Because he is my brother

This was not what Arjun* had in mind when he dreamed of being a doctor. He stumbled backward as the man advanced. The man was shouting hateful words. Go back to where you came from!  His eyes were wild. In his peripheral vision Arjun noticed someone else approaching, stalking their group of six students. His friend let out a cry – the shouting man had kicked him! Arjun noticed more men emerging. They were everywhere – he counted twenty of them. As they closed in with fists raised, Arjun knew this would not end well. He lifted his eyes, and just before he felt the first blow, he noticed a police officer leaning against a wall, silently watching. 

Arjun remembered his little white coat. He loved to dress as a doctor when he was a child. His parents were so proud when he had told them that he wanted to study medicine. When he learned he could attend medical school in Central Asia for a fraction of the price in India, his mind was set. The admissions counselor made it sound easy. The city would be modern and exciting. Everyone would speak English. Six years abroad would be a breeze.  

But the admissions counselor had lied. It did not take long for Arjun to realize that the situation was not as perfect as he thought. At the airport, the student coordinators forced Arjun and his friend Veer* to hand over their diplomas. They and the other Indian students were crammed inside a taxi and sent eleven hours away to their study destination. Hungry and nervous, they were unable to communicate with the driver, who only spoke the local language. But that was the least of their worries. They soon realized that as Indians, they faced heavy discrimination from locals.  

They were warned not to stay out later than five o’clock, as a minor encounter with the wrong people could quickly become dangerous. Wallets and bags were stolen from their friends in broad daylight. Their elementary skills in the local language rendered them helpless. But there was one word they understood well – “black.”  As they walked through markets children shouted it at them while their parents pointed fingers. 

The discrimination continued on campus. Following their first exam, Arjun and Veer stood in a long line, waiting for their results. After an hour, all 200 names of their peers had been called, yet the two students remained outside. They began to panic. What happened to our tests? The door opened and their group leader stepped through.  

The professor is wondering when you are going to pay him.”   

Unbeknownst to Arjun and Veer, the professors routinely withheld marks from students who did not pay a bribe. Indian students paid a premium. While their local classmates paid the equivalent of 15 USD for a good mark, Arjun and Veer were forced to pay the equivalent of 200 or 300 USD. But sometimes they did not have the chance to take the test at all. While students waited to enter the exam room, some professors would find small excuses to remove them. Once Veer was barred for wearing a hoodie. Another time, Arjun was removed because he had a beard. 

Despite their best efforts to understand the local people, Arjun and Veer were constantly shocked by their treatment. Six years stretched hopelessly before them as they considered a life without allies. Unable to find relief from the stresses of their coursework and the dangers of the city, the students felt emotionally homeless. This continued until their Indian classmate, Sai*, met a local peer named Adel*. 

Adel had never known any Indians before. But as she chatted with Sai after class, she realized he needed a friend. She invited him to her IFES group. Then Sai invited Arjun and Veer. In a matter of weeks, 15 more Indian students attended regularly. There, the students met Omar* and Elina*, the local IFES staff, who welcomed them into their lives. Finally, they had local friends.  

Omar and Elina were the first people that Arjun and Veer called after they were beaten up on their walk home from class. The two staff members rushed them to the police station – where the police advised the students not to file a report. Still, Arjun and Veer took comfort in the fact that they had someone to call. These relationships completely changed their experience.  Adel began offering her help for anything they needed. She accompanied them to the markets and haggled over rent prices with landlords. By simply being present, she dramatically changed how locals reacted to the Indian students. 

But other locals did not understand why Omar, Elina, and Adel cared about the foreigners. When Adel walked with them, they called out to her, asking if the Indians were a bother. Sometimes they challenged her. Once she accompanied Veer to the clinic to make sure he was not overcharged. When she refused to accept the exorbitant price, the doctor became angry. He questioned why she would go to such lengths to protect an outsider. Adel’s response was simple and salient.  

“He is my brother,” she said. “This is what you do for family. You protect them.”  

In truth, Arjun, Veer, and the other Indian students did find a family with the IFES movement in Central Asia. Worshipping and studying the Bible with Omar, Elina, and Adel carried them through the darkest hours of their studies. These friends were their allies in a culture that rejected them. Arjun describes his local Christian friends as people of integrity.  

