de30d5f9c4e7a8255e55c040f9426a3bEntering a new culture is like admiring Austin’s Barton Springs pool from the top of the hill and then suddenly getting plunged into its icy plant-filled waters. This is no ordinary pool, and it sure is cold! When students first come to the U.S. for university, what surface knowledge they had from a distance quickly becomes an intimate interaction with all that the U.S. is famous – and infamous – for.

Though students can be helped by following the Chinese proverb to “begin with a single step,” those steps are more confident with the help of a local guide. Lawson Lau, in his book The World at Your Doorstep, serves as a master trainer for such a guide. Lau’s experience as an international student, his skill as a journalist, and his training in communication and culture provide him with the necessary tools to prepare guides for the field of international student ministry.

“Positive interaction among American Christians and international students” is how Lau states the goal of his manual, but his aim is much deeper and broader than this. The church in the U.S. has an incredible opportunity to reach the nations of the world with the love of God and the Gospel of Jesus through international students.

Unfortunately, the church is missing this opportunity. Lau challenges us, “How can we say we’re concerned with God’s worldwide mission when we ignore the world at our doorstep?” His challenge should be taken up by anyone who considers themselves a “missions-minded” Christian, and Lau is ready to give us the tools to get started. Throughout the book, Lau’s aim is thoroughly missional and yet appropriately nuanced with the call to love unconditionally regardless of the response.

Connecting with Internationals

As a former international student, Lau draws from his own experience in the two sections of the book. In the first, he instructs us how to help and connect to students as they arrive in the U.S., and in the second, he covers cultivating friendships, the appropriate and inappropriate ways to share the Gospel, and preparing disciples to return home. Lau explains the challenges international students face in adjusting to a new culture and new academic and social context, and he helps the reader navigate through barriers like ethnic stereotypes and differences in cultural values.

He helpfully describes the cultural shock process of fascination-rejection-orientation-adjustment. Turning to evangelism, Lau emphasizes that international students have a variety of needs in the U.S., and it’s unwise and un-Christian to ignore all but the spiritual needs of these students. One of the greatest weaknesses of Americans, in fact, is meeting the relational needs of international students. Americans often excel at small talk and friendliness but fail to show the genuine interest and inquisitiveness that develops deeper relationships.

Lau’s nuanced perspective is most helpful here. If developing genuine relationships is central to sharing the Gospel with international students, then understanding conversion as a process is vital to its authenticity. Though there may be a climactic point in the process of coming to faith, the diversity of conversion experiences reveals that the process and end goal is most important, and most common. This understanding informs and empowers how we help international students understand the Gospel and take steps toward believing in and following Christ.

An Introduction, Not a Manual

If international student ministry were a course offered at a Christian college, Lawson Lau’s book would be the primary text book. Written by an insider, conversant with relevant scholarship, and replete with real life stories and practical examples, Lau’s book presents a holistic and accessible introduction to international student ministry without dumbing it down to just English clubs and trips to the grocery store. As an introduction for an individual, it is sufficient. As a manual for an experienced leader of a ministry, it lacks in broad strategy.

Even so, in his final chapter, Lau presents a visionary example of how God can use even one couple to launch and build an international student ministry in which students come to faith, grow in their faith, and are sent out to reach the world. Though nearly 30 years old, The World at Your Doorstep feels remarkably current, and Lau’s offering is a fitting field guide for those wanting to venture into the field of international student ministry.

Kerby GoffKerby grew up in Little Rock, Arkansas, where he learned to shoot ducks with his Dad, hit tennis balls with his friends, and beat video games with his brother Hunter. He moved on from there to complete a degree in Mechanical Engineering from Texas A&M University which he promptly put into use by studying Chinese and living in East Asia for two years…

Since 2005, Kerby has tried to hold on to his international experience by making friends and developing disciples among international college students in Oklahoma and now at the University of Texas at Austin. People often ask Kerby whether it is difficult for an Aggie to work at UT. He too frequently replies that “Jonah went to Nineveh and Daniel went to Babylon. At least I didn’t have to face any chains or hungry big fish.”