What part of the holidays do you look forward to the most?
Could you believe that there is a portion of the population on your campus that does not look forward to the holidays very much?
An American student’s preparation for the break involves making plans to catch up with friends and family back home, booking tickets for fun trips and activities with people they love, making or shopping for gifts, and getting ready to participate in the multiple anchoring rituals of Thanksgiving and Christmas.
In contrast, the international student prepares for the holidays by wondering how to eat while the school cafeteria closes over the break, and figuring out how to overcome the challenge of loneliness as many of their American friends are away for an extended period of time. On top of this, they have to navigate feelings of sadness as they miss their families back home, while simultaneously being bombarded with posts about celebrations on social media that they aren’t a part of.
In fact, the holiday season can be one of the most isolating experiences in an international student’s life. By virtue of their distance from their home countries, internationals cannot be with the most important aspect of the holiday season ~ their families.
On the college campus the nations are our neighbors. As people who carry the mandate to “love our neighbor,” how can we love our international friends through the holidays?
Here are five practical ways to offer Kingdom hospitality, as Jesus’ hands extended into the lives of the internationals on your campus.
- Swap stories of holiday celebrations with your friend.
Do you know the biggest holiday in your international student’s home country? Ask them. Invite them to coffee or a meal and make the topic of conversation all about them and how they celebrate their favorite holiday back home. Give them the opportunity to share memories about friends and family members that are close to them. In the absence of loved ones, remembering them is cathartic, especially when it is accompanied with reciprocal sharing. Once they’ve shared, share with them some of your favorite things about the holidays. Funny stories, or family customs, things you observe like everyone else and things unique to your family, or anything related to the holidays are fair game. Paul tells us to share not just the gospel but our own lives (1 Thessalonians 2:8); this activity allows us to share life with our international friends.
- Invite friends to come WITH you to celebrate thanksgiving or Christmas.
Whether it is a church celebration, a Friendsgiving, or your family’s holiday celebration, invite your international friend to come along with you. During the event make sure you are available to be with them. Ask questions, and expose them to new dishes, rituals and traditions as they experience the festivities with you. Anticipate any questions they might have. Prepare them for what they might see, eat or experience. Remember to celebrate with them instead of just preparing the event for them.
- Share your favorite holiday tradition with your friend.
The holidays offer so many opportunities to have an immersive cultural experience. How you celebrate the holidays is a point of great interest to internationals. Invite your international student friend to experience your favorite holiday tradition with you. Putting up Christmas lights, making Christmas ornaments, shopping for or cooking a thanksgiving meal, making gingerbread
houses, and watching holiday themed movies are all excellent ways to include your friend. Is there something not on this list? If it’s your favorite holiday thing, invite an international friend to do it with you.
- Think personally not programmatically
It is easy to take the route of taking your international student friend to a corporate celebration designed for them. Many Chi Alpha’s have Thanksfest celebrations. Outreaches to the nations can even take an international flavor during the holiday season. While these are wonderful and necessary, individuals tend to get lost in the shuffle. How do you follow up with your international friend after an event?
Think about your international student friend and the specific challenges they’d face over the holiday season and create ways to alleviate their specific challenge. Make plans to keep in touch over the break. Help them troubleshoot navigating a closed campus and the needs that cannot be met as they used to be when classes were in session. Be available, and let the Holy Spirit lead you to be a life-giving influence in the life of your international friend.
- Invite your friend to church or Chi Alpha celebrations
Find ways to share the meaning behind Christmas and Thanksgiving. Sometimes the commercial nature of Christmas can overshadow its true meaning. Invite your friend to attend a church service or a Chi Alpha celebration. Candle light services, New Year’s Eve services, and other celebrations can be the spark that ignites questions about the reason why we celebrate. God might use this opportunity to provide an effective witness to the good news of Jesus through these events.
With intentionality, and thoughtfulness we can become the best neighbors to the nations among us this holiday season.
Which one of these 5 ways will you try in order to extend kingdom hospitality to the nations this year?