On Sunday, September 30th, a young woman by the name of Congrong publicly proclaimed her faith in front of the congregation of CVC. Through a partnership with one of CVC’s BIG 10, International Friendships Inc. (IFI), Wayne and Gail Douglas were able to disciple this young woman as she grew into a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. We asked Gail Douglas to share a bit of her and Wayne’s journey with IFI and Congrong, and we pray that their passion for others would encourage and challenge you to go and make disciples in 2019.
Wayne and I first became aware of International Friendships, Inc. (IFI) in the summer of 2012. We had both been on international missions trips and felt God was calling us to share God’s love with the people of the world, even if they were coming to us! A key element of the IFI vision is to partner with universities and Christian volunteers in order to build relationships with international students. These students face the stress of speaking a foreign language, being away from their families and being surrounded by an unfamiliar culture and people. The volunteers begin by helping with the practical and social needs of the international students. All along, the desire of each volunteer is to model what Jesus taught: (John 13:34-35) “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
Wayne and I explored the various IFI opportunities to serve and decided to become what IFI calls a Friendship Partner. This involved meeting at least once a month for a period of 2-3 hours for one school year. The goal is to include the student in family activities so that we can both learn about each other, cultivate a friendship and let the student see Jesus’s love in a practical way.
Congrong arrived in Cleveland and spent her first 5 days staying with us until the housing she had rented was available. During those days we helped her with some of the basic tasks like purchasing a U.S. mobile phone and opening up a bank account. We also shared meals with her which gave us a great opportunity to begin to get to know each other.
Once Congrong moved into her housing, we continued to connect with her by inviting her to holiday gatherings, birthday parties, sharing meals and helping to answer any questions she had. She later told us that during these times, she began to see that our love for her was genuine and stemmed from the faith we had in God.
Like many international students, Congrong had almost no previous exposure to Christianity. Over time, we built a caring and trusting relationship which allowed us the opportunity for sharing the gospel with her. She often came to church with us on Sunday morning, then to our home for a meal. We also talked about her experiences at the Fellowship and Bible Conversation events sponsored by IFI. We never judged her for the beliefs she had but would share what we believed based on what the Bible had to say about it. Sometimes eternal fruit is seen quickly, sometimes it comes after a period of time, and sometimes students go back home without any apparent spiritual decisions. Although she wrestled with some difficult questions about God, after three and a half years in the U.S., Congrong joyfully accepted Jesus as her Lord and Savior just before returning to China in 2016.
We have continued to stay in touch with Congrong for the past two and a half years she has been in China. We were thrilled to find out that she would be returning for a visit and also that she wanted to be baptized while she was here! To Congrong, CVC was the place where her spiritual journey began so she wanted to be baptized here. It is difficult to put into words the joy we felt as she publicly declared her love for God and her faith in our risen Savior. When we leaned Congrong back into the water we were both overcome with gratitude and joy that she had become a child of God. It was truly a testimony that the love of God knows no bounds!
To learn more about how to get involved with International Friendships Inc., or any of our other Big 10 local partnerships, click here to visit our “Local Initiatives” Page.