Loving Our Neighbors Through Language – The International Impact of the Local Church

My wife Hannah and I have long been convinced that there is no better place for ministry, outreach, and service than the local church. Consequently, when we came to Cambridge with a desire to reach Chinese graduate students with the love of Christ, we instinctively sought for our ministry to be closely linked with the church. While that decision may seem obvious to some, it is not always common in the world of international student ministry.

Our ministry is not immediately visible on Sunday mornings. Occasionally Chinese students come with us to the service, particularly around holidays. Much of what we do, however, happens in other places: at Bible studies in our home, at coffee shops near Harvard or Tufts, or in student community centers. Nonetheless, Christ the King Cambridge is our hub, and its people are the most important part of what we do.

For starters, one of the ways we can serve Chinese graduate students is through language help. Most of them are proficient in the technical English relevant to their field, but find daily conversation with native English speakers difficult or intimidating. The ESL (English as a Second Language) program that meets at CTK on Monday nights is a great opportunity for our students to improve both their competence and their confidence. Hannah and I initially started teaching English just for Chinese students, but this year we expanded the program in partnership with the Portuguese-language congregation and it has become multi-national. We are extremely excited about the ministry, and depend entirely on the congregation for volunteers to teach, set up, or just be present for conversation.

Other members of the congregation serve as language partners for individual Chinese students, meeting weekly or biweekly to simply chat over coffee or a meal. It’s simple, but can be deeply impacting for the student; many of them do not have substantial relationships with Americans, and the opportunity for friendship is a real blessing. Some of these partnerships between visiting scholars and CTK members have continued for several years! Although the goal of being a language partner is primarily to love the students through friendship and language practice, we have seen students read Scripture with their partners, participate in community groups, and come to faith. God often works through relationship!

Developing friendships across cultures can be challenging, but it is also rewarding. I have grown substantially in my faith while ministering to my Chinese friends. Their questions force me to evaluate my own beliefs, and their cultural perspective is a helpful foil to my tendency to understand my faith through the filter of American culture.

We would love to see greater numbers of CTKers join us in loving the international students in Cambridge. Volunteering at ESL on Monday nights is a particularly easy way to get involved, whether or not you have experience teaching English. We are also looking for people to host Chinese students in their homes for a meal—an opportunity many never have while in the United States. We would love to have you join us, and always covet your prayers.  Please contact me at trey.nation@gmail.com for more information.

Trey and Hannah Nation have been members at CTK Cambridge for 4 years, and minister to visiting Chinese graduate students at Harvard, MIT, and Tufts. In addition to ministry, Hannah is currently a student at Gordon-Conwell, where she studies Church History. Trey graduated from Gordon-Conwell in 2015, and will be beginning a PhD in Ancient Near Eastern Studies beginning this Fall.