The current cost of living crisis is affecting everybody with annual inflation touching 9%, petrol and energy prices at an all-time high, and the price of pasta up 50% in the last year. For many international students on tight budgets the crisis could be catastrophic. Sarah Dawkins examines the situation.
At the time of writing, it is headline news that a certain brand of butter is selling for over £7. Perhaps by the time you’re reading this that will be a historic anomaly, or maybe, it will seem like it was a bargain. What is certain is that, as winter approaches, we’ll be looking at our personal finances to save where we can. And asking for butter on our Christmas lists!
What does butter have to do with international student ministry? Everything and nothing! Nothing, because reaching internationals is not about butter. Everything, because hospitality and welcome is the heart of sharing Christ cross-culturally. We wrongly assume that international students have unlimited budgets, that they’re the children of rich and wealthy parents or receive a government scholarship. For some that is the case, but for others nothing could be further from the truth.
Jules*, an international student from South Asia, made us aware that while international students are supposed to go home, many are not able to and take jobs so they can pay
their fees for the coming year. Jules combines working as a health care assistant with agency work, helping and advising Pakistani students who wish to come to the UK to study. He said that many students not only have to pay their fees but also are expected to send money home to their families.
One thing we can do
What can we as a Friends International wider family do? There’s not much we can do about the cost of living; we’re all battling it ourselves. We can’t pay students’ fees or discount their shopping but we can signpost to university support services who are already doing so much to help students in these situations. But what we can do, more than anything, is put the kettle on. A cup of tea is powerful: it can heal a setback, it can bring comfort, and offer companionship when someone is feeling lonely and isolated.
In my role as Regional Development Director, I regularly hear stories of Friends International volunteers opening their homes to share a cup of tea or a meal with an international student. This simple act of hospitality has warmed many spiritually, emotionally as well as physically. In a culture where ‘my home is my castle’, we can be slow to open our homes to strangers, but this simple act of hospitality has been in Friends International’s DNA from the beginning.
Sometimes our international friends don’t understand that tea means black with milk rather than giving an array of herbal choices, but the magic of being invited into someone’s home and greeted with a cuppa may well be the most welcomed they feel.
Welcoming international students is a tiny picture of that. Yet, more than ever, it shows Christ’s welcome to those who are foreigners in our country.
In the second chapter of Acts we read about the joy the believers had in being together and sharing everything they had:
“All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need…they broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favour of all the people”.
Recently, when I’ve read these verses, I’ve been struck that the sharing is not just financial, but time. As prices continue to skyrocket, budgets will be stretched, but we still can give time. The cost of living crisis is something we are going to hear a lot about, but it should not be a barrier to international student mission. We have something to share that is untouchable and cannot be corroded – Christ Himself!
Sarah Dawkins , Regional Development Director
* Name changed for security purpose