On the eve of their country’s collapse, four Middle Eastern students were hiding out with their families in the center of the city. Twenty-four hours later their capital city fell to the invading army and not long after they were taken to the capital of this new empire. As newly expatriated international students, they were forced to learn a new language, adopt new customs, try new foods, and take on new names – in effect, take on a new identity – and serve the very regime that had ended their own.
Not only did they learn to adapt despite grave difficulties and fierce opposition, but they also rose to senior levels of leadership within their new country and as a result had an impact far beyond any they could have imagined before. Who were these international students? Well, their moms called them Daniel, Hannaniah, Mishael, and Azariah.
Last year the United States hosted 723,277 international students. Not only is the U.S the most popular destination for higher education, hosting 50% more international students than its nearest competitor, the UK, it also dominates the field of higher education having 7 out of the world’s top 10 universities. In the worldwide classroom of higher education, America sets the curve, and international students are on the leading edge.
Many of today’s political leaders, engineers, and scientists were educated in the U.S., and those that didn’t return to their home country form an essential part of the of cultural and economic growth in the U.S. International education has changed a bit since days of Daniel, but many of today’s international students face similar challenges and opportunities that Daniel and his friends faced.
What can we learn from Daniel’s experience that might help us appreciate and help the international students among us in a way that honors God and understands the times in which we live?
The Struggle of Dual Identity
Daniel and his friends struggled with their dual-identity, and so do international students today. Just as Daniel and his friends struggled to maintain their home-culture identity while adapting to their new host-culture identity, so international students face the daily pressures of differences in language, communication patterns, cuisine, social norms, etc.
God instructed the Israelites to “treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and . . . love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt” (Lev.19:34), and we likewise were once foreigners and strangers to God but have been shown kindness, hospitality, and grace through the welcoming work of the cross. How could we not extend these same graces to the foreigners among us?
Sent with Purpose
Daniel and his friends were sent by God for His glory and purposes among the nations, and so are international students today. Through Daniel God made His goodness and glory known throughout the ancient world, leading eventually to the reestablishment of Jerusalem under Cyrus, making possible the ministry of Jesus and the spread of the Gospel throughout the Roman Empire.
When Paul was in the academic center of this 1st century Western world, Athens, he emphasized this sovereign work of God to place peoples and nations so that “they should seek God, and. . . find him” (c.f. Acts 17:26-31). During Paul’s two years teaching in an academic context in Ephesus, students came and went such that “all the residents of Asia heard the word of the Lord” (Acts 19:10).
As students come and go from this academic center of the world is it too hard to imagine that God might have brought them here “that they should seek God… and find Him” and that the residents of not only Asia or the U.S., but also the whole world, might “hear the word of the Lord”?
An Ever Changing World
Daniel and his friends were caught in the middle of drastic global changes, and so are international students today. Daniel and his friends studied, worked, and lived in the midst of dramatic social and political upheavals. Today, the world is opening up and changing socially, economically, and politically in unprecedented ways.
College is a critical time for students to develop their convictions and worldview, and there is no more accessible place or more influential setting to help shape the future leaders of this changing world than in international student communities on universities in the U.S.
The future is open and the opportunities are great, and we have the privilege of being part of the lives of the future leaders of the world today. Will they lead well or poorly? Now is the time to help them become the kind of leaders that will honor God and lead well.
Great influence is possible if we will but welcome the stranger among us, help them discern God’s hand in their life, and send them into the world equipped to lead well as citizens of God’s kingdom living within the kingdoms of this world.
 Open Doors 2011 Press Release. http://www.iie.org/Who-We-Are/News-and-Events/Press-Center/Press-Releases/2011/2011-11-14-Open-Doors-International-Students
 Times Higher Education World University Rankings, 2011-2012. http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/world-university-rankings/2011-2012/top-400.html