The day is finally arriving when I will become President Emeritus of International Students, Inc. Many people are asking me what I intend to do with a good bit more time after January 1st.
My simple answer is that I am going to do what I do every day: ask the Lord what He wants me to do that day!
Honestly, I have many mixed emotions swirling around in my head and heart right now. These 18 years with this ministry have been so special for Susan and for me. We have seen the Lord do marvelous things in answer to our prayers. The Lord is so faithful! Yet, we expect the Lord to continue to be faithful and to lead us as He has all these years. We just are not very sure at this point what direction that will be!
For the next nine months, I will be available to Dr. Seng Tan for encouragement, counsel, and advice. I will enjoy serving him as he shoulders the leadership of this great ministry before the Lord.
I am thinking of working on a book on international student ministry. I need to do that while the stories and memories are still fresh.
I am looking forward to some time to reflect and process much I have learned over the last 18 years. The Lord has taught me so much, and I want to make sure I give Him adequate praise and appreciation for how He has led me, schooled me, and coached me. This will take some unhurried time away to be quiet and to listen to that still small voice.
I want Susan to have me to herself to do some things together which she laid aside in order to meet the needs of the ministry and me. I am not sure what those things are at this point, but after January 1st, I will ask her if she has a list! (What do you think she will say?)
Please know that I will continue to pray for this ministry and the people who lead it. The Lord has blessed so many lives through ISI up until now, and I am excited about what the next decade will bring as the Lord enables it!
Blessings to all of you! Drop me a personal note in care of the home office, and I will look forward to reading your thoughts!
Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year for so many reasons! When thinking about international students, Christmas is a time to have students into your home or apartment. Do things that feel like family!
When we share our stories and traditions with students, we are sharing ourselves—and that is intrinsically interesting. It cuts across cultures and stimulates questions and discussions. After telling your story (or stories!), ask if you can share the most important story you know: the reason for the season. Share the story of Jesus’ miraculous birth, childhood, adult ministry, death, and resurrection. Try to do that in just four minutes! (You can do it with practice!)
If you have a small gift for your student friends, that would make the time even more special. Possibilities might be an electric tea pot, a coffee maker, a small LED flashlight, a Christmas lily, a keychain, or a ballpoint pen. Keep it simple, but wrap it like other presents and place it under the tree.
Singing Christmas carols can be special if there are several Americans in the group who know the music to sing. Purchase a dozen inexpensive Christmas carol booklets for the group to use. If you teach two or three carols to the students, then you could go to several houses near you to carol the occupants (if that is appropriate in your neighborhood).
Christmas foods are always fun—cookies, eggnog, mull cider, hot chocolate—whatever is normal for your family and cultural background.
Follow up your visit with students with a note telling them that their presence in your home made the holidays so special and joyous for you and your friends/family!
May your personally reflecting upon the joy and peace Christ brings to us be the best gift you give yourself this Christmas!
Principles cited in this blog: Christmas is a wonderful time to deepen relationships by sharing ourselves with students.
Application for ISI ministry: If students show particular interest in the Christmas story, offer to discuss it more at a later date with anyone is interested.
Next blog topic: What’s next?
Doug Shaw with Derrah Jackson
Can you imagine the anxiety you would have if you were to do graduate-level study in a foreign country in a foreign language where you don’t understand the culture or the education system?! Well, international students experience just that.
One of the most frequent complaints our staff hear is the level of anxiety and stress students to whom they minister are experiencing. It is no surprise. Many students are raised in a performance-based culture where success is the most important value. They have heard this all their lives from parents, siblings, friends, and relatives.
Often, there is a corresponding issue of anger at the amount of pressure they experience. When this anger is stuffed down inside, it manifests itself as depression. Characteristic of depression is loss of appetite, loss of sleep, and general malaise which only makes the circumstances worse. When depression hurts long enough, students consider any way to relieve the stress and emotional pain—even suicide.
