“Find some nice old people”: That was the response to a question posed by Tom Elliff, current president of the International Mission Board (IMB). Some years ago, Tom asked a veteran campus minister at an Oklahoma university how to engage students in the life of the local church, especially those who were from international areas. The campus minister surprised him with this statement about finding “some nice old people.”
Much is behind that statement that needs to be fleshed out for us as we seek to relate to students in our college and university settings. Obviously, many of these young adults are away from home for the first time in their lives, and unconsciously they long for some mentoring and nurturing. Most median-aged adults still face the challenges of having children still at home. Older adults usually are not dealing with those responsibilities.
When students visit our churches, a welcome means more than a handshake and a smile. It means saying, “Do you have any lunch plans for the day?” It also expands to a wider appeal, “Do you have some friends who would like to join you?” These basic but beautiful invitations make a huge difference in the “feeling at home factor” as the students are actually away from home.
In a recent meeting of state executive directors at the IMB International Learning Center, I heard a sad story of an international student who never felt at home while here in the States. The young man was leaving to go back home following his graduation. In preparation for departure, he said to his roommate, “Here is a suitcase you can have.” Puzzled by the statement of his friend, the roommate asked, “What is in the suitcase?”
The response to that question is heartbreaking. The international student replied, “It is a suitcase filled with gifts from my country. I was supposed to hand them out to the people who invited me into their homes, but no one ever invited me to be their guests, so you can give the gifts to whomever you please”
Few statements can cut to the heart any more than one that reflects a lack of hospitality. In the New Testament days, Christians personified this ministry in a Christlike fashion. It was a major ministry of the church in terms of reaching others for our Lord. If we are to emulate the early church, we must learn or relearn the meaning and purpose of this ministry in the name of Christ. Every church, regardless of size, can be hospitality ministers to students and others.
Each year, college and university students flock to campuses all over our country. They come from all parts of the world and from cities and towns closer to home. Each of them is facing their need for a home away from home. I pray that our churches will become that home place for them.
“Finding some nice old people” might be a good beginning place for such ministry. However, all of us need to be conscious of such needs in the lives of people who will shape the future of the world!