Is it worthwhile investing in transient people like international students and immigrants?

Last night we said goodbye—yet again—to an international friend. 

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I remember the first time my husband had him over for coffee, maybe a week or two after he showed up at our Sunday fellowship. We found out that a coworker in the city where he had done his PhD had often invited him to events where the Bible was discussed. While completing his doctoral work, he began to think that the faith he had previously mocked had some substance to it. When taking a post-doctoral position meant he needed to move to our city, his coworker directed him to our fellowship. I think he would say that he was not yet a follower of Jesus when he arrived in our city. But he was curious and close.

We knew he was transient, but we befriended him anyway. We shared our table with him, over and over. He graciously ate anything we served him, and visited with anyone whom we placed at the table with him. We celebrated milestones and grieved losses together. We met each others’ parents when they came to town, and got to know each others' coworkers. We watched him declare his desire to follow Jesus by being baptized, grow in his understanding of the Bible, and develop friendships with Jesus followers of all different ages and walks of life. 

Two autumns ago, we started a weekly gathering with him to eat, read the Bible, and pray. Some weeks we ate supper with 10 people, and some weeks we ate just with him. But if he was in town, he was at our table on Thursday night…even last night, before he flew out to his new job in a new country this morning.

Last night he emptied all the leftovers from his kitchen into mine. In my freezer are his leftover strawberries, in my fridge his German sausages, and on my counter his butter in his butter dish. There’s a tote bag in the corner which I think contains his vinegar, oil and salt.

He even left his umbrella in our umbrella holder, and said “I hope it’s not raining on the way home, so I can leave this here.” Standing in our narrow hallway last night, saying goodbye, my heart squeezed. Why do we do this? Why do we love when we know the people we love will leave? 

The scripture that comes to mind whenever I think about this is from John 13:1. “Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.” He calls us to love and to love to the end. Christians are taught to “love one another deeply as brothers and sisters” (Romans 12:10). From the way our hearts were squeezed last night, I knew we had loved our international friend like the brother that he is. And it was only right to love him “until the end”.

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It is worthwhile investing in transient people like international students and immigrants because…

…God says it is worthwhile.

There are only two things in this world that will last into eternity: God’s Word and human souls. When I see the new life that flourished in our friend’s heart in his few years in our city, I am sobered to think what a loss it would have been for eternity, if that friend in his last city had never invited him to investigate the Bible’s claims, and if no one in our fellowship had noticed and welcomed this newcomer.

…you get the chance to invest in another corner of the world.

It boggles my mind to consider this: when one of our international friends comes to Christ (or even comes into contact with His Words), we indirectly have the chance to influence that person’s network, too. As our friend shares what he’s learning in another language, on another continent, in another culture, he reaches people we could never have reached ourselves. Last night our friend asked for prayer for his students and colleagues at his new job, a reminder that part of what he has learned here will affect how he influences others for many years to come.

...many people won’t.

There are many people who dismiss deep relationships with transient people because they don’t see what God sees in them, they don’t have a global vision for what God can do through that investment, or they’re too busy with the relationships they already have.

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When my husband first had our international friend over for coffee, we could not have known that he would become one of our best friends in this city. We took a chance on friendship with him, and our lives were enriched because of it.

We gain much more than we lose, by following God’s command to love the internationals and immigrants He brings into our lives. Today it feels like we lost: we lost our neighbour. But the net result of our relationship with him is gain: we gained a friend and a brother. We gained all the things we learned with and through him. Maybe we will gain more brothers and sisters through him. And someday we’ll eat together again in our Father’s house, and say no more goodbyes.