By Josh Bell – Centre Team Leader – Friends International Cambridge
“A week of love and grace.” This was how one of our team members described their experience with a group of international students in Cornwall. For many years now, the team from Friends International Cambridge have taken a group of international students for a week away together, to Menadue Farmhouse in Tintagel, a Grade II listed 18th century farmhouse now converted into a residential centre.
As well as having a great time of fun and enjoying each other’s company our hope for the week is to sow the seed of God’s word. We hope to see relationships of trust formed that will break the hard ground of hearts, so that they might be open to God’s leading and guidance.
Softening of hearts
It’s a set pattern that seems to work well. After breakfast together, our first day out always involves a visit to a local church in Camelford. The congregation have become used to our visits and always give us a warm welcome. Meeting someone from Uzbekistan was a first for the church and our presence caused some good-natured interest. I’m convinced that much of the softening of hearts to receive God’s word during the week happens at this visit.
Over the coming days we visit places such as Tintagel Castle, Lanhydrock and Bodmin Moor, share meals and spend the evenings delving into God’s word. Whether it be listening to a Christian testimony while walking from Boscastle to Tintagel, eating fish and chips on the beach at Polzeath or seeing how many Cornish ice-creams we can consume in a week, the whole experience provides an opportunity for us to get to know students better, share our lives with them and serve them.
“God accepts us no matter who we are”
Although it’s an essential part, our hope and prayer is that the week goes beyond just the fun and friendship. There’s something unique about being together in a household for a week which enables Bible discussions to reach depths of openness and honesty we don’t always get week by week in our café Bible studies. It’s great to be able to interact with people’s real questions and to see people really begin to understand the Bible. This past year, M* from Japan said that she’s finally realised why Christians want to have a relationship with God. M said, “He is a God who accepts them no matter who they are or what they do because he loves them so much.”
It’s a terrific week and is usually a highlight of my year. The final day is always bitter-sweet as we say good-bye and, in the words of one international student, “get back to reality”. It’s true that these times do feel like a break from the ’reality’ – praise God for such times – and that we are presenting our ‘best-selves’. If students were to scratch too deep below the surface of our lives, they would find a reality of sin and brokenness. But we hope and pray that the students will see something different in us – sin and brokenness being redeemed and the presence of a Saviour who makes all things new. We hope that this trip to Cornwall is another step along their own spiritual journey to know this God for themselves.
Note* – We have withheld M’s full name to protect their identity.
Read this article and others in the latest edition of the Friends International Opportunity newsletter.