In America, Thanksgiving is traditionally a time to gather with friends, family and loved ones to share a bounty of food and give thanks for our many blessings. For students, it is also a time to take a break from studies and return home. Unfortunately, for international students studying here from abroad, returning home and gathering with family are out of the equation, leaving them alone on campus.

Creating an International Student Ministry

Recognizing the needs of these international students, a Thanksgiving dinner was hosted at Maple Ridge Church. “In starting an international student ministry, we want to serve students in any way that we can,” explained Hannah Shipman, who coordinated the dinner. “We knew this dinner could be an opportunity to not only provide a good meal, but also a place of community for them.”

This was a milestone event when you understand the full story.  The Alliance churches in New England are seeking to work together collectively in an effort to see the gospel spread locally, regionally and globally. This cluster of churches in Central New England have been meeting for a few years in places they have not been to, praying for people they have never met, hoping to do things they have never done to advance the gospel in New England.  About a year ago it became clear that God was leading them to minister to International students at Amherst. As a result, Maple Ridge Church collaborated with the other four Alliance churches in central New England and agreed to bring Hannah Shipman to the area to spearhead this new ministry.

International ministry training was held over the summer, and 10 people that participated facilitated the Thanksgiving dinner. Hannah and a few students cooked the turkey, and the congregation pitched in with providing a variety of side dishes as well for the dinner. The dinner was hosted in “The Cafe”, a room at the church.

Besides enjoying a fabulous meal, the group shared plenty of conversation and a rousing game of charades.  “The students really enjoyed it! Charades resulted in lots of laughter together.”

One of the students thanked Hannah after the dinner. He told her, “Thank you very much for such a great gesture. It was an overwhelming experience of having a family like warmth while being thousands of miles away from our family.” Hannah said that comment alone made all the work and preparations worth it. “That’s exactly what we wanted – for it to feel like a home away from home for them.”

“Thank you very much for such a great gesture. It was an overwhelming experience of having a family like warmth while being thousands of miles away from our family.”

Next Steps

With the dinner over, the church is continuing to build the relationships with these students. “Some expressed interest in our Taco Thursday nights, where we cook food, play games and watch movies. It is another way for them to bond with the people of Maple Ridge and feel valued.”

Overall, the event was a huge success and the church is excited about the new opportunities to reach out to the international students in the area and continue ministering to their needs and forging relationships.