During my language year abroad, I had the opportunity to study at university in Spain. This was an amazing experience but also a deeply challenging time for me. Throughout my first few years at university, I had friends who were international students and I thought I understood what it was like to be one, having grown up in Sri Lanka and come to the UK at the age of 10. I was wrong.

I did not know what it was like to go and try and make my home in a culture that was not my own, communicate in a language that was not my heart language and step out on my own to live in a country miles away from my family and friends. This experience showed me the amount of bravery and courage that international students have and how amazing it is to have a God who is with you when you feel isolated, alone and out of place.

It has now been a few months since the university term began and international students who have decided to study in the UK have started to get a feel for their course and what it is like to live in the UK. For some this may still be exciting and to others more daunting. International students are coming to the UK to learn through the courses they are enrolled on and to learn about British culture. However, surely for us, the greatest thing they can learn is what it means to be a follower of Jesus – one of His disciples. Jesus knew what it was like to feel like a stranger in a foreign land. Jesus understands what these students are going through. We have such a great opportunity to welcome radically and share the good news of Christ with people who are searching for a sense of belonging and home.

So why is this important for you? You may not have had an opportunity like I did to be an international student and to understand what it is like. Though this helped me to have a heart for sharing Jesus with international students, even without this experience, when we choose to follow Christ, we are called to be moved to compassion for the foreigner and the alien (Deuteronomy 10:19). Much of the university experience for these students must be very foreign and alien to them. In the case of many international students, who come to study here, the UK is a country they are not citizens of and we are called by God to welcome them.


According to data for 2019/20, there are around half a million international students studying degrees in the UK, but often when these students have finished studying, they will not recommend studying here. Also, the friends they make will often be other students from their home country or other international students. What a sad reality this is, that international students do not feel they want other people to choose to study in the UK and do not feel welcomed. What an amazing opportunity the church has to change this, especially as some of these students come from countries where Jesus’ name is not able to be preached. How can the church cross these barriers and be radically countercultural? Jesus calls us in Matthew 28:19 – 20 to go and make disciples of all nations. When the nations are on our doorstep, how do we respond in obedience to Jesus’ command?

What could this look like practically?

-Be intentional. Don’t just ask how they are doing, take the time to listen and create opportunities for them to share and engage with you. Show an interest in their story and their cultural background. Make an effort to go out of your way and start a conversation with them, as they might be nervous to start one with you.

-Be patient. It often takes time to build relationships, especially if English is not their first language. Create spaces for them to feel comfortable and keep showing an interest.

-Be open. Share your culture with them, your experiences and what Christ has done in your life. This then gives them the space to share with you. Hospitality and sharing food are a wonderful way to do this. Check out Lynette’s story at the end of this article to see the impact this can have.

-Be humble. You may think you know a lot but if you were placed in an environment outside of what you are familiar with, you will probably feel very lost. Give them opportunities to teach you. You will be surprised how much you learn from them.

-Be prayerful. Jesus says, I will be with you”, and he sends us out with that knowledge. He says it is in His strength so we can be prayerful as we interact with international students. Also, we can offer to pray for them and together with them. We pray to a God who listens and answers.

"“I came along to church because Christians were the most welcoming people to me in the UK.”"

The deep friendships I have experienced and the new insight I have gained from Jesus opening my heart to international students has brought such richness into my life. The beautiful thing about God is that He is a relational God, and He speaks through us as we build relationships. An international friend in my first year of university said at a CU gathering, I came along to church because Christians were the most welcoming people to me in the UK.” She grew up in a country where Jesus was not allowed to be preached and my church and I had the great opportunity to share Him with her. The amazing joy that she had when she found out that Jesus died but then rose again challenged me to see the amazing miracle that it was.

When we come into relationship with Christ, we become part of a wider family. For me, going to Spain and knowing that there was a church family waiting for me filled me with a sense of peace. As we approach the Christmas holiday season, which is a time for remembering Jesus coming to earth (our present home), where can we be welcoming and inviting international students into our church family who may be far away from home? Especially as many of these students will not be able to go home for Christmas due to Covid. Let’s share with them our homes and the good news. For international students coming to the UK, the majority will feel out of their comfort zone. What we can offer is a sense of welcome and belonging and who knows how God will use these divine connections.

If you would like to find out more about how to share Jesus over a meal with international students, watch Lynette’s story and check out Friends International.