(For the sake of accuracy, we should say we love ALL our International students, like Pui, who is from Thailand but was visiting Tokyo this month!)
Over the past few couple of weeks, I have had many opportunities to meet with many of the former university students whom we spent time with doing international student ministry in California, as well as meeting some current students who attend English and Bible classes taught by our pastor’s wife at a local university. I always find that Japanese university students are warm-hearted, friendly and eager to become friends with people from other countries.
This past week, our good friends Jeff and Wendy visited us from California. Though it was their vacation, their priority (other than eating as many different kinds of delicious Japanese food as possible) was meeting up with former international students to see how they are doing and encourage them. As a result, our family was also able to reconnect with many student friends that we had made in California. It was a real blessing to spend time with the students and see how they looked back on the time we all shared together in California with fond memories.
Some of the students made tremendous sacrifices to spend time with us. One student came from over 2 hours away just to spend 90 minutes attending church service with us. Another student met Jeff and Wendy on their arrival in Tokyo after 11pm and walked them to their hotel from their arrival point. Still another student worked until 1:30am one day so he could make sure he could get off work early the next day to meet them for dinner. These are some examples of how much the students value the relationships built with us while they were living overseas.
Another theme I found from talking to the students is that they relish the opportunity to speak English with native speakers, especially those who spent time overseas. One of the things that was important to us in student ministry was that it should always be a safe place for students to practice their English conversation. We were always encouraging and gentle in correcting any of their mistakes. Most students learned to enjoy English conversation with members of our ministry because they didn’t have to be embarrassed about making mistakes.
Spending time with Jeff and Wendy and our former students has rekindled a desire to reach out to university students again. There are 3 universities within a 5-10 minute walk from our church. Our church is large with plenty of room to organize a gathering of students. We have several native English speakers at church and many others who speak English very well as a result of spending time living overseas. And we have a pastor whom I believe can speak to the hearts of students in practical ways, giving them advice from the Bible that can be applied to many of the things they are going through: relationships, job hunting, emotional healing.
We have already started some high level brainstorming with those who might be interested from church on what this kind of ministry might look like. God willing, we’ll launch a monthly gathering early in 2015. Please be in prayer with us as we allow God to guide us in how this ministry should be structured and ask Him to bring many people with a passion for building friendships with university students to serve them.