For Christian students, we can teach them verses like I Corinthians 10:13 or Philippians 4:6-8 to learn to discipline their thinking. And we can ask them to call us when they are struggling.
No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it. (NIV)
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy -- think about such things. (NIV)
For students not yet believers, we can comfort them and encourage them with good listening and our presence. We can share stories of how the Lord has ministered to us in times of stress and depression by focusing on his love and omnipotence over the circumstances of life. However, when depression and suicidal thoughts persist, we are responsible to help them get the professional help they need. The universities often offer such help free to students, but it may be necessary to take the student to a local emergency care center for medical help. Do not take lightly persistent depression and suicidal thoughts. In cases of suicidal thoughts, ask the student for a promise that they will call you before doing harm to themselves. Most students will honor such a promise.
Principles cited in this blog: Stress and anxiety are normal for international students. Persistent depression and suicidal thoughts require immediate professional assistance.
Application for ISI ministry: Great listening and appropriate presence in the lives of international students give us an opportunity to be there in times of crisis for them. We know or can learn quickly what the local resources are for help in times of deep emotional crises.
Next blog topic: Final exams and how to help
Doug Shaw with Derrah Jackson
Exam time is one of those times of special stress. This is also an opportunity for us to bless our international student friends.
Chances are good that your student friends will not take the time to hang out with you during exam preparation times, but you can drop by their apartment to drop off a “care package.” Cookies, brownies, nuts, or something easily warmed up in a microwave would be most appreciated! You are just letting them know that you know it is a time of stress for them and that you care!
Praying for the student’s success might be something the Lord would use to draw the student to himself later. Specifically pray for memory recall, insight, depth of understanding of the material in the class, and awareness of nuances someone not from this culture might miss.
Find out when the specific exams are taking place, but especially when the student will be free following exams. Invite the student to your home or apartment for some cultural understanding of the Christmas season and holiday traditions. Many students plan travel right after exams are completed, so your invitation needs to be timely for the student to include it in their plans.
Words of encouragement and confidence in the student’s abilities are always appropriate. Some Asian students will say things to avoid seeming confident, but your assurances are important.
So, while students will not be very available for contact during exams, these are critical times to show you care for the student and their needs.
Principles cited in this blog: Exams are times of particular stress and your efforts at caring are most appreciated. Words of encouragement are always appreciated.
Application for ISI ministry: Letting students know that you are praying for them can be something the Lord might use to draw them to himself. Inexpensive care packages are a wonderful reason to stop by a student’s apartment.
Next blog topic: Students graduating and others seeking internships
Doug Shaw with Derrah Jackson
The Scriptures exhort us to give thanks in all circumstances (I Thess 5:18), so the holiday of THANKSGIVING is not the only time we are to be rejoicing! The traditional meal is a wonderful opportunity to invite students into our homes.
Some staff have used Abraham Lincoln’s Thanksgiving proclamation as a discussion starter. Each year the U.S. President makes a Thanksgiving proclamation. Just type “presidential proclamation on thanksgiving” into a browser and see if it doesn’t pop up. Sometimes it only appears the day before Thanksgiving. Again, this is a good discussion starter.
Inviting our guests to list things they are thankful for is a fun exercise. If appropriate, you might share how you are thankful to God for his manifold grace experienced in your life. Again, if appropriate, you might ask your guest WHO they are thankful to for help and provision this past year. Follow up with questions to explore their response deeper.
After the meal, there is always time for games and football if that is what your family does. But be sure to ask about the student’s plans after exams are completed. Many students travel and visit friends, but if students are going to be here during the Christmas holidays, there are many opportunities to follow up with more invitations (church Christmas programs, Christmas meals, or just stopping by for some hot cider and desserts).
With all of these activities, I want to remind you that the key is always prayer—before, during, and afterwards. The Lord made it clear that we all need much more enablement than we typically imagine (see John 15:5). After your time with students, you will know much better how to pray for them.
Have a blessed Thanksgiving! The Lord bless you and your family… and your outreach to and prayers for international students!
