A (Friendly) Shock To The System
Local churches, including First UMC Carrollton, partner members with international students to help acclimate to new culture
Professor Mary Beth Goodrich knows about culture shock.
She sees the challenges that many of her students face as they adjust to Master’s-level accounting courses in a second (or third!) language at the University of Texas at Dallas.
And in 2007, Mary Beth and her husband, Jeff, packed up their three small boys and moved to China for a job opportunity. She remembers the confusion and disorientation trying to do life in a different culture and language. That’s why, when the Goodrich family returned to North Dallas and their home congregation of First UMC Carrollton, they were passionate about connecting with the international students who were experiencing culture shock here.
Did you know more than 1 million undergraduate and graduate students come to the United States to study each year? As many as 80 percent of those international students do not receive an invitation to visit an American home during their stay. For many who come from cultures that deeply value hospitality, this is a great disappointment. The vast majority of international students don't have any connection with Christianity, but they're coming to live in our backyard. This is a huge opportunity to introduce rising global leaders to Christ.
Since 2011, FUMC Carrollton has partnered with UTD’s International Christian Fellowship and International Students, Inc., to support the American Friendship Partner Program. Americans are matched with an international student to check in with them every week and meet with them once a month. This could be meeting for a meal, helping them navigate a grocery store or the DMV, hanging out at a baseball game or bringing them along on the family trip to the zoo. The goal is to just be a good friend, introduce them to a side of American culture they won’t get in the classroom and show them the love of Jesus in the process.
Over the past 10 years, about 60 FUMC Carrollton members have befriended around 200 international students. More than 15 of those students have made a profession of faith, through the seeds that were planted by Friendship Partners, campus Bible studies, First UMC Carrollton and other local churches. Sometimes, it takes years for these seeds to bear fruit.
Although the program only matches partners for one year, many friendships have continued long after graduation. Some of our American families have gone to visit their Friendship Partners once they returned to China. In April 2020, one Friendship Partner received a phone call from her student who had graduated and moved to Chicago three years earlier. Because of the lockdown, the former student had the time and desire to read the Bible – and she knew her Friendship Partner would be able to help answer her questions.
James is another student who came to faith after moving away. He joined the Friendship Partner program to practice his English, but it became much more than that. He recalls how the Friendship Partner program changed his life.
“Steve and Ellen helped me with the essentials to survive in the U.S., including tips on how to buy a car,” James said. “Then, I went with them to church nearly every Sunday and started playing music with the worship band. Through playing the calming worship music, I felt my heart touched by the spiritual messages in the lyrics. Later, I moved to Tampa and started my Ph.D. program, and I met another Friendship Partner. At their church, I realized that the things Steve and Ellen had done for me were not from them, but from the Lord who gives them the power.
“Because of God’s love, I decided to get baptized in Tampa on January 11, 2015. Now, I am an assistant professor at Miami University of Ohio and serving in worship at a local church.”
Published: Monday, October 18, 2021