International Student Ministry (ISM) in Cincinnati, OH has developed steadily and gradually since the late 1970s. A Welcome Dinner in 1980, offers of settling-in help to new students and occasional social activities were the early efforts by pastor Richard Fisher, Baptist campus minister John Gilbert and Cindy Carlson which set the foundation upon which others began to build. From 1993-1997 Friends of Internationals (FOI) at University Christian Church encouraged Friendship Partners, published a monthly newsletter for students and held monthly activities – Furniture Give-Away, Harvest Party, Christmas Party, games and pictures night, Valentines Party, July Fourth party (fireworks) and camping. Until 2004, Faths then Yoders hosted a wives’ group, social activities and eventually weekly Bible study meetings at the Peace House. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, Suzanne Boys and Russ McNamara worked as International Students Incorporated (ISI) staff. They cooperated with FOI, taking turns planning monthly social activities, and held a weekly meeting for conversation around life and spiritual topics, called Coffee and Concepts, attended primarily by Indian students. Suzanne held one-on-one Bible studies and activities with a women’s focus. Duane Villenauve began as half-time staff with ISI and inherited the ISI office and furnishings at Old St. George (OSG), which led to International Campus Fellowship and then International Friendships, Inc. (IFI) meetings being held at OSG.
From 1995 to 1998 the Chinese Church offered Friday evening Bible studies in Chinese and English and beginner level English classes, primarily for wives of students. In summer 1998, several leaders from this group formed International Campus Fellowship (ICF) to offer Bible studies in English only. ICF initially met every Friday evening with potluck dinner the first week of each month and Bible studies the other Fridays. Student participation was usually sufficient for two small Bible study groups on a consistent basis.
Randy Bruins, one of the founders of ICF, because of former ties with IFI Columbus, arranged for Cincinnati ISM workers to attend IFI summer and winter retreats for several years prior to any formal connection between Cincinnati and Columbus staffs. Summer 2004, God brought full-time staff Julie Rhine, Shaun Rudolph and Pat Durst together to begin IFI Cincinnati. In 2013, Dale and Cheryl Ramsey joined the staff. Jim Gifreda was appointed Director of the Cincinnati ministry in October 2016. The staff maintained an office from 2004-2010, however, since then there has been no dedicated physical office location.
With the establishment of full-time staff in 2004, and through significant contributions from local churches and volunteers, the numbers of activities with/for international students multiplied quickly.
- Three weekly Bible study groups (one all-Chinese and two multi-cultural)
- Dinner before Bible studies, occasional potluck dinners
- Airport pickup, temporary housing, shopping, apartment hunting
- Furniture sale
- Thanksgiving Hosting
- Christmas Party
- Christmas activities – Festival of Lights at Zoo, concerts, cookie-baking, social events
- Local, regional, national trips and conferences
- Motor boating, swim parties
- English classes
- One-one-one meetings for evangelistic Bible study or discipleship or conversational English
IFI currently enjoys a good working relationship with University of Cincinnati International Services (UCIS), which consistently welcomes the efforts of Christian ISM laborers on behalf of international students.
Room for growth
Current IFI ministry is focused on Asian students and visiting scholars at the University of Cincinnati. Culture-specific approaches may be necessary for work among students of European, Latin-American, African, Hindu or Muslim backgrounds.
ISM is happening at Northern Kentucky University, but research would reveal what or who would be needed to begin an IFI ministry at other schools in the Cincinnati area (notably Xavier, Cincinnati State and Miami of Oxford). Want to join us?