April 2009

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Pray for a Strong Fellowship Among Every Unreached People Groups in Western Europe

by Krista Wells

In recent years, Europe has drawn an increasing number of young scholars. But why is international study so highly sought after?

Who Are the Foreign Students in Europe?

UNESCO’S Institute for Statistics reported that 50 percent of foreign students in Europe are Asian, 30 percent are European and 10 percent are African. Europe now hosts half of the students who study abroad. Of those students, the majority study in the United Kingdom, Germany or France.

Most students come to Europe to attain post-graduate degrees and to learn English. The number of English programs in Europe has dramatically increased in the past few years according to the Academic Cooperation Association. According to the New York Times, places like Italy need foreign laborers because of low birth rates and high elderly populations. The revenue that foreign students bring into the countries in which they study help with the economy; it is a win-win situation. It is beneficial to receive education in a foreign country because of an increasingly internationally-minded business world.

These campuses are very diverse: a mix of Europeans, Asians, Americans, and Africans. This gives students an opportunity to learn from a different environment, and in some cases, gives them access to tools and programs not available in their own countries. BBC News reported that Africa is experiencing a “brain drain.” Their own educated people are leaving and studying in countries that can better equip them with the learning they need, but instead of taking it back to Africa, they often remain in Europe.

Unfortunately for foreign students from poorer countries, rising tuition and less financial aid is creating an environment in which students cannot finish their degrees in the foreign country in which they began to study. Other struggles these adults encounter involve culture shock, loneliness and high cost of living, to name a few.

The Clash Between Islam and Secularism

Beyond the above, these students, along with the rest of the foreign population, are facing the spiritual confusion of modern Europe. After years of religious and political conflict tearing through its lands, Europe has chosen to mold itself into a secular society. Some foreign students may never have heard the gospel, while others may have a very surface knowledge of Jesus.

In France, according to the U.S. Department of State, 51 percent of the population declare themselves to be Catholic but only eight percent of those Catholics attend mass regularly. Only 52 percent of said Catholics believe that God exists. Christianity is allowed, but discouraged. When students come and are introduced to this type of Christianity, what will be running through their minds?

Old Church Square in Amsterdam, the site of several old cathedrals, is now home to hashish bars and several brothels. Outside the door of one of the brothels is a provocative statue of a woman with the words “Respect sex workers around the world.” (National Catholic Reporter, 2008).

According to a 2006 article in The Christian Science Monitor, nearly one out of every three babies in Europe is born to unmarried parents. Britain has 42 percent of births out of wedlock, Germany 28 percent and in Greece, four percent. These births are largely due to the growing trend of cohabitating couples (not usually single mothers). After contraceptives became popular and pregnancy was less of an issue, couples moved in together. Those who grew closer decided to start families. Only forty percent of these unions turn into marriage. When people from other religions and backgrounds see this as a trend in “highly Christian” states, they want nothing to do with Christianity. Can you blame them if this is all they see?

Some European countries such as England still allow religious teaching in their schools. The most secular European country is France according to BBC News. African immigrants began coming there in droves during the 1960s and 70s, not intending to bring strong Islamic principles with them. As younger generations of Africans are raised in France and face prejudice daily, many are growing incensed at lost identity and rise up against the government in their desire to regain their identity. According to U.S. News and World Report, there is much racial discrimination in France and as a result, there are high unemployment rates among minorities. The more they face unemployment the more likely they are to become violent. French Muslim youths are increasingly growing more impatient and angry as the government refuses to allow them freedom to wear their headscarves and practice Islam.

