For pastors and evangelism teams on American college campuses who want to tell international students about Jesus Christ, the challenges are many – not the least of which can be the language barrier.
But now, thanks to a mission grant provided by the LWML Iowa East District, the Lutheran Heritage Foundation (LHF) is providing campus ministries with a valuable resource for sharing the Gospel: good Lutheran books translated into the languages of the people they serve.
“60 to 70 percent of our international students come from countries where there’s very little opportunity to meet a Christian, get a Bible or visit a church,” said Hannah Moore, coordinator of international ministry at Memorial Lutheran Church and Student Center near the Iowa State University campus in Ames.
“We have to begin at a very basic level. For example, a Chinese man told us his brother and sister were both baptized, but this man didn’t know the word for baptized,” she said. “He wanted to know what baptism is, and a book like Luther’s Small Catechism in his language is helpful for answering some of those very basic questions about what the Bible teaches.”
LHF is a recognized service organization of the LCMS, dedicated to translating and publishing good Lutheran books into the languages of the world. Over the past 23 years, LHF has translated over 725 books like Luther’s Small Catechism and A Child’s Garden of Bible Stories into 83 languages, and the books are given free of charge to the ministries that need them.
“LHF is so awesome with the translation,” said Rev. John Wegener, pastor of College Hill Lutheran Church, which serves the University of Northern Iowa campus community in Cedar Falls. “We have the greatest gift in books like catechism, and with those materials translated into languages our international student can understand, we can use them to communicate the Gospel clearly. Otherwise, we’d really be lost.”
Many campus ministries offer free English as a Second Language (ESL) classes as a way to begin a relationship with international students who are far from their homes and culture.
“International students are in a foreign place, not in their comfort zone,” explained Hannah. “In campus ministry, we see that God really prepares a lot of hearts to lean on Him and turn to Him in those teachable moments.”
During those teachable moments, a book in the student’s own language is a precious gift.
After sharing the very basics of the Christian faith – Who is God, and what is the Bible? – campus ministry teams rely on LHF books to take the next step in catechism instruction.
“It’s an amazing thing when you hand someone a catechism in their own language,” said Rev. Max Mons, pastor at St. Paul’s Lutheran Chapel and University Center in Iowa City. “Their response is, ‘Wait, this is for me?’ And we say yeah! I’ve done this many times now. First, we’ll read the catechism together in English, then I’ll give them a moment to read it in their own language. Then their eyes light up, ‘Okay, I get it now!’ And then we can go on from there.”
The LWML Iowa East District’s mission grant is also helping LHF to provide Lutheran texts for International Student Ministry’s upcoming “In-Depth Bible Seminar” in St. Louis, Mo. Kate Cole, leader of the International Friends Association at the University of Michigan campus in Flint, is helping organize the seminar.
“This is a nationwide effort, and only about 15 students come to this seminar,” Kate explained. “Only serious seekers – those who have been involved in Bible study for at least six months – are eligible.”
The participating international students will engage in more Bible study and worship. In addition, Kate will help organize small groups of students and give them information on how to start their own small groups.
“The experience that we’ve had at past seminars is that about half of the participants ask to be baptized when they’re finished with the seminar,” Kate said.
While baptism and confirmation are goals for most Lutheran campus ministries, the short time international students spend on American campuses (usually only 2-3 years) sometimes only allows for friendships to be formed and questions to be asked. But the relationships that take root often continue even after the students have returned to their home countries.
“There was a Chinese woman who had contact with us at College Hill for a couple of years,” said Rev. Wegener. “She’s moved now to California, but she still has contact with [a parishioner] through email. Our parishioner said that the last time they emailed, they had a good discussion about the faith, so she’s still connected to the church in this way.”
When international students do leave the campus, they take with them the Lutheran books LHF has provided, and the books continue to teach for a lifetime. “We’re doing a lot of seed planting,” concluded Rev. Mons.