“They always stood for the right things,” he says. “They backed us up.” 

In many places, foreigners like international students, refugees, and immigrants navigate blatant discrimination in their new society. Christians like Omar, Elina, and Adel are taking the opportunity to welcome these people by demanding justice on their behalf. They have even risked their own social status to do so. Their actions honor God’s command to treat the foreigner as “your native-born,” (Leviticus 19:33-34) and bear witness to God’s love for all nations and peoples.  

How can you be an ally to the foreigners around you? What can you do to pursue justice on their behalf? 

*name changed 


We met in the supermarket. Sahib* had come to Eastern Europe as a post-graduate from the Middle East, to study engineering. He started coming along to our club for international students. Then one day Sahib heard about our IFES national conference coming up. He wanted to come too.

“This club is for students of different backgrounds and beliefs,” I told him. “But the conference is for Christians.”

But Sahib came anyway. The only Muslim out of nearly 200 Christians. During those three days he heard the gospel preached over and over. He even came to a talk about sharing the gospel with Muslims! What on earth is he going to think? I wondered nervously. But at the end of the conference, Sahib shared his story with me:

Photo by John Price on Unsplash

Sahib’s story

Several years ago, Sahib’s brother had died tragically in an accident. His father, who never recovered from the grief, died six months later. Sahib’s nephew (his late brother’s son) went to live with him and his family. Then last year, while working in a military camp, he and his nephew were just metres away from the explosion of two ISIS cars. Sahib miraculously survived, but tragically, his nephew didn’t. Having lost three of his closest family members, Sahib sunk into a deep depression. He wondered why he was still alive. In desperation he had decided to move overseas to study again.

But then at the conference, he told me, something had changed. He’d suddenly felt the darkness and depression lift. He felt like he’d woken up. “It’s not an accident that you’re alive today, Sahib”, I told him. “I believe God saved your life for a reason.”

Soon after that, Sahib joined his local IFES group and has started going along to Bible studies and church services. Sahib still hasn’t accepted Christ, but we believe that God is at work in him.

Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

Kasim’s dilemma

The decision to become a Christian has huge implications for Muslims. It might not be possible for them to return to their family or home country. If they do return, they could face extreme persecution, a serious lack of fellowship, and limited opportunities for career and marriage, as well as painful rejection from family members. It’s not appealing — and yet, to leave the people you love behind…? This was Kasim’s* dilemma.

Kasim is from Central Asia. Every international student from his particular country is monitored closely during their time overseas, and when they return their phones and luggage will be checked. While studying overseas, Kasim met Christians, got involved in our international fellowship group and started reading the Bible privately with a local pastor. Wonderfully he turned to Christ, and soon after got baptised in secret. Despite the dangers, he started to share the gospel with his friends in his dormitory. Then came a turning point.

Kasim had a dream to move to a western European country to do a Master’s degree. He’d even been studying the language of that country! But increasingly he felt convicted that he had a responsibility to go back to his home country and tell his people about the most important gift he had found here. If he moved overseas again then who would tell his people about Jesus?

So now Kasim is back in his home country, completing his obligatory service in the army. Praise God that, so far, he is doing well spiritually. We pray that in the future he’s able to help pioneer student ministry in his country.

Unparalleled opportunities

The opportunities currently open to us across Eastern Europe are unparalleled. Students from 17 different countries attended our Christmas evangelistic event. Many of them are from desperately unreached places. Our own context is not without its challenges, but it is more open here than it is in many of these sending countries.

Each week we organise activities where international students can come and socialise together, enjoy friendships in a safe environment, learn about local culture, discuss different topics, improve their language and, if they are keen, open the Bible with us. We pray on that many more students in this generation would, like Kasim, come to know the Lord.”

Reflections from an IFES staff worker serving students in Eastern Europe

Open Doors records the persecution of Christians in its World Watch List. The ten countries where persecution is the most severe sent a total of 220,647 students to study internationally in 2016, according to UNESCO statistics. Pray with us that these international students would meet Christians, hear the gospel during their time studying overseas, and return home to share their faith with those living in darkness.

* name changed