With more than 624,000 international students studying in the United States, the president of Overseas Students Mission , Dr. Bill Bray, is calling American Christians to share their Thanksgiving with those who are far from home at this holiday time.
"Many of these students come from societies that have never experienced the joy of Thanksgiving and other American holidays," says Bray.
"This program gives them a chance to meet American Christians in their homes, make friends, and share in the faith experience that created these holidays - and has done so much to shape our value system in this country."
Christians who want to invite a student into their homes for Thanksgiving dinner should call OSM at 434-295-6488 before November 24.
The Thanksgiving program is now active on over 850 campuses in the United States. Started in 1953 by OSM, providing Thanksgiving hospitality is part of a "Friendship Family" program that links international students with Christian families year round.
Bill Bray, 61, was named president of OSM earlier this year by the founder and chairman, Dr. Bob Finley. He also founded International Students which has helped establish "Friendship Partner" programs across the United States. It is now active on 850 campuses. Bray is also a journalist and frequent contributor to ASSIST News.
In a media release, Bray denies that the program is designed to proselytize or convert non-Christians. "We want to demonstrate the love of God as demanded in the Bible, and part of that is caring for visitors. From an educational perspective, part of being here is experiencing American culture and that includes seeing how Americans live out their faiths during these holidays.
"Over 85 percent of Americans claim to be at least nominal Christians, and these holidays which are based on Bible commands and history often include prayers and worship - but no one is forced to participate."
Bray says he is focusing on getting more local churches involved in this effort. Pastors who want to offer the program to their congregations are being invited to call OSM directly at 434-295-6488.
"Ideally, we hope this gives a student from overseas an opportunity to be in several different homes while studying at American universities, taking military training, or using other educational settings."
According to the Institute of International Education, there are a record-breaking 624,000 international students in the USA this school year, up 8 percent from last year. China and India sent the most students to the USA.
Having myself spent four years as a college student here in the United States before deciding to emigrate from the United Kingdom, this reporter knows from experience how much an invitation to share a meal with a family over the holidays meant to me.