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Don’t put God in a box

A couple standing on a peak in New Zealand
Kam and Jenny Szeto

“Don’t put God in a box, there are so many ways He can bring the gospel to people. Each way is also quite effective. [For us] they come over and we share [the gospel].”

God made [the seed] grow (1 Cor 3:6)

Which is what Kam and Jenny have been doing with International Student Ministries of New Zealand (ISMNZ). Kam began serving in 2014, and Jenny joined 4 years later after their children had grown up. Both were originally international students at Lincoln University in the 80s from Hong Kong and Malaysia respectively, where they met.

Kam would be familiar with 1 Cor 3:6 (I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow), as a PhD candidate in Agriculture Science PhD at Lincoln, God brought many different individuals into his life. In particular, one person who made a particular impact was an OCF volunteer who traveled 19km from Christchurch weekly for a year to do Bible studies with him after his work. These experiences ultimately made Kam decide to also do the same and contribute to international students lives, in the same way that many people contributed to his life, resulting in his eventual faith.

Today, they serve in ISMNZ Wellington, where they live. The Wellington group typically gathers weekly on Friday evenings at Ramsey House which is part of Victoria University Wellington Chaplaincy. They have introductions, plan ice-breaker games, and provide dinner for the students. Afterwards, the volunteers go through a Bible story, and attendees are divided into small groups for discussion.

Kam and Jenny help facilitate a small group, but they emphasize that you don’t have to be an expert in Bible knowledge to do so. Group leaders are there to guide the flow of the conversation, allow students to ask questions, and ask them questions in turn.

A group of people having a bible study around a table
Kam and Jenny with Terry McGrath doing a Bible Study at Ramsey House

Now and then the team also organises outings with students, such as picnics, hikes, and gatherings in homes.

Jenny adds that something that is especially meaningful to her about volunteering at ISMNZ is becoming someone that international students know that they can rely on for help. Knowing that they are there can help relieve the large amount of stress from students for things like writing CVs, jobs applications, and moving houses. Different volunteers in the team help the students corresponding to their unique strengths in these areas.

The main highlight for Kam and Jenny of course, is when a student decides to commit their life to Christ and take the step of baptism, which both describe as very touching, especially hearing students share how they came to know the Lord.

However, “for ISM it’s not just about helping them know Christ, but when they are going back to their home, they become a salt and light for their communities and bring the gospel to other people around them,” Kam explains. This is what makes ISMNZ distinct from other student ministries.

His ways are higher than ours (Isaiah 55:8-9)

Yet the reality is it is hard to know what happens to students once they leave New Zealand. Kam admits that he was initially worried about graduates’ faith, especially those who return to closed home countries as they would find it difficult join a church.

Being from Hong Kong, Kam is all too familiar with the fast-paced life graduates would encounter when they return. The challenges of being a Christian back home without the support and Church structures that Christians in New Zealand are used to, and pressure from pre-believing parents and friends might cause their young faith to struggle. If they remained in New Zealand, he would still be able to keep an eye on them to see if how they are going in the faith and encourage them in their walk, but once they returned to their home country, it becomes difficult to make contact.

Amazingly, this was exactly where he found the hand of God at work.

Through an online Bible study group that was set up by a couple from the Wellington team during the covid period, Kam has heard the latest about some students who had gone back home. He was amazed that they had not only continued in their

faith, but some had even gone on to join short-term missionary work.

“It’s not about us,” Kam explains, “it is God’s work. If the student were to stay in New Zealand, I might have said that it is me who kept on supporting them and contacting them. But no, it is God who helps them keep the faith.”

These experiences have taught Kam and Jenny, that having faith is more important than having strategies or complex planning. For them living out their faith is about faithfully serving where they have been called by God. “God will lead whoever and he will come, and you have just got to share the gospel to him or her. God knows where they come from, I don’t think we should plan or strategize, that is God’s work.”

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