fulfilling the Great Commission.
It’s part of this commitment that God has made to bless all nations that we’re going to be engaged with. I think that’s really exciting! That we can be a part of that thing that God has on His heart, that He’s moving in history to complete. So as we do that – as we’re part of that – we want to see then how it’s going to take place.
Now, how do we do that? Well, there’s some indications – I talked about serving and partnering – but our values are going to be the things that really show us more specifically how we’re to go about doing our ministry. So it’s really important that not only we understand the vision clearly but we understand the values as well. The foundational value for our ministry is 1. Intimacy with Christ and loving one another, 2. Hospitality in partnership with local churches, 3. Life involvement discipleship, 4. God-honoring stewardship practices.
With this exciting vision that we share in together, and with these values that guide us in how we’re going to go about doing it, I’m confident that God is going to bless and flourish your ministry. And this is what it means to have an IFI ministry: If somebody asks you, “What is IFI?” When you communicate this vision and you share these values that you’re answering their question. When we think about IFI in your location, when we say “What’s it going to look like for you to be an IFI branch?” It’s putting this vision into practice. It’s putting these values into practice. Then we will share together in the same fruit for the glory of God.
Now, the first part it says is, “We serve internationals.” And there are really 3 basic areas we’re talking about serving internationals. One is serving them at their physical needs, secondly is serving them at their social needs, and third is their spiritual needs.
When they come here away from their culture, their physical needs are very obvious. That’s why it’s really good if we can go to the airport and pick them up when they first arrive, and provide some temporary housing for them while they’re getting settled.
Secondly, internationals come with social needs. Usually they leave their family and friends behind. They’re wanting to making new friendships. And that’s where we can serve – having a social activity when they first arrive, by being a conversational English partner.
And the third, is the spiritual part. And that’s why we want to provide things like culture-specific Bible studies. We want to have host families be trained so that they can bring the students to church. That’s all involved in the serving international students, and we want to do that well.
But the reality is if we only serve internationals and develop friendships with them, we will not fulfill that outcome of “impacting nations.” It’s not enough. The second part of our vision statement says, “and partner with them.” Now, what is implied in that is that we want to see internationals raised up as leaders. We want them to be able to do the ministry themselves. And we want to equip them and empower them to fulfill their calling, as God has a calling on their lives.
So that part of investing in the lives of international students – making room for them, providing training for them, sharing leadership with them – that is essential as a part of our vision. I’ll be honest with you, that second part is harder than the first part. It’s easier to do the service-related things. It’s harder to do the training and raising up students into leadership. And so we have to be intentional and making sure we’re doing both of them. And intentional in recognizing that it’s easy for us to lead and it’s harder to make place for raising up international leaders. And so we have to make sure we’re committed to doing it. And if we do that, then we’ll be able to get to the “impacting nations” part of our our vision.
Biblical Examples of IFI’s Vision in Scripture
Now this vision that we have is rooted in the heart of God. And it’s in the Scriptures. When we look in the Bible, we see a number of places where God instructs His people that we are to care for internationals. In Leviticus 19:33 God says, “When a stranger lives with you in your land, do not mistreat him. You must treat the stranger as one of native-born person, because you were strangers in Egypt.”
God has a special concern, a special love, that he sets on internationals. Deuteronomy 10:18 says, “God loves the international, giving him food and clothing.” And there’s the “service,” the practical need. We see in Matthew 25 when Jesus is talking about the characteristics of a righteous person. He says, “I was a stranger – I was an international – and you invited me in.”
He also has specific examples of how he uses internationals as part of his redemptive plan. And I’m really excited when I read the Scripture and I read a story like Abraham. I mean here’s the father of faith who God called to be an international. He obeyed God and went, and then God used him to start the lineage of Christ. Used him as a… giving the promise to bless all nations.
You think about Moses. Moses was an international. Left his home of Egypt and then God called him to go back. And what an impact he had! God used him to deliver people out of Egypt. I mean he gave the law. I mean, Moses is a foundational person in salvation history. And we can just go on. Story after story in the Bible talks about how God uses internationals.
You think about Ruth. Who left her home in faith. And as a result of that, God incorporated her into the lineage of Christ. You think about Joseph who left his home. Now, he didn’t go back home. He stayed in the place where God called him to be. He was faithful there and as a result of that, God used him to provide salvation to the people of his world, and became a precursor of and a picture of the coming Christ.
