Crossing cultures without leaving campus

crossing cultures on campus

Your campus is a window to the world, filled with people from distinct countries, cultures, ethnicities and backgrounds. How curious are you about them? As a student, Kristin Karls initiated diverse relationships that expanded her cross-cultural horizons and solidified her heart for God’s global mission.

Here is Kristin’s story… .

Ever since I can remember, I have wanted to be a missionary. As a child, I heard the verse from the Bible, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few.” “Lord!” I used to think, “Why don’t you send me?” But God knew I had a lot to learn. In college, the friendships I developed with people from different countries, ethnicities and ages helped me see how God is working around the world. Through these relationships, I learned more about myself, the world and God’s amazing goodness.

The joy of international friendships

As a freshman at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, I attended a local church ministry where I heard about the International Dinner. Every Friday night, 60-80 international students gather in the home of a couple who host the dinner. Students from over 100 countries have come through their doors. Though the hosts are Christians, they don’t advertise their dinner as being a Bible study. There is no hidden agenda; they sponsor the dinners for the opportunity to meet and befriend internationals and enjoy a delicious meal together.

I still remember the day I first walked through the doors of this loving home. There I was: taller, younger, and whiter than most. My friends were surprised that I just went by myself, but I knew God was asking me to reach out to international students in my world before traveling to theirs.

As we spent time together, my new international friends became a Kristin and Tian 2 part of my life. In spite of our differences, we found many things to bind us together — food is a big one! We’d eat together, go dancing, attend music concerts, or even go swimming. Along the way, there were opportunities to talk about Jesus with them.

At home in a Chinese church

At first I was involved in several fellowship groups on campus. Eventually I felt the need to find one main house of worship. I visited a church that I’d passed by for two years but had never considered: the Chinese Christian Church of Milwaukee.

No, I’m not Chinese. But I witnessed a sense of love and genuine truth-teaching which not only attracted me, but kept me there. I came to know and respect the pastor greatly and, under his care, I was baptized. My vision expanded for the incredible beauty of the body of Christ. For me, worshiping at this church painted a picture of what heaven will be like, with all different tongues and nations praising the one true God.

Through the worship services and adult classes, it didn’t take long for me to feel like part of the church family. I got involved with a small-group prayer meeting and participated in conferences and large-group gatherings. I also helped with the youth group and children’s program.

Because I’m not Chinese, people asked if I ever felt awkward going to a Chinese church. In all honesty, I never did, even though there were many differences between this church and the church I’d grown up in. There was more hymn-singing than I was used to. Also, it seemed like all the children knew how to play the violin and piano, and the congregation had a hard time clapping on the second and fourth beats. Every Sunday we all ate lunch together right after services (usually rice and meat with vegetables). Sometimes the worship service didn’t start “on time” — or it lasted three hours. Occasionally I’d even hear a person’s testimony in Chinese, with no translation.

However, I was more blessed while attending this Chinese Church than I’d ever imagined. I had my first experience going to an all-church retreat where everyone — children, teens, and adults — got away for a weekend and studied God’s word. And for the first time a pastor’s wife made chicken noodle soup for me while I was sick. I sometimes got frustrated when telling someone where I attended church because its name would throw some people off. Overall, though, I learned that it’s not the name of the church that ultimately matters, nor the physical building, but people coming together in unity and generosity who are devoted to following God, no matter what culture or ethnicity.

Pursuing the mission

I’m a recent graduate in digital media seeking what God has next for me. My nature is to go-go-go and do-do-do, but the Lord always reminds me to be still and wait for Him.

This summer I combined my heart for missions and media in a trip to the Philippines to create a video for a church-partnering organization. It was my fourth short-term mission trip. My visits to Europe, Kenya and the Philippines have played a crucial part in my growing compassion for others, helping me see the need to reach out to others in my community.

But a person doesn’t need to be a world traveler to be used by God. We can be missionaries for God’s Kingdom without stepping outside the border by imitating Christ’s love to those around us. And that we can do no matter where we are, especially on a college campus.

—Kristin Karls