Bridging the Gap Between Students and the Gospel

In Ministry by Courtney Patao

Bridges International is a ministry of Cru that specializes in reaching international students. My husband and I work in the San Francisco Bay area and spend most of our time at San Jose State. International students have unique needs and barriers to the Gospel, and our ministry strives to overcome all obstacles so that students can experience Jesus. We have a very specific strategy – connect, reach, empower, and send. Our first strategy point is to connect with students. We do what we can to befriend them and get to know their needs, physically and spiritually. Once a friendship is established, then we can reach them with the Gospel of Christ. If students chose to follow, we empower them through discipleship to walk fully with Christ. And finally, we hope to send them home as ambassadors for Jesus, capable of connecting, reaching, and empowering others.

What this looks like varies with every campus. In San Jose, we have just begun to build a tiny movement. We have three Christian students who are being trained and empowered to reach their campus for Christ. They meet with Bridges staff to develop a plan to live out the strategy. Since Bridges values serving students, we plan events that give student opportunities to engage in US culture. Every fall, we create a sign-up to get international students in Christian homes for Thanksgiving. In the spring, the students plan an Easter Outreach to share the meaning of Jesus’ death and resurrection with their classmates. A way I love to serve is by taking students grocery shopping or inviting them to my home to bake desserts. Bridges also values utilizing social connections, so every week we host a dinner meeting where students can enjoy friendship over a meal and conversation in small groups. Because Bridges is full of seekers of Jesus, we offer a very basic Bible discussion. Students can talk about what they observe in the Scripture without feeling the pressure of Biblical scholars muddying the conversation. Yet not all students want to study the Bible, so we offer a cultural topic as well. Yet even in these topics, ranging from stress to holidays to elections, we ask deeper questions that get students thinking about their spiritual journey. After all, Bridges is also about leading students in spiritual conversations.

This is our first semester with student leadership meetings and a weekly dinner. Before this, we tried many things to specifically serve internationals. We tried weekly conversation clubs, at night and during the day, offering Bible discussions after the meeting and at separate times, having monthly meetings and weekly Bible discussions. All these were good for the season. I’m learning my job is a lot about improvising and trusting God to lead our plans.

For example, although I have three amazing Christian leaders, I also have two seekers on the leadership team. They are not yet believers, but they help us strategize to reach the campus for Jesus. My main priority is to disciple the three Christians, and continue to share the Gospel with the two seekers. If I can build up leaders who understand the Great Commission, then they will want to engage in evangelism and outreach.

I once attended many other international clubs to meet students. This helped me get into bigger pockets of friendship groups when I was just starting Bridges. I needed to attend meetings weekly to gain trust and friendship. Now that I have students, I send them into these club meetings, but on a much less regular basis. We learned that if we went in the beginning of the semester, we could establish friendships that lasted all year.

I also never know what each appointment with students will hold. My goal is always to share the salvation found in Jesus. Sometimes that is done over milk tea, using apps on my phone to translate the story into their own languages. Other times it is done while we talk about relationships, explaining to students how God created marriage to reflect His love for His bride. I often create new analogies, new drawings, new explanations of the Gospel, after all, most students need to hear the Gospel over 30 times before they believe! I strive to follow up and to keep challenging students to seek Christ.

My job is a ton of fun. I get to eat delicious food and learn new dimensions of God and culture every day. Every culture displays a part of God’s character. My job is to pull out those characteristics to show Jesus to my students. In that, I get to see students lives changed for eternity and experience the grace of God daily as I follow Him.

Courtney Patao

Courtney and her husband Kevin are on staff with Bridges International, a ministry of Cru. Courtney has been on staff for over six years, serving in the Middle East and in the US. Kevin has always had a desire for international ministry and has just recently joined his wife on staff. They live in the heart of the Silicon Valley, working with international students at over six Bay Area colleges.

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