Each September, May and January, Lambton College begins a new semester. With it they welcome new international students to Sarnia from all over the world. The September semester represents the largest group of new students, May the smallest and January somewhere in between. The Sarnia Gospel Hall has connected with the International Office at Lambton College to host the new international students for a Welcome Dinner. Our first dinner was just over a year ago in August of 2013. We have had three more dinners since then, with our most recent on the 27th of August with seventy students attending.
The timing of the dinner is important and usually falls the week before the semester begins. Once classes start the students become occupied with their studies and are less likely to attend. We have found that as a first point of contact in Sarnia, aside from the college, we are able build a stronger relationship. Once the date is set, the Student Activity Coordinator from the college arranges a bus tour of Sarnia with the final destination the Gospel Hall. City busses have been chartered as well as school busses, but in both cases the college has covered the cost.
When the students arrive, the Christians are waiting to welcome them. Everyone wears a name tag to encourage communication and interaction. The students make their way in and find a seat for a 15 minute welcome message which usually touches on life in Canada, a personal story, and an introduction to the Gospel. The message has been somewhat of a challenge. We know it is an amazing opportunity to present the Gospel to young people who have possibly never heard it. At the same time we have to respect the college and the students so we do not upset or offended and lose the opportunity entirely. The approach has been to focus on the love of God, and an explanation as to why we would have a group of students in for a meal.
After the message, students are served a Canadian dinner consisting of vegetarian and non-vegetarian options. It is difficult to make the foods to which they are accustomed, so we usually either avoid those dishes or combine them with a Canadian dish. For dessert we serve cake decorated as the Canadian flag. The Christians are encouraged to sit among the students during the meal in order to share stories and advice, in an attempt to build relationships. In the past, the Christians have been responsible for bringing the students back to their homes. At the last dinner the buses were able stay and take the students home when the evening had concluded.
Welcoming ‘Care’ Package to Leave With
A small treat bag is given to the students as they leave. The bags consist of candy, pencils, buttons, and other treats along with a magnet verse and some contact information. We try to keep a Canadian theme throughout the meal, the treat bag, and even in some decorations. At the last dinner we handed out pamphlets explaining a little more about the Gospel Hall and the International Program. The pamphlet also contains contact information and encourages the students to connect with us on Facebook. The Facebook page is called Sarnia Gospel Hall International Program. We have found that Facebook and email are better ways to contact the students initially as they have access to internet sooner than cell phones. We hope to expand the effort by having meals/events more regularly than just at the beginning of the semester.
With God's help in this work we are sure to see blessing. We need His guidance in directing our future activities with the students. We also look to Him to bless us with continued openness shown by the college towards our efforts. The response and connections made have been very encouraging and we feel God has blessed this work so far.
If you would like more information please contact Jesse or Vashti Young