Doug Shaw with Derrah Jackson
One of most difficult and threatening circumstances is when international students have an acute sickness or physical crisis. One staff member received a call from a student friend who was in the emergency room at a hospital and thought he was dying. Turns out the student had a kidney stone, and it was the worst pain he had ever experienced. The staff member explained it all to him. The student was glad to learn he was not dying.
The attack for this student occurred when he was in Walmart, and he was taken to the hospital in an ambulance. The costs were astounding to him. One of the ways we can help students is to get them to appropriate care they can afford.
Some universities have an infirmary where students can go for free (as part of their student services fees). If specialists are required, they are scheduled either at the infirmary or in the physician’s office by contract with the school. Health insurance which students are required to buy is typically major-medical hospitalization insurance and of little value in routine matters. If the university does not have on-campus services, the next best thing is a nearby minor emergency clinic our urgent care clinic as a first place to start because the costs are so much less than an emergency room.
One of the key needs of many international students is dental care. One of the benefits of having a Friendship Partner who can act as an advocate is that they know local resources the student would not necessarily know about—like a dental school who needs folks to practice on and which offers free clinics. Sometimes charity organizations have clinics where there is no fee or just a small fee for services.
It is important to check with the universities’ international office to learn what medical resources are available and how to interface with those services. This subject may have been covered in the school’s orientation, but students may have missed out on the information.
Recovery and rehabilitation may be needed where the student needs to be near adults who care about them. Many of our staff have had students come and live in their homes while recovering from an illness or surgery. Often, a parent from their home country will come and stay with the student to help care for them.
Principles cited in this blog: Knowing the resources of the university plus any options the school provides is key to matching student needs to resources available locally.
Application for ISI ministry: Sometimes students need help and resources they do not possess, and which staff can help provide. Friendship Partners are a great resource here.
Next blog topic: How to help students with anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts.
Doug Shaw with Derrah Jackson
One of our roles as a friend of international students is that of advocate. We may advocate on behalf of the student to landlords, retailers, neighbors, or professors and university administrators. Having someone on your side who knows the nuances of the language and culture is incredibly helpful to a student.
One grad student felt she was being slighted by the university doctor in the care of her broken ankle. Our staff member put on a tie and white shirt and accompanied the student to her appointment with the doctor. The doctor asked who he was, and the staff member simply replied “a friend”—but he looked like a lawyer. The doctor was very patient with the student and answered all of her questions that visit. The staff member said nothing, but his presence changed the nature of the interaction between the student and the doctor. Thus, the power of advocacy.
Sometimes students do not catch the intricacies of university policies or the idiosyncrasies of a professor’s requirements. Knowing the details of the university systems, or just knowing enough to ask what the details of the process are, is sufficient for the student to get access to the help they need. Sometimes it may be necessary to inquire about an appeal process and the steps to get a grievance addressed by a higher authority.
One advocate for a student who was being prevented from graduating simply read the school’s printed procedures, ascertained that the school did not follow those, and won an appeal to the dean which allowed the student to graduate (after doing one more step).
Careful listening along with prayer, patience, politeness, and persistence are the keys to effective advocacy for a student no matter what the issue. It may be necessary to explain some details to the student and provide coaching so the student knows what to say and how to act in the midst of the process. Your patient explanations are worth a fortune to the student.
Part of the coaching you provide may be to explain why taking the circumstances personally (and becoming angry) will not help one’s case advance in the direction the student would prefer. Our modeling reactions for the student will help provide a standard of practice that will be helpful later in life.
Principles cited in this blog: Advocacy is a powerful help to students who are in trouble. Sometimes our simple presence is enough for the student to get the help the need. Our careful listening, praying, and patience with the process is a helpful model to the student.
Application for ISI ministry: Sometime in each student’s experience with the university system they will feel slighted or transgressed. Our presence to help and to guide them is invaluable.
Next blog topic: What to do when students are physically sick
Doug Shaw with Derrah Jackson
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