Snowy retreats and questions about Christianity

By December 23, 2010

International (MNN) — Every year since at least 1954, international students gather in the
Rocky Mountains and Michigan's Upper Peninsula to experience an American winter
— and to learn more about Christianity. This year, InterVarsity Christian Fellowship is hosting winter
international house parties at Bear Trap Ranch in Colorado's Rocky Mountains on
December 20-26, and at Cedar Campus in Michigan's Upper Peninsula on December
27-January 2. 

Since it can be very difficult for international students to get home
on Christmas break, they appreciate the opportunity to relax, discuss the
claims of the Bible, and have some fun. They enjoy activities such as broom ball, ice skating, talent shows, and dinner
with local American families. 

Some students at the Michigan house party also choose to jump into Lake
Huron through a hole in the ice after steaming in a Finnish sauna! InterVarsity staff member Terrell Smith
recalls one particular student who really enjoyed that experience.

"He says, ‘Terrell, I come from Indonesia. I would never be able to do this in my whole
life," Smith said. 

Another highlight is the yearly New Year's Eve international dinner. InterVarsity staff use grocery lists provided
by the students to get all the ingredients together. Then the students spend a full day together preparing
dishes from their home countries for everyone to eat. 

"All afternoon they're cooking," Smith says. "The entire dining room turns into a
kitchen. They're making Chinese dumplings;
they're making Indian dishes; they're making salads. They're doing it together with people from
their own country, and they're doing it with people who are not from their own
country. It's a huge international undertaking
and lots and lots of fun." 

One feature of the house parties is daily small group Bible studies and
speakers who discuss the Christian faith. The students' home countries represent the distribution of international
students in American colleges and universities. The largest groups are from
China and India. 

"I believe more and more students come because they have questions,"
says Smith. "There has been a change, especially
among the mainland Chinese." 

In the past, Chinese students were cautious about attending the house
parties, because showing too much interest in Christianity could be dangerous. Today, however, the dynamic has changed. Instead of asking whether any other Chinese are
coming, students typically ask if they may bring a friend. 

Students often come because they know little about Christianity and
want to learn more, or because they feel spiritual need in their lives. Many of them have come to the United States with
expectations about Christianity and American culture.

"Asian students have the preconceived notion that everybody here is a Christian
and that this is a Christian nation," Smith explains. They have a lot of questions when they find
that American behavior does not always follow Christian teaching. 

Smith loves being a part of informal conversations throughout the week,
when many students experience breakthroughs in their understanding of the Bible's

"It could be during a question-and-answer session. It could be sitting at a meal. It could be at a Bible study. It could be on a walk. It's like scales fall off of their eyes: suddenly a smile comes on their face, and you
can see something has just happened to them. That to me is what makes it so fun and exciting," Smith says. 

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