In the New Testament there’s just so many stories of God using internationals starting in the book of Acts on the day of Pentecost when God assembles the nations. And we see that as a picture of what God is doing today, by the way. This is the modern Pentecost. God is assembling the nations here – in our Jerusalem, in your city, in my city. And then we have the stories, individual stories of impact like the Ethiopian eunuch, who was reached away from his home. God sent Philip to meet him on the desert road and then sent the Ethiopian back to Africa to begin to church there. That’s impact! That’s exciting! Wouldn’t you liked to have been Philip?
God used him to open up a whole new area in the gospel You know, that’s possible for us too. There are Ethiopians on our campus. I don’t mean just from Ethopia. I mean there are people that God has sent that we can see that God has prepared and they will be the ones to impact their nation.
And of course there’s the story of the apostle Paul. Did you know Paul was an international student? The reason why he left Tarsus was the study under the Jewish teacher Gamaliel. And it was there after he had completed his studies – kind of like doing postdoctoral research – that God met him on the Damascus road. And then sent Ananias to him to confirm his calling and to pray for him.
And God wants us to be like Ananiases, to go to the Pauls on our campuses that He’s preparing to impact nations. That’s the point – the Scripture reveals to us God plan to use internationals to fulfill His purpose for the nations. Snd He’s still doing it and we get to be a part of it. And so that’s why I get so excited by our vision statement. Because it reveals the heart of God. It shows us that God is going to use internationals to fulfill His purpose and He invites us to be a part of it.
Our values show the specifics on how we’re to go about doing our ministry.
Value 1: Intimacy with Christ and Love for One Another
Our values are going to be the things that really show us more specifically how we’re to go about doing our ministry. The foundational value for our ministry is, “Intimacy with Christ and loving one another.” If we’re going to serve international students we have to have a vital, growing relationship with Christ. We need to have His love in our heart so that it overflows. So that what we do in our service comes out of a living relationship with Christ.
We don’t want anybody to just feel like, “Get involved in ministry. Do. Do. DO!” No. We want people to be connected to Christ. This means before you do anything else in your ministry, we hope that you’re going to take time to hear from God, to hear his affirming Word, to be secure in your identity as a child of God, and to live that love relationship. If you get sidetracked from that, then you’re not going to be very effective in ministry. So that’s why it’s a foundational value. We don’t want to just talk about how we do ministry in the “outer.” We want to talk about how we do ministry in the “inner.”
But we also realize that we’re committed to do ministry together. We don’t want people who are just solo international student ministry people. We want people who are committed to work together with others to see the vision fulfilled. And that’s why it talks about “loving one another” and these one another’s. The reality is Jesus told us that the way that people are going to know that our message is true, is how we relate to one another. And so we need to give students an opportunity to see how that is lived out.
And that’s why we encourage every IFI ministry to have a City Impact Team. That City Impact Team are those people who are committed to the vision together who need to love one another in the process of serving international students, so the students can see that. And then they will be attracted to the message that we’re sharing with them because they see the reality in our lives.
An example of how we’ve done that in our local ministry here is our leadership team read a book together called, “Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership.” Now, I’m not saying you have to read this book. I’m just using it as an illustration. We read this together and discussed it together to talk about our inner life. To make sure that what we were doing in our ministry flowed out of our relationship to Christ. I want to encourage you to have a group of people that you recruit that are with you that you can share life together with. And if you do that and you love Christ together, you will be living out this value that is so foundational in IFI.
The second value I’d like to unpack with you is this value of “Hospitality in partnership with local churches.” When we talked about the “serve” part of our vision statement, the reality is at the heart of that is hospitality. Because hospitality means that we’re going to develop the type of relationship with people where we invite them into our life and hopefully into our homes. Where we can share genuine life together.
Hospitality is so vital. That’s why the Scripture tells us, “Do not forget to practice hospitality.” And the reality is it’s a challenge in our culture for people to take the time necessary to invite people into their lives. So we want to, first of all, demonstrate that – we want you to practice hospitality – and then also for you to teach others how to do it. We want to help local churches and Christians in churches realize this is for them!
