by Elaina Rusetsky
International Friendships Incorporated (IFI) works to assist incoming international students by providing lodging, airport pickup, and most commonly, English conversation partners.
Many international students wish to improve their English, so partners meet on a regular basis each month to talk about absolutely anything, from culture shock to the weather. Often, these relationships turn into genuine friendships and more serious subjects are breached – such as spiritual beliefs and the claims of Christ.
Jake and Renee Hoffer are a couple with a great passion for serving internationals and reaching out spiritually to their conversation partners. Some may attribute their qualities to spiritual gifting, which can play a part, but after talking to Hoffers, it is clear that anyone can have a positive effect.
So, what’s their secret? According to Renee, “You can’t undervalue getting to know the person. These are people, not projects. Drop the stereotypes and make loving the person your number one priority. My conversation partner was homesick for China when we met. I listened to her process her feelings…it seemed like she hated everything,” said Renee. It was only after persevering in being a good friend that Renee become aware of the things she did like, and was able to include her in various activities accordingly. She was able to host a party in her honor.
Jake is similarly persistent in how he loves people. “I just kept initiating…talking about culture and inviting them into my home,” he said. The only things his partner knew about American culture were from movies and were therefore less than flattering. This was easily remedied with simple conversation and activities, such as bowling and trying new foods. Jake was also able to learn about his life at home and his goals for his stay in America –learning about things his government censored, like Christianity.
Ultimately, both Jake and Renee agree that you must adjust your perspective when reaching out to conversation partners and enjoy whatever opportunities come up, “You don’t know how much time you have with them. It may not lead someone to Christ or become discipleship. Sometimes all you can do is share God’s love, pray, plant a seed and be a good listener. While that may not sound like success, it is more than enough.”
God is always lovingly pursuing people. IFI conversation partners often get an opportunity to be a part of someone’s spiritual journey.
Want to get involved? It’s easy! Visit https://www.ifipartners.org/legacy/volunteer.php for more information.