The two of us (Haley and Paige) have served overseas in short-term and mid-term contexts and were fortunate enough to be on the receiving end of gracious hospitality from locals. The kindness of a friend who helped us negotiate the price of a taxi or invited us over for chai in an unfamiliar place is something that stuck with us. We have learned so much about other cultures seeing it from a foreigner’s point of view. From this perspective, we were convinced there was a rich opportunity to connect with internationals in our own city. That’s when we learned about Friendship Partners.
Friendship Partners is a program designed to pair international university students who are studying in Birmingham with American families. The program seeks to promote friendship and understanding between cultures. Students may be here for a semester or several years, and families are asked to partner for at least a nine-month commitment. The majority of international students desire to experience all of American culture, but often aren’t given the opportunity. About 70% of internationals who study in the United States never set foot in an American home. This statistic was a shock to the both of us and confirmed this was the avenue we wanted to take in connecting with internationals.
We decided we wanted to partner together and were matched with a girl from Vietnam named Kim*. Kim was very eager to know us and spend time with us. She was incredibly open to our culture and desired to know more. We would get coffee with her or have her over for holidays. As we got to know her, we learned Kim is from a Buddhist background. She asked us about our faith and was very inquisitive about Christianity. Thankfully, she had been exposed to Christ prior to us meeting her. A friend had taken her to church. She said she wanted to go to church and experience the American culture from that perspective. We had never thought of it that way. An international may just be interested in visiting like you may visit another religious site in another country. She had a good experience in church and said she really liked how loving people were and how the pastor shared about God being good, loving, and powerful.
One morning we met Kim for breakfast and she immediately started asking about Jesus. We had previously practiced the three circles method for sharing the gospel in our small group, so we got out a napkin, asked the waitress for a pen, and started sharing. We shared how God created a perfect world but sin entered the world. We now live in a fallen world where there is struggle and pain. Kim agreed. We shared how we can repent and be free of this pain and walk with Christ. Kim had many more questions and we were able to show her how to download a Vietnamese Bible on her phone.
After this meeting, we left so excited that we got to share with her. Due to some language barriers, we thought we should connect her with a Vietnamese believer. Through Brook Hills, we found a lady named Mai* and set up a meeting. We took Kim to meet her at a local restaurant. Mai also had come from Buddhist background and fought some persecution as she became a believer. She shared the gospel with Kim and asked her hard questions about her faith in Buddha. She was very direct. It was an encouraging experience for all of us.
To this day, we are still meeting with Kim. She has not received Christ, but her eagerness to know more is there. We know God is on the move in her heart. We ask you to pray for her to receive Christ. We also ask that you pray for a way you could serve internationals in our city. Birmingham has a rich opportunity as internationals make our home their home for a period of time. Eventually they will return to their home bases. In some of these countries, Christians face persecution or there is very little gospel that has been heard. We have a mission field here, right in our backyard. We can teach, equip, share, and pray God brings more internationals to know Him and share the gospel in their home countries.
Paige Belgaonkar, married to Aniket, has served in India three times, once as a mid-term missionary in a school and orphanage in Pune, India. She has been a member of Brook Hills for seven years.
Haley Wright, married to Ben, has served in India and Nepal on short-term trips. She has been a member of Brook Hills for three years.
If you are interested in becoming a Friendship Partner, please visit brookhills.org/FP to find out more information about the program.