When I was in college, I studied French. It was not my major, of course (that was Chemistry and Economics) but I enjoyed French language and envisioned proficiency in it. Early in my studies, I planned to study Economics at the Sorbonne in Paris my last year of college. But I was in InterVarsity and it just wasn't clear how studying abroad for a year was going to help me grow in my faith. So I scaled it back to planning to go for a single quarter to Tours, France, for a less intense and less disruptive program. But eventually, I settled for taking a summer mission trip to South Africa and meeting up with some friends for a couple weeks in France afterwards. Not as good for my French, but God used this trip, both in South Africa and touring around France, in my spiritual growth in important ways.
We looked at several stories in scripture of displaced people, from Daniel who was taken in exile from Jerusalem to Babylon to be an "international student" there, to Philip who met the Ethiopian eunuch returning from Jerusalem. We talked about how being displaced and on a journey creates opportunities and opens our eyes to new experiences. Daniel and his friends had to find new ways to be faithful when the temple worship and Jewish rituals were stripped from them. The wealthy and powerful Ethiopian eunuch didn't travel in the same circles as Philip when they both might have been in Jerusalem, but on the desert road he finds himself eager to learn from Philip, and came to believe in the messiah of whom he was reading in Isaiah 53.
Reading these stories in the context of being in Europe for a semester or a year shed new light and presented new challenges to the students. Students come to Europe for many reasons, but becoming missionaries to the people they will meet there isn't typically on the top of the list, any more than it would have been for me in my college years. But this weekend we invited these students to join their Spanish, French and Irish brothers and sisters by getting involved in the local IFES chapters, and to see their study abroad colleagues and other fellow students as people in whom God is already at work as he uses these displaced missionaries to bring the good news to them.
I remember a time when I might have thought it unnecessary to send missionaries to Western Europe, the heart of "Christendom." But certainly that time is no longer, and while God is doing many things here among his people, the IFES staff we have met here are eager to connect with American students who will join them in outreach to their fellow countrymen and women.
If you want to learn more about InterVarsity Study Abroad outreach, or know someone for whom this might be helpful, I encourage you to watch and/or pass along this link: http://vimeo.com/66860475
Next weekend, Lisa and I will be in London, bringing the same retreat to another group of IVCF students studying in the UK and Ireland. As an added sweet bonus, our son Mark, who came to London as an international student 3 years ago, will join us for the weekend, which will be his first InterVarsity event since he started college.