There’s No Place Like Home – If You Can Get There
“There’s no place like home.” That’s what the experts say anyway. Most students will get a taste of it this week. We’ll be off campus and that’s what counts. Off campus but maybe not without books and a laptop stuffed with all those papers that backed up because we put them off or got distracted (See study helps in The Horror). Still don’t have that topic? Try these. “Cymbal Playing Bongo Monkeys and Their Effect on the Struggling European Economy.” “The Ocarina – Evil Cousin of the Harmonica.” “The Carrot and Why We Should Do Something About It.” Just trying to be a helper here. If you use one of these, I get a mention in a footnote. No matter how Thanksgiving goes, we know Christmas break will be coming up fast if we survive exams. Then we are OUT OF HERE! ELVIS IS LEAVING THE BUILDING! WE ARE GETTIN’ OUT OF DODGE!
Let’s face it. Some families are like Thanksgiving break in Oz complete with witches, munchkins and even flying monkeys. But we have the choice. If the flying monkeys at home get to us, maybe a roommate or a sorority sister will take us in. We might be able to go someplace else. Some students on campus won’t see home at Christmas. Or midterm spring break. Or Easter. Or next summer. Not even for a weekend to do dirty laundry for free. Maybe not for the next four to seven years. Who are these homeless waifs on our campuses? Quite simply, the international students from every corner of the globe.
Not that they wouldn’t like to get home but home is China, Saudi Arabia, Nigeria or Azerbaijan. Many of these students come to American universities funded by subsidies from their own country. Left to themselves, the parents couldn’t afford it. In fact, some families count on these students to graduate into jobs so they can support their families back home. No extra money lies around for very expensive plane tickets. Even if these student have the money to fly overseas, leaving the United States can cause serious visa problems making re-entry difficult or impossible.
So they watch, smile and nod while their American friends rush around packing and saying “Merry Christmas” – and then leave. Campuses on Christmas break stand like endowed deserts, like ghost towns with Thai food. I’m talking “X-Files” empty. And loneliness tastes the same in Cambridge, Massachusetts or Chadron, Nebraska. Those who remain bury themselves in their studies and coffee shops. Some drink, either alone or in small groups. Many international students on American campuses can spend as much as seven or eight years in this country without setting foot in an American home. Not once – not even for a minute. If we were in almost any country of the world outside the U.S., we would be invited into a complete stranger’s home within 48 hours for an extended meal.
And they would very much like to be invited! Here’s where we get to do missions without getting the shots and eating weird food. Unless we normally eat weird food, but then, that’s on us. If our campus ministry group gets on campus recognition, we might start with the university office for international students. Be sensitive. They can’t be cheerleaders for our faith (or anyone else’s for that matter) but if they see that we genuinely care about these people, they might help publicize something we plan. So plan something. Some Christians get very creative. Maybe one of the students in our group lives locally and can open up their home. How about somebody in our church? What would happen if we took half a dozen internationals into the home of one of our senior adults to help put up a Christmas tree? The American Christmas Tree is about as close to a family shrine as we get. The tree topper and ornaments tell the story of who we are and how we’ve navigated our years. Have the senior tell the story behind some of the ornaments. Have our group provide the munchies. And there’s still plenty of time to slap up flyers around campus.
Another way to get started with this in a way that could open a big door that would stay open beyond Christmas is to just talk with internationals. They’re eager, even passionate, to sharpen their English. To learn correct pronunciations, grammar and idioms, they will sit for hours with anyone who will help them by correcting their English so they lose as much of their accent as possible. A warning, however. Don’t start this unless you intend to stay with it because once helped, these international students will come back. Any campus ministry wanting to have a sustained ministry impact that also builds good street cred with the university need look no farther than here.
“…I was a stranger and you took me in…whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.” (Matthew 26:40) Not only does this smell like the Jesus thing to do, it solves that eternal riddle of what to do that holiday fruitcake. Prop open our door with it and invite someone in who’s never walked through an American door before. Let them see a little of American Normal, whatever that might be, in an American home – like ours.