This past week our group was able to participate in an International Café put on by a few local churches in the area to welcome new international students coming into Sheffield. These students come into Sheffield to improve their English for a couple weeks before their courses start in the fall. There were over 600 international students coming in to take the English classes, so there are a lot of new people around campus. This made inviting people to the international café very easy, they were very eager to take part in something in their new home… even if they didn’t quite understand what they were going to. We tried to tell them first thing that it was put on by a church, that way they wouldn’t feel like they were lured into something and actually, a lot of international students are interested in learning about christianity.
The café was held each night for the week, our group and people from the other churches in the area were there to greet people as the came in. Tables were set up for people to chat around with snacks and (of course) enough tea to last through the evening. After an hour or so of chatting with whoever came through the door, our team put on a little skit for those gathered. These skits were really fun for us to come up with throughout the week— they had to be easy to understand and relate somehow to deeper things. The skits usually revolved around the things in this life that we pursue thinking they will bring us happiness, and then tying that into Jesus and how He is the only one who can fill those things we are looking for. There was time after the skits for more conversations with a few questions put up to guide discussion. Performing skit was helpful because it brought up spiritual things in a natural way. It is cool to think that for some of these students, this is the first time they have heard anything about the gospel or Jesus, or what Christianity really is. Most of the people we talked to had no context about who Jesus was or what the gospel is, so one challenge (but also good for all of us to do) was to describe what God did on the cross and what that means for us in the easiest way possible. In doing this I have been struck by how at the same time the gospel is so simple, yet so complex. It is simple enough that a child can understand it, but also so complex that it takes us our whole lives to even get a small understanding of God’s goodness, grace, and love behind it.
Anyways, some of the students that attended were really interested in Christianity and want to learn more. One thing that was emphasized in our training before the cafe (by the people who set up the cafe), was ‘going the second mile’. This is the idea that it is one thing for an international student to become a believer (one very awesome and life changing thing), but it can be really hard when that student goes back home to their country and be a Christian. They come from a completely different culture that usually wants nothing to do with God. It is so important that we learn about the culture and life that these students are going back to after their time at the university. And of course that takes time - which is why it is so great that we are connected to a church that will be here after we leave. We have already started to connect these international students to the people at The Crowded House. One night we had tea and dessert at our life group leader’s house, there were five Chinese girls that came who were interested in learning about Christianity. At this small gathering they were able to meet some people involved in our life group, and get to be in an real english home (which doesn’t happen very often for international students). What a cool way the body of Christ works around the world. Even though we are leaving soon (one week! crazy!), these students can spend time getting to know believers during the few years that they will be here. It is a good reminder that God will continue to work here in Sheffield even after we have left. It makes me thankful that He is the ultimate pursuer of people's hearts, and thankful that we get to play a small part in seeing his pursuit of the people here.