When Laura Osborne was a student at Western Michigan University (WMU), she found a safe place to land at campus ministry. Now, Laura is providing a safe space for WMU’s international students as a campus minister at Resonate Global Mission partner International Campus Ministry (ICM).
An Encouraging Community
Laura grew up in the church but when she started school at WMU, she wandered without her parents and faith community. She didn’t know where to go to church, and even though she met new people nearly every day, it was hard to forge strong friendships where she could be herself.
When a friend invited her to campus ministry, she found direction again.
“I found a sense of community,” said Laura. “I found a safe place to land that wasn’t the party scene. I had some really good mentors… folks who just really supported me and encouraged me in my faith and to dig into the Word deeper.”
As Laura grew in her relationship with God through campus ministry, she felt him call her to seminary. She wasn’t sure where he was leading her in ministry, but she followed him.
An Introduction to International Students
After seminary, Laura worked in youth ministry and then as an associate pastor at a church. But when ICM’s former campus minister started planning for retirement, someone recommended Laura for the job.
“I said: ‘Oh, international students! I don’t know where to start with that,’” said Laura. “I had some international friends but when it came to culture, different languages, different faiths, I really didn’t have a whole lot of experience under my belt.”
Laura was uncertain about the opportunity, but she agreed to pray about it. God provided an answer when Laura attended one of ICM’s weekly lunches with her three young daughters.
“It’s like a loud church potluck,” said Laura. “I sat at a table with three or four gals from Iran and they just accepted my children right then and there. They were coloring and drawing pictures.”
“I expected to come in there and think I needed to be the hospitable one,” she said, “but they showed hospitality to me.”
Laura found a home at ICM, and she knew she wanted to help create a place where these students could be themselves, ask questions, experience the love of Christ in community, and grow in faith.
The Importance of Hospitality
Today, hospitality is the beating heart of Laura and her team’s ministry with international students.
“The process of coming to the United States is not the easiest,” said Laura. She notes that students leave behind parents, siblings, nieces, and nephews for educational opportunities in the United States. They are navigating a different culture, often learning in a different language, and are surrounded by different faiths and values. Many students feel lonely.
“We just want them to show up and feel welcomed,” said Laura.
Laura regularly invites students into her home for meals or a mug of tea—and the campus ministry’s weekly lunches have only grown. The meals provide an opportunity to get to know one another better, learn about one another’s culture, and talk about faith.
“Students feel at home,” said Laura. “They say, ‘I’ve been so lonely and I’m so grateful for this space … now I have a family.’”
Involving More Churches
Laura’s ministry with people of different cultures and faiths extends beyond campus. Connecting churches with ICM has always been important to Laura and her team—churches provide ICM with financial support, food and volunteers for the weekly lunches, and more people who are eager to build friendships with students.
But she wants to see many more of God’s people building friendships with people from different cultures and faiths.
She said getting to know people of different cultures and faiths can be nerve-wracking, and she wants to help break those barriers of fear and build curiosity instead. She’s participated in Resonate conferences and trainings on interfaith ministry and also coordinates similar work for the Reformed Church in America.
“God has really shaped and formed me within campus ministry to just be someone who is hospitable and provides a safe place for students to land around my dining room table or around the coffee table,” said Laura.
“I feel called to be that bridge-builder and connector … to help folks in churches create those safe spaces. To have those conversations. To be welcoming. To be hospitable.”