A foreign student preparing to return home after several years at an American university left behind a full suitcase with his roommate.
"What's this?" the roommate asked.
"It's full of the gifts I brought to give Americans when they invited me to their homes," the student replied, a tinge of sadness in his voice. "No one invited me."
The student, incidentally, was from Saudi Arabia.
Perhaps you've heard similar stories. The cold "welcome" frequently shown to foreign students who come to America isn't exactly news -- except to the bewildered students themselves who struggle with isolation and loneliness far from home.
Many of them come from families and cultures where hospitality to visitors is prized and the opposite is considered shameful -- families more similar, when you think about it, to the ones we read about in the Bible than the hyper-private collections of individuals we exalt these days. Foreign students don't understand that many Americans no longer open their homes to their next-door neighbors, much less strangers.
"Most of our people who study in the U.S. are amazed they can live there for four or five years and never enter an American home, much less a believing one," says a mission worker serving in North Africa and the Middle East. "Why is it that God delivers the lost Muslim to our doorstep and we treat them as if they are not there?"
I suspect a more sinister force than suspicion, fear or prejudice is at work: apathy. Too often, we don't know they are among us. If we do know, we don't care.
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At the Journey--the 5-year-old new church plant with which I sojourn, international students are one of our priorities. We have found them to indeed be isolated and lonely, and responsive to the welcome, hospitality, and friendship that we have extended to them. God delivers them to our doorstep not just to introduce them to Jesus Christ but to make disciples of them and send them back to their homelands as missionaries.