A Home Away from Home

“Is this even making a difference?” thought Mary Jane.

The sun was beginning to set as the women gathered their things to head home.  The group had just arrived back at student housing after an afternoon of hiking in the mountains outside Salt Lake City.

Mary Jane gave a sigh. She had been serving international students for several years now through Campus Ambassadors, but this outreach to the wives of international students was new.

She thought back to when God had presented the opportunity to start this group, showing her that coming to a new country was very isolating for spouses and often left them feeling alone and desperately missing home. Mary Jane had clearly felt God’s nudge, so in the Spring of 2016, along with two women from Iran, she started the International Women’s Connected Group.

Waving goodbye to the other women, Mary Jane turned to get into her car when she noticed Fatima walking towards her, a sweet Iranian woman who was a newlywed and had been attending the group for about three months. Mary Jane felt concerned by the tears welling up in Fatima’s eyes as she began to speak.

“Thank you for this group,” said Fatima through somewhat broken English. “You are all my friends and without you I wouldn’t have any friends. My family thanks you too because they know someone here loves and cares for me.”

Mary Jane’s heart flooded with warmth as she gave Fatima a tight hug. It was just the encouragement she needed and the perfect reminder to trust that God is always working.

“Okay,” she thought as she looking into Fatima’s glistening eyes. “This is why I’m doing this!”

A Search Around the World

Mary Jane serves international students at the University of Utah. She was appointed with Missions Door in 2013 and has spent the last four years developing intentional and effective outreach in order to connect with international students.

Mary Jane grew up in Utah in the Mormon church. After nearly 30 years, she left the Mormon faith and became a believer in 2009. Two years later, she began to feel God calling her to ministry. Eager to leave Utah and serve internationally with missions, she began to prepare for that transition.

Her search to discover where God wanted her to serve took her on short-term team trips to countries in Central America and Africa.

Every place she went, Mary Jane experienced a profound love for each unique people group. Confused as to where she should serve, God had her cross paths with Missions Door missionary Ben Joseph while they were both in Kenya.

Ben challenged her to consider that maybe God had uniquely prepared her to work in student ministry. God began to reveal His plans to take Mary Jane back to where she started in Utah to serve not just one but ALL people groups by reaching international students at the University of Utah.

Building Leaders of Many Nations

The core of Mary Jane’s ministry is The International Friends Group, her registered student group on campus. It is a dynamic group that holds a weekly dinner and Bible study, one-on-one discipleship, and a variety of cultural and social activities. The group members represent many countries including India, China, Pakistan, Japan, South Korea, Peru, Nepal, Iran and Jamaica, to name a few.

Mary Jane has worked hard to create a group that embraces students with the love and compassion of Jesus, while also offering a safe place to explore, discuss and grow in faith.

“The kingdom change we’re looking for,” says Mary Jane, “is that all international students and their families will enter into relationship with Christ; that they would become missionaries in their own countries and communities.”

Now with nearly nine student leaders, Mary Jane is seeing the fruit of this vision.

Beatrice is a student from India who, three years ago, refused to pray out loud in front of her peers. Today, she leads discussion groups, prays with conviction and power, and even leads a ministry group at her church.

Karen is a student from China, who had been clear when she first met Mary Jane that she was a member of the Communist party and was “not going to be joining a church of any kind.” A year later, Karen gave her life to Jesus and was baptized.

Mary Jane loves what she gets to do. She loves building relationships with students, empowering both local and international volunteers to lead, and ultimately developing a safe community for international students and their spouses to experience Jesus.

And just as she discovered from Fatima, her ministry is completely in God’s hands.

“I just have to trust God,” says Mary Jane, “and keep doing what he has asked me to do.”