Europe now houses 15 million Muslims according to BBC News, more than a million of which live in the United Kingdom. In February 2008, Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, declared that sharia (i.e., Islamic) law should be put in place for Muslim communities in Britain. Sharia law is Islamic law that deals with issues of marriage, divorce, diet, justice, and even how to dress. Sharia is left open to interpretation, and even various Muslim communities don’t agree on how to apply it. The Archbishop’s statement did not go over well for much of the public because of the growing unrest between Islam and different groups in Britain. Fear of Islam is rising in England because of the terrorist attacks it has endured. The New York Times reports that British Muslims feel threatened by the secular environment in Britain, and have become more aggressively “Muslims first, British second.” Some Muslims have made statements that cause even greater concern among the British majority. A statement made by British Muslim Anjem Choudary was, “As Muslims, we believe that one day the whole world will be dominated by the sharia law.” (The Religion Report, February 2008).

Germany has a large Turkish-Muslim community. The Turkish-Muslims in Germany inhabit the land but do not embrace German culture. According to the National Public Radio (2008), many women in the community are uneducated and do not speak German in the home; therefore it is an non-integrated society.

Challenges for International Student Outreach

Students that study abroad face a plethora of struggling emotions. Expectations are usually unrealistically high as they travel to their new country. They are separated from much they hold familiar: family, friends, culture, their favorite coffee shop, and this can create a sense of loss and loneliness. Cross-cultural friendships can be difficult to maintain, and many foreign students have trouble finding good friends among the Europeans.

According to International Student Ministry, befriending a foreign student should be taken seriously and involve strong commitment to loving that individual. Western attitudes towards friendship allow for a great deal of individualistic behavior and very little commitment. This can be harmful when dealing with international students. Many foreign students come from community-driven cultures and feel lost and disconnected in an individualistic culture. We should constantly be culturally introspective, know why we act and think as we do; determine which attributes we want to maintain and which ones we need to watch out for. The primary goal should be to act as Christ’s hands and feet as you interact with them, but do not be discouraged if they do not choose to follow Christ. You may be the first real follower of Christ they know, so they may need more time. Plant your seed and let God give the increase.

Many ministries have been formed specifically for international students. Campus Crusade for Christ said that most international students in Europe see the empty cathedrals and barren religion and interpret it as “more museum pieces than living faith.” The same limited old ways of evangelism do not always work; ministries have access to new creative ways of reaching out. A Campus Crusade team in Spain has found storytelling to be very effective, and has distributed more than 45,000 cds. Other ministries have circulated magazines, films and music. Focusing on the arts is helpful when reaching international college students. Felix Ortiz in Spain was quoted by Campus Crusade for Christ and said, “Youth today understand stories much better than concepts. Our challenge is to become good storytellers.” It is important to meet the students on a level they can understand.

# Let us Pray! Pray that workers among Europe’s international students will be good ambassadors, reaching out in newly available ways that help bring understanding of the gospel.
# Pray for more workers to enter this harvest field, especially among Europe’s unreached Gulf Arabs, Turks, North Africans, and Indian Gujaratis.
# Pray that God will guide and anoint existing ministries like Campus Crusade for Christ, International Student Ministry, Friends International, and InterVarsity.

From the Editor

by Keith Carey

Students tend to be young and open to new ideas. What can be a better way to reach the unreached people groups in Western Europe than to go to their students?

When I first began to gather information for this issue, I thought that no one was reaching international students. Yet I found so many ways that people are reaching them that we probably have more entries on specific ministries in this issue than we have had for many years. Along with Operation Mobilization (OM) Europe, we have Global Recordings Network (GRN) reaching out to students in creative ways. Worldwide Evangelization for Christ (WEC) International has the Neighbors Worldwide program to build bridges of love with people who have few chances to hear of Christ’s redemption in their former home lands. One couple is reaching out to Gujarati families in urban England, and Hindu children first learned about the birth of our Lord last December. Hopefully, by this month, there is a plan to teach them about Christ’s resurrection. The Southern Baptist’s International Mission Board (IMB) is making a special effort to reach the thousands of Muslims who live in Paris.

We know who the unreached people groups are, and the workers are in place. Let us pray this month, and watch what the Lord does to see young students in Western Europe come to faith in the Resurrected Christ!