International Students Intern
Nearly six thousand miles away from home, Ashley has found a new meaning for ‘family’
It’s a long way from South Korea to Leeds, but for International Students’ intern Ashley, the difficulties of being so far from home have been balanced by the opportunity to introduce God to others just like herself. As if studying for a degree in international marketing (she graduates this December) was not enough, Ashley juggles this and her internship with volunteering for Transformation Leeds – a Christian charity which aims to welcome and help international students to know about Jesus. In both roles, Ashley works hard to make the international students feel welcomed – a if into a family – and to help them encounter Jesus through various activities including bible study, prayers and retreats.
It wasn’t all plain sailing for Ashley. She had to overcome initial shyness to approach the students and invite them to church, as well as contend with feeling drained by meeting so many new people, whilst at the same time overcoming her own difficulties in communicating with the people of Leeds. Despite these challenges, she found God continually supportive, giving her the energy to engage with all the people He sent to her as well as preparing their hearts for her testimony.
The experience of engaging with the students has changed Ashley’s life. She has many stories of students from all over the world encountering Jesus through the International Student Network here at St George’s, and has had the privilege of seeing the story of her own journey to faith impact on them. She recollects in particular a Malaysian student she encountered during fresher’s week. Already a Christian in her native country, she had ‘prayed that she could find a church and make new friends, but she thought that God wasn’t listening to her prayers’. Then, she encountered Ashley, who invited her to the welcome service, lunch and bible study at St George’s. The student’s heartfelt response? “Oh, God is listening to my prayers!”
Ashley admits to having been particularly nervous leading up to the International Students’ lunches, fearing that there may not be as many students as their were host families available. She needn’t have worried, stating that Jesus sent exactly the right amount of students and families. Many of these students were non-Christians, who informed Ashley that St George’s had been the first church they had ever come to. They had been moved and touched, both by the content of the services and the warmth of the welcome and friendship extended by the families of St George’s, with many of them sending on pictures of themselves and their hosts.
Ashley’s thoughts do not end with the students she ministers to, but extend to the families and friends they have back home, in their own countries. Her hope is that by encountering Jesus here, the students may go back home and share Him with those families and friends, with the ultimate aim of transforming their nations for Christ. She feels that this is where St George’s can really help – by incorporating the international students with them into one big family. She has hopes that they will really feel that their network has become a second home to them, where they can pray for one another and encourage one another through the ups and downs of life as a student in Leeds.
This theme of family, of connections both within this country and extending back to the home countries of the students, is one that Ashley often touches upon, as do many of those students she has brought to St George’s. Many of her already-Christian students have strong connections with the churches in their own countries, strengthening the international bonds of the church with such far-flung nations as India, Malaysia, China – and, of course, South Korea. Many more countries may forge similar bonds through Ashley and her team’s efforts this year.
She recognises, however, that this is a task she cannot complete on her own – or in her own strength. Accordingly, she asks that the congregation – the family – of St George’s would pray for her, especially with regards to relying totally on Jesus (rather than her own strength), and for protection against fear and fatigue. Her final prayer, however, is for her students: that they would “encounter Jesus personally and grow in their faith together.”
Through Ashley and the International Students’ Network, we can feel assured that this is one prayer we can all be involved in the outcome of.