Wherever you are, there’s probably going to be a lot more students that are going to need relationships then you can provide. You can relate to some, but there’s all these other students that you won’t be able to relate to. And that’s where this hospitality in partnership with local churches is so important. We cannot fulfill the vision without lots of people being involved. So the hospitality aspect here means that they get to see us when we’re facing difficulties in our life, how we respond. They get to see how we treat our children, if we’re married. How we haveour priorities in life. All that’s going to be the way they can see see the gospel lived out in our lives.
So this hospitality value is essential. We can’t do our ministry without the practice of hospitality. Now one of the things I believe is that God has raised up IFI, an international student ministry, in order to revitalize the church. But this is almost like a lost art in the church. It’s something not on the radar. And there are cultural reasons for that, there’s family reasons for that. But we have a message to give to the church that can make them alive spiritually. Because it’s very interesting – that verse that I quoted from Hebrews 13:2 which said, “Don’t forget to show hospitality to strangers” – Do you know why God said we should do that? It could have said, “Don’t forget to show hospitality because internationals are really needy.” You know, they need our help, they need our relationship. Or it could have even been big picture, “Don’t forget to practice hospitality because this is a means of fulfilling the Great Commission! Because through this internationals are going to hear the gospel and they’re going to go home and impact nations!” That would have been good too.
But the reality that God said is this: “Don’t forget to show hospitality to strangers because some by so doing have entertained angels without knowing it.” In other words, God had a blessing for them. God had a surprise for them. He was going to show up in their lives in a way that they had an experience with God that it would be so wonderful that they would want to keep doing it. And of course he’s referring to the story of Abraham, but in others too.
I’ve been very interested to study the Scripture and to see all the different stories of hospitality where blessings flow into people’s lives. Where they have children that they would not have been able to have, that they have resurrection from the dead, they have a financial provision that takes place in their life. I think we have a strong encouragement for people out of the Scriptures, and then out of our own experience with international students to encourage them, “God wants to bless you through the this. Yes, He wants to impact nations. But this is not a dry, boring, laborious type of work. It’s labor of love that results in blessings.
So if we can give that message and invite people into it and then train them how to do it – this is vital. We don’t just tell them, “You should do this.” But we want to show them how to do it. Demonstrate it and then train them how to do it. Then we can help a lot more people to get involved in the practice of biblical hospitality.
Let’s talk about the third value: Life Involvement Discipleship. Now you’ve probably heard the word “discipleship” before. It’s a pretty common word in the Christian community. It’s important to understand what we mean by “discipleship.” We’re not talking about a particular program. We’re not talking about a set number of lessons you go through. We do have the Discipleship Pathway which is really a principle/guide to what we want to see take place. Not a step-by-step / this is exactly how you do it.
But we do want you to understand that the goal of the discipleship is a process by which we invest deeply into the lives of our international friends, seeing what the calling is on their lives, and then equipping them to fulfill that calling. We want to be able to provide the practice of spiritual disciplines for them, we want to help them grow in ministry skills, and we want to see life transformation so that their character is changed into Christ-likeness. And that’s going to be when we take the time to personally invest in them.
You know, the “service” part – we hope every international student in your area can be served. We hope that there will be a mobilization effect so that every student can experience Christian love. But not every student is going to be discipled. This is the smaller number that we invest more deeply in. That’s a vital part for us to fulfill our vision together. You and I are going to find those students that God has given to use, that we’re going to be faithful to. We’re going to go deep into their lives, we’re going to speak to their hearts, we’re going to share our everything together with them with the hope and the desire that they can then grow up spiritually. They can become a leader, and they can impact their nation.
Now there are some things we can suggest to you to help to go about doing it. For example, this is a picture of a discipleship group. They do use some material called “Masterlife,” which a number of us have found to be very helpful. We’re not saying you have to use that material. But this is a picture of a group that went through that process together. I also want to mention that one of the unique contributions that IFI has been making has been this special training program called the ISEED program. And this is a 9-month to 1-year training program that we have for Christian international students who have already said they want to be prepared to serve Christ. And so we invest a lot in them.
Now currently, that’s in Columbus, but we’re hoping you are going to do something similar eventually where you’re at. You might not have the capacity or the resources at the beginning to do that, but we want you to see what the ISEED program looks like, of how to commit time to international students for their spiritual growth so they can be ready and prepared to go back home. As we practice life-involvement discipleship, we’re going to find that you and I can make a unique contribution.
