My husband and I have been blessed with a lifetime of experiences with some of the brightest university students in the world. Our first full time collegiate ministry was with IBSA at the University of Illinois, where we were privileged to work with a variety of students both domestic and international. In 2008 we were commissioned by the International Mission Board and began work at the University of Toronto, Humber, and York Universities in Ontario, Canada. More recently we worked in the United Kingdom at Bristol University. (Bristol means site at the bridge). The University of Bristol is rated the third best University in the UK after Oxford (where oxen crossed the ford) and Cambridge (bridge over the River Cam).
When we arrived in Bristol we requested our prayer partners in the US to pray for us to find strategic housing. The Lord provided an amazing basement flat with a small garden out the back. It was in an old sandstone row house where each of the five floors had been turned into flats. The house was built in 1786 and was within walking distance to the University, plus we had a large living space where we could seat up to twelve comfortably.
If you have ever worked with collegiates you know they are typically hungry and homesick. At times they also experience a great deal of anxiety for a variety of reasons. They are often far away from home and they may feel inadequate or stressed over their studies and exams. They may also be living in difficult conditions with problematic roommates, and many are handling a limited budget for food and housing for the first time in their lives.
So, feeding students — whether international or nationals — is an important part of any outreach. They looked forward to trying American foods and inevitably at some point they also wanted to share foods and flavors from their homes with us. Students are almost always hungry and eat on the fly most of the day, so getting a good hot meal in a home environment is a real treat for them. They were always grateful.
Setting up home, I quickly collected cutlery, pasta bowls, teacups with saucers, and a few mugs. When deciding how many teacups and saucers I would actually need, I set up an experiment with my students: I set out mugs and tea cups and saucers to see which they would use.. To my surprise even the men chose cups and saucers when they had an option. After that I quickly set out for the Oxfam stores to find more second-hand cups and saucers.
Learning to serve meals in potential student housing is not without its challenges. Our apartment had a refrigerator that was not much bigger than 4 cubic ft. I had to buy food within hours of cooking and serving if I was to cook for a group. One time our electric stove took too long to heat for noodles and I had to announce they were still cooking. One of the students found my choice of words for noodles quite funny and reminded me the English say pasta, not “noooodles”. Then he also pointed out that if I used the electric kettle to heat my water first before pouring it into the pan it would heat more quickly.
Along with the students’ desire for food they were also hungry and open to new ideas, thoughts, and cultures. This included learning about Jesus and the Scriptures. Our students were consistent and participated regardless of their other studies and were rarely absent.
I am extremely grateful to have had the opportunity to serve university students in so many places over the years. It has always amazed me how well our Lord understood service and even dishwashing. We know this because He told the Pharisees,
“Woe to you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and plate, that the outside also may be clean” (Matthew 23:25-26 ESV).
Post and photo by Roslyn Alexander. Roslyn Alexander had a 20-year career in the medical field in Urbana and Springfield, Illinois, where she currently resides with her husband Greg. The last twelve years they served with the International Mission Board in the European Diaspora, living in Toronto, Canada and Bristol, UK. In 2020 Roslyn published Essence of Day, and its evangelical activity booklet Essentials for Sharing the Essence of Day, a free handbook on how to share a fragrance and a Bible story. She enjoys leading workshops and speaking for women’s events on this topic, which is Biblically grounded. You can find her online on her Facebook page, Essence of Days.