The University of Iowa

International students see religious recruitment

February 3rd, 2015

By Li Dai, The Daily Iowan

University of Iowa international students may find a stack of invitations from local Christians and other religious groups when they arrive on campus each semester.

After coming to the university, many international students are encouraged by local Christians to participate in activities and events with them.

According to Pew Research Center study, around 5 percent of China’s population identify as Christian.

“Some international students come from countries where Christianity is not known or even allowed, so giving international students opportunities to learn about our beliefs while they are here really can be a fun and educational thing for them,” said Kevin Krohn, part of the campus staff at Cru, a local Christian organization.

Jamie Pepper, campus group leader of 24:7 College Ministry, said the group strives to reach out to all college students at the UI.

“The Bible talks about every tongue, tribe, and nation being important, so we like to embrace the diversity here on campus and learn about all of the different cultures,” she said.

International students are a huge population on campus, she said, and the group enjoys including them in their ministry.

“We know that being an international student can come with its own challenges, and we want to help make their experience a positive one,” Pepper said.

UI sophomores Peirou Chu and Chen Ma, both from China, are involved in Bridges International, which is Cru’s ministry to international students.

“The activities of Bridges help me to make new friends, including Chinese students and American students, and most of them are Christians,” Chu said. “I think people in Bridges are like a family. At the first time I went to Bridges, I didn’t know anyone, but people in Bridges are really kind to me, and it helped me to communicate with them quickly.”

However, Ma said, she feels uncomfortable with the excessive kindness from Christians she contacted because she prefers making friends in a slow and gradual way, but when Christians first met her, they were a little too friendly.

“In China, we usually don’t have any specific religious faiths,” Ma said. “During the activities that Cru held, people read the Bible together, and someone told stories in the Bible. At that time, I felt that I am not a Christian.”

Ma was involved in Cru’s activities a few times, but she has stopped going.

Some ministries have established religious groups for only international students on campus, which, some students said, drove them away.

The Rev. W. Max Mons of St. Paul’s Lutheran Chapel and University Center said his church reaches out to international students because the people want to help international students with language and help them to get settled.

“We have a group specifically for international students called International Student Ministry,” Mons said. “We have a director who is responsible for setting up conversation groups for international students.”

Kyle Dupic, the campus group director of Parkview Church, said his church tries to involve international students, instead of creating a specific group just for international students.

“International students don’t want a group for international students that is only international,” Dupic said. “So our hope isn’t necessarily to create a separate group of international [students] but to bring them in and go, ‘Hey, do you want to do this with us and learn from us, and we can learn from you.’ ”

Father Ed Fitzpatrick, the director of Newman Catholic Student Center, said it deals with all students, including international students, but does not specifically reach out to international students.

UI junior Jungmi Lee, who comes from South Korea, said before she knew about this part of the world, she had attended to church in South Korea, so she learned about God very naturally.

“Usually, international students hang out together, and Americans hang out together,” Lee said. “There is no relationship between them. And I don’t like that.”

She said she felt Cru didn’t understand international students when it reached out to her.

“[Cru] thinks all the international students haven’t known about the God, so they want to teach us, help us, she said. “But I didn’t like that.”