Is Our Door Open?
For a globalised, cosmopolitan city like Singapore, this question also confronts us. Every year, large chunks of our church budgets are spent in sending long and short-term teams to other countries as an effort to obey Christ’s call to “make disciples of all nations” (Matt. 28:19).
Do we realise that at this moment, the nations are already at our doorstep?
As of June 2017, the Ministry of Manpower reportedthat 4% of the 1.646 million non-resident population in Singapore were students, which calculates to roughly 65,840 non-resident international students present in Singapore (Strategy Group, 2017, Diagram 1).According to a prestigious university ranking website, international students make up 28.9% and 30.9% of the entire student population in NUS and NTU respectively (QS Quacquarelli Symonds Limited, 2018).This is no small proportion of the entire student body.
As a ministry called to engage the whole campus, how are our cfs integrating students from this demographic?
International students tend to be one of the more vulnerable groups of students on our campuses. Having to live for long periods away from home – for some this being their first time overseas – is challenging, disorientating, and can be a very lonely experience. A Vietnamese student found himself at a loss when due to some medical complication, he was not able to get his student pass approved in time for his visa to be renewed and faced the prospect of being repatriated to his country and unable to complete his studies in Singapore. It was only with the help of Christian friends from the CF (of which I am blessed to have been one) that he was able to acquire a social visit pass that would allow him to stay in Singapore long enough for the paperwork to be completed.
Most key world leaders have been an international student at least once in their lives. Who knows what impact one could make on a nation simply by extending Christian hospitality to one of them during their youth? Students from countries where Christianity may be a small minority may find themselves sitting next to their first Christian friend in a classroom in Singapore. God forbid that in our ‘holy Christian huddles’ we miss out on such valuable opportunities to befriend and love the foreigner amongst us.
What could welcoming international students to our CFs look like?
The International Friendship Group (IFG), as a standing committee in NUS VCF, regularly organises events and platforms where international students are invited to interact with CF members. These are merely avenues where friendships may start, but how these relationships progress remains the responsibility of the members themselves. The IFG also serves to equip the CF on skills and knowledge pertaining to cross-cultural interactions and liaises with the international student office, VCF ministries, and other student groups for collaboration.
Rather than having a specialised committee, NTU CF’s efforts to reach international students are organised by the Exco Community Engagement officers, but with involvement from the entire CF. Other campus fellowships should profile the dynamics of your campus and CF to determine the best way to move ahead.
FES currently coordinates the Meals@Home programme, which matches incoming international students with volunteer families from partner churches, with whom they would share a family meal and spend time together several times during the year. Each year, around 60 host families are required for about 170 students. Through this initiative, CF members from the campuses where these students are studying also have the opportunity to befriend the students, along with the host families, and to follow up with them in school wherever opportunities arise.
For those who are interested to be host families in the next run of the Meals@Home programme, please note the following:
A potential host family must be:
- a married couple
- at least 29 years old
- a working professional
- Additional criteria if one member of the host family is a Singapore permanent resident (PR):
- spouse is a Singaporean, or
- spouse has lived in Singapore for at least five years and has worked/or is working in a local based company, or
- spouse has studied in a local university.
For more information, please contact Elaine Chan at firstname.lastname@example.org or Hp: 90086200.
Strategy Group, Prime Minister’s Office. (2017). Diagram 1: Total population, as of June 2017. In Population in Brief 2017. Retrieved from https://www.strategygroup.gov.sg/docs/default-source/default-document-library/population-in-brief-2017.pdf.
This number does not include permanent residents.
QS Quacquarelli Symonds Limited. (2018). Top Universities. Retrieved February 12, 2018, from http://topuniversities.com/