Ben Joseph was the son of a Hindu to Christian convert, born in Kerala, India. While he was raised going to church, he wasn’t interested in any spiritual matters. In the 70s, he began working for a businessman who assisted in sending people to the United States and Canada. The man promised Ben that he would send him to America one day, and true to his word, he did. The businessman wrote Ben’s Christian testimony, sent it off to American Bible colleges, and pleaded on Ben’s behalf for a scholarship to attend their school and enter ministry. Ben was accepted to a Bible college in Arizona and moved to America. There was just one problem: Ben wasn’t a Christian.
A Scam Unveiled
The college immediately found out that Ben’s testimony was fake and not written by him. But because they couldn’t afford to send him back to India, they allowed him to stay in the school and work in maintenance. Ben’s dream of living in America came true, but he found himself in a school dedicated to a God he couldn’t care less about. He found many of his classmates to be fake and Christianity to be a joke.
Accepting the Truth
Slowly, the material Ben was studying in class began to prick his sinful heart. It was an overwhelming feeling on top of the isolation he felt being an international student. In the 70s, it wasn’t easy to find a grocery store that sold your comfort ethnic foods or to afford a phone call with your family back home. Ben found friendship in his roommates and the mother of one of his roommates. Despite knowing the truth about why Ben was at school, a professor became like a father figure to him. While they all comforted him, God’s word continued to convict him. He could see his guilty deeds clearly. One dark Friday night, completely on his own, he fell to the ground and begged God to save him. That was the night Ben became a Christian.
An Abrupt Call to Ministry
By the 80s, Ben had graduated from seminary, gotten married, and was working in insurance. He was contacted by an old friend of his from seminary, Bob Lehman. Bob worked for Missions Door and told Ben he sincerely believed Ben should be in ministry. Ben said yes and was officially appointed by Missions Door to be a campus ambassador. In 1984, Ben spoke at a conference where a pastor in Tempe approached him about working with Arizona State University. It was then that the idea of a ministry in ASU aimed at international students was started.
Friends of Internationals
Arizona State University averages around 9,000 international students every year, and that number is growing. The university currently has students from 136 different countries, making it a top 10 university in the nation for hosting international students. Ben completely understands how a lot of these students feel. They’re struggling to work on their English and regularly don’t speak in their native tongue. They’re trying to get accustomed to a culture different from theirs. And they’re often lonely and homesick. That’s why he started Friends of Internationals (FOI).
FOI is a place where these students feel like they have a family. It’s a campus organization dedicated to sharing culture, building relationships, and discovering truth. It’s where international students can come together for a meal, go on activities like hiking or bowling, and visit magnificent nature sites like the Grand Canyon. It’s a home away from home. The students become close with each other, and they’re also paired up with American host families that they may or may not live with.
Ministering to International Students
FOI lets students know they’re coming from a Christian, biblical background. But in FOI, spiritual conversations mainly focus on the students and their beliefs. Students talk about philosophy, morality, and the foundations that build their values, whether that be a religion or something else entirely. These are deep conversations that can sometimes last hours as Ben and the students attempt to get at the heart of why they exist and what their purpose is.
While these discussions are an integral part of the ministry, Ben is not interested in selling them a spiritual product. He believes God’s word will convict them and they can’t run from the truth. He wants to develop meaningful relationships with these students so they know they have a trusted friend in a country foreign to them. Ben’s ministry is ultimately to care for students and do life with them. Just recently, he went to a funeral for a students’ friend. He didn’t come to preach a message; just bring food and eat on the floor with them in their barely furnished home.
Evangelizing to Students from the East
84% of the international students come from nations that are hostile or restrictive towards Christians. This part of the world is referred to as the 10-40 window – the Middle East, South and East Asia, and North Africa. These areas have majority Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, or Atheist populations, and they are areas most difficult for missionaries to enter and work. It’s from these countries that students are coming from to study at ASU where they can be exposed to the gospel.
Ben says a lot of these students have a difficult time grasping grace as they come from religions that teach God is swayed by good works. The cost of discipleship is also a frequent topic as many of these students could lose everything if they accept Christ. But the impact FOI is making is evident. In his first year of ministry, Ben led a Chinese Buddhist man and his wife to Christ. Today, that man is pastoring a church in California. Just recently, a student from Ghana (pictured in the blog) visited FOI for a free dinner and event discussion. A year later, he accepted Christ as his Lord and Savior.
How You Can Help
Ben is financially supported by Missions Door and says he would love prayer. Post-covid, the students are meeting in person again, and FOI is seeing record numbers like they never had before. There’s a hunger in most of these students because the campus was so isolated. Pray that these students will remain healthy and find the fellowship they desperately need at FOI.