An NDSU student organization is creating a space not only for Jesus, but for international students and cultures as well. Bridges International, focuses on creating a relationship with international students and helping them not only making friends, but also create a stronger connection with Jesus Christ.
President, Zach McKenzie, who is a senior majoring in mechanical engineering, Vice President, Laura Salmela, a senior majoring in architecture, and Treasurer, Elisabeth Swanson, a senior in nursing, sat down and answered questions to further educate NDSU students of what they do.
“Bridges International is a caring community of Christ-followers committed to serve, promote social connections and engage with international students,” McKenzie explained. “We are a non-profit, Christian organization that exists to serve and mobilize the international student population specifically in the Fargo-Moorhead area and beyond.”
“The goals of Bridges International are: fostering social connections with international students (with other international students and American students), creating opportunities for leadership, providing service and friendship to international students, sharing the love of Jesus Christ and being an open place to ask questions (about Christianity, American culture, etc…),” Salmela continued. “We reach these goals through our Coffee Corner (social connections, practicing English as a service), Discovery Group (sharing the love of Jesus Christ, asking questions) and our intentional pursuit of friendship with international students.”
Although their current leadership is not international, they have a goal to “build a movement led by international students for international students,” McKenzie said.
With sharing your religion comes the fear of hatred for having a different belief system from others, McKenzie shared that he has not experienced much hatred on campus for his religion. “I would say even though I do not always agree with everyone, I try to be at peace with everyone,” McKenzie shared.
“Bridges International is an important organization because we have an opportunity to make an eternal impact on our campus,” Swanson said. “We want international students to feel welcome here in America by forming lasting relationships.”
This organization not only focuses on creating a stronger connection with Christ, but also connecting with international students and bringing them to connect with Christ as well. “We hold events for international students to practice their English as well as opportunities to explore faith. Building relationships is the main objective for the events we host,” Swanson said.
Sometimes people do not know how to become a better Christ follower, so McKenzie shared some advice on how to do so. “Learn about Him and how he approaches situations and relationships and try to emulate that,” McKenzie said.
Although simply learning is not the way to become a thorough Christ follower, prayer is a large part of Christianity as well. “We are able to sit in the presence of a holy God who is in desperate pursuit of us. Oftentimes, it is easy to turn Christianity into a ‘doing’ rather than a ‘being.’ If I am doing ‘churchy things’ out of obligation, my heart is not in it,” McKenzie shared.
The transition of being an international student is rarely easy, so McKenzie shared his advice of how it could be a smoother transition into America. “I would really say to take initiative to make friends with Americans. There are so many great ways to meet people that are different from you and learn from their culture,” McKenzie said.
McKenzie explained that he loves what he does with this organization, saying, “I am always able to be more immersed in learning about new people, new places, new cultures, new approaches to solving problems, new perspectives on family and society, etc.”
There’s so many different international student organizations, so how is this one different from the others? McKenzie explained how it is “always changing.” He goes on to say that most international student organizations will understand this statement as well because there are so many different cultures making it difficult to reach out to one individual person.
“There is so much diversity in Bridges; this allows for the international students to not only find belonging, but to even widen their own scope of the world,” McKenzie said.
This also makes them stand out from the rest of the religious organizations because they normally relate to the Midwest region, but forgets the minorities. “Intentionality is required to be able to adapt to each individual’s needs. Jesus was not a Caucasian American, so we should not limit the gospel to our own culture. It is important to acknowledge our own culture, and separate it from the gospel. This is what we strive to do in Bridges International,” McKenzie explained.
Salmela shared how her favorite memory within the organization was the first Coffee Corner that they hosted. “This is an open place to build friendships and practice English over tea or coffee downstairs in the Union,” McKenzie explained. It is also a way to socialize and make new friends. “Our first time hosting the event, many students came, representing five different countries,” Salmela shared.
Why join this group? It is normally a way for international students to make friends. “It is said that 85 percent of international students do not enter the home of an American once over the course of their four years at a university, and we hope to skew that number, one student at a time,” McKenzie explained.
While the treasurer of the organization was inspired by the “love for Jesus Christ and his love for people of all nations and cultures,” Salmela continued, “Having the chance to share God’s love with these new friends is exciting.” She also shared that she enjoys making friends from different cultures because they can learn from each other’s experiences.
Bridges International has a biweekly, Coffee Corner, on Tuesdays, with their next meeting being Nov. 14. They also have their weekly Discovery Group at 6 p.m. on Sundays. With these meetings, there is no prior knowledge of the Bible for this meeting needed because they use this time to interpret passages from the Bible.