Dave and Charmaign Albright are a couple who in their retirement were looking for how they could serve Christ. And I met David when I was on campus. And I saw this man sitting there with a very focused conversation with an international. I didn’t even know that he was involved with IFI at the time, but I thought, “Boy! Look at that relationship there. I bet you that’s a guy involved with IFI.” So I went up and I introduced myself and asked him if he was with International Friendships. He said “yes.” And he introduced me to his conversation partner that he had been meeting with regularly, weekly, and they were sharing in each other lives.
So I talked with David about what he was doing with international students. And David wanted to get further involved. So one of the things that came up is there was a couple in my Bible discussion group. He was from Turkey and she was from China. And David and Charmaign took this couple under their wings. They had them in their home, they spent time with them, they shared their lives with them and they helped them to prepare for marriage.
And in fact, before they got married, the young woman lived in their home with them and could see about how their marriage operated. They deeply invested in this couple’s life. And I think that is the type of thing that resulted in when they moved to another campus, they said, “We want to minister to international students on this other campus.” And they are now engaged regularly in Bible study, leading Bible studies with internationals on their campus. It’s because they got trained. Because they had someone to invest in their lives while they were here.
Like David and Charmaign, you can invest your life into the lives of international students, and have a multiplying effect in your ministry.
I’d like to talk to you about our fourth value: God-honoring stewardship practices. Now we want to do our ministry to the glory of God and that means doing it well. It means doing it with integrity. You know, there’s going to be a lot of different things we can do in ministry and sometimes that can mean that we might not do them well.
I’m concerned for you that when you hear about all the different ways and the different things that are involved in international student ministry, that you might feel overwhelmed. Well, it doesn’t all happen at once. We want to see this multiplication of volunteers. We want to see this multiplication through the lives of international students. But you don’t start out with 50 volunteers, you start out with a few volunteers. And if you serve them well and you the training well and you do it excellently it will build.
And the same thing will be with the students you invest in. You may not start with discipling a lot of international students. If you start with one and you do it well it will have a multiplying effect. Organizationally the way we do things is, we want to do them in a way that will bring honor to God. When someone sees our ministry they say, “Boy! They do what they do well.”
I think that’s even in our Startup Kit. We put a lot of time and effort into making this because we want to do a good job in helping you. I think when you look at our newsletters that come out, we try and do a good job with them. And when you write your newsletter we hope you’re going to communicate well to those people are praying and supporting you so that they will be encouraged and they will say, “Boy! This is a good ministry.”
Now, one of the ways that we demonstrate this value is by being part of the Evangelical Council on Financial Accountability (EFCA). This is an organization that set up these standards for Christian organizations to ensure that they have the highest level of financial accountability. Just as an example, we are required in IFI to have an outside audit where they come in and examine our books, so that every donor can have the assurance that when they’re giving to IFI that the funds are being used for their intended purpose and that we’re managing them well. I think that’s important for you to know because when you communicate with people who want to know can they trust IFI as an organization that’s going to handle their giving properly, you can assure them IFI has demonstrated that they’re going to do that through their membership in the ECFA.
And that type of integrity is seen not just in membership with ECFA but I can tell you I feel so privileged to work with the people that I’m working with who have high standards for the way that we do events whenever an event is put on. They put the time into it to make sure that students are served well, the volunteers are served well, that the event runs well. And that takes time and preparation, and that goes into it.
I think about the way that we do our welcome of students and provide information so host families can do it well. All of that will bear good fruit if we do our ministry in a way that demonstrates we’re giving the time and attention to show that it’s important enough that we want to do it well.
Now you may not be organizationally gifted and sometimes when I hear, “Oh! I don’t know if I could do my newsletter well.” Well, there are other people who are willing to help. This is also the reason why you need a team. That’s why the City Impact Team is necessary. For people with different skills and abilities to come together. So that where you may be weak someone else is strong. And then the ministry can be balanced out.
And so that’s why I hope you’ll be committed to be honest enough where you need help and looking for others who have those gifts and abilities who can help you. And then we’ll be able to do this ministry and an even better way.