Small Seeds, Huge Garden

For more than 10 years, hundreds of students from over 25 countries have shown up to work year-round in a rural tourist town on the shore of Lake Superior. Some serve as business interns while others make beds in our Grand Marais, Minn., motels. In the winter, they also find jobs at the ski resort.

Members of our 100-member Evangelical Free Church wanted to help these students feel at home, especially after our pastor relayed how eager they are to experience all aspects of American culture, even religion. “We want to show love and allow the Holy Spirit to open doors,” Dave Harvey told us.

Church member Jean Eisenberger proposed hosting monthly “hospitality dinners” and started advertising at local businesses. Now, a decade later, up to 90 students attend each time. Some of the resorts send their own vans filled with hungry students who want to meet other international students and interact with friendly Americans. We have even had students drive in from 80 miles away, having heard about the dinner via the Internet or other connections.

Photo: Courtesy Larry Dean. Pastor Harvey and his wife and son learn how to make dumplings from scratch.

During these dinners, our church members cook, create silly ice-breaker games or simply mingle with the students, attempting to pronounce names and hometowns (accompanied by laughter). On many nights we ask students to sing a favorite song from their homeland. At each dinner we provide opportunities to choose Bibles and other literature in their own language—even copies of the “JESUS” film. We deliberately do not use the meal to “hold students hostage” while we deliver a message.

The dinners have led to other ministries, some formal and some more informal. Our members arrange shopping trips, small dinners in their homes, even fishing trips and pontoon boat rides.

In our weekly conversational English class, the topics we discuss often allow us to casually share our faith. Once after class, a Muslim girl noticed a hanging quilt with the fruit of the Spirit and commented, “Please tell me what these fruits are.”

We have also hosted investigational Bible studies. Although the groups are small, the discussions are genuine. Last year Mingzhu from China emailed our pastor to say, “I am now a Christian. I am not blind to accept it. I fought for (faith) and finally found I did not need to do so. God is real and his great words lead me to the right and happy way.”

The students see us as friends as well as advocates—willing to help solve housing problems or talk to an employer about a job-related concern. Even Muslim students have asked us to pray about personal concerns. We’re a small church, and some of the seeds we plant seem small, but Jesus reminds us He is good at using mustard seeds.

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