“They talk to us because we’re light and look like Filipinos, but they hate the darks.” This is what I heard from a young woman of northeastern Indian descent who had attended the international student fellowship we were visiting in the “South Hub” of Metro Manila. Her statement was the answer to my question about whether they had been able to make friends among the Filipino students. Sadly, her answer reflects prejudice, or perhaps misunderstanding and fear, that persists among Filipinos toward people of dark skin.
There are thousands of international students studying in the Philippines. Unfortunately, I have not been able to obtain current statistics, but the estimated number is well over 40,000. We learned that there are 3000 Indians, as well as several hundred Nigerians, studying at that particular university alone, and an addition 6000 in Davao. We also know that there are schools catering specifically to students not only from India, but Iran, China and other countries where missionaries are not welcome.
My husband, Joel, and I became interested in the subject of ISM when our mission organization, WorldVenture Philippines (known here as Conservative Baptist Mission), was engaged in strategic planning. We were looking for the “final frontiers,” per se, for foreign missionaries working in this country. Was there reason to continue recruiting new missionaries from the US? Filipinos are zealously reaching Filipinos, but what about other people groups, particularly the growing population of foreign students, many of whom come from places that are closed to traditional missions? To our knowledge, that group was underserved.
Reaching students with Hindu, Muslim and Buddhist backgrounds with the love of Christ, helping them understand the incredible message of the Gospel, teaching them to know and obey God’s Word and helping them prepare to return home as ambassadors for the Kingdom seemed a strategic way of reaching least-reached people groups in other parts of the world. It also seemed like a good way to pursue another of our goals as senior missionaries: equipping and training Filipinos for the ministry of cross-cultural missions. We decided that this was a ministry worth recruiting for.
Our hope was that we would be able to recruit someone with ISM experience to come study the Filipino context and work with Filipinos to develop a network of ISMs around the country. That has not come to pass. But in the meantime, we have been exploring what God has been and is doing among international students in various places around the country. There are some exciting things happening, and we have been blessed to learn from several ISM practitioners, while at the same time encouraging them to network with each other and any others who may be able to learn from the expertise they have gained by experience.
There is also great, untapped potential—an army waiting to be challenged and mobilized! God has many servants in this country who need to gain understanding, overcome their prejudices, and conquer their fears. Though we do not personally have a natural bridge to foreign students or the campuses where they are studying, we do have natural bridges to believers who might be mobilized to reach them. We believe that is primarily the assignment God is giving us. Through our role as Kairos course facilitators, writers and speakers, we endeavor to move “typical Christians” toward a more biblical worldview and engagement with the harvest field that God has brought to them. And we are praying that God will open a door for us to partner with one or more local churches for direct ministry to international students!
Betsy Eyestone with her husband Joel Eyestone are ISM missionaries to the Philippines since 1998. They were commissioned by WORLDVENTURE (formerly Conservative Baptist Foreign Mission Society). Betsy has a BA degree from Biola University (USA) and MA degree from Asia Pacific Nazarene Theological Seminary in the Philippines (2014).