Archive for Saturday, August 10, 2002

Outreach ministry offers faith, friendship to foreign students

August 10, 2002

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Ann Kihm knows what it's like to be a foreigner in a strange land.

"When I was young, my family emigrated twice. I was born in South Africa, and when I was 5, we moved to Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe). They put me in a class, and I did not speak a word of English. I spoke Dutch and Afrikaans," said Kihm.

Her family moved again, to the United States in 1960, when Kihm was 11. They came to Lawrence, where her father started a job as a professor of civil engineering at Kansas University.

Kihm enrolled at West Junior High School, where her English accent  acquired in Rhodesia, a British colony at that time  immediately marked her as an outsider.

"I tried to lose my accent as fast as I could. Of course, that's the age when you desperately want to fit in and make friends," Kihm recalled.

But the memory of being considered a foreigner, someone different than everyone else, has stayed with her a lifetime.

She credits that early experience with leading her and her husband, Walt Kihm, to creating Doorstep Ministries, an outreach effort to international students and visiting scholars at KU.

"I do feel like God was preparing me for this," Ann Kihm said.

Like Mom and Dad

Doorstep Ministries  affiliated with Mustard Seed Christian Fellowship, 700 Wakarusa Drive  grew out of a simple potluck lunch the Kihms had at their home for students and scholars at KU who came from abroad.

That was 12 years ago.

The couple has continued to play host to similar potluck lunches, on the first Sunday of each month, since 1990.

"We never cancel it. We had one the day after my daughter's wedding. We were so exhausted. Even when we're out of town, we have someone else host it at our house," Ann Kihm said.

By now, the potluck lunches at the couple's home have become an institution  like a mini United Nations in Lawrence.

Last Sunday, 48 students and visiting scholars from 11 nations showed up to chat and dig into a spread of fried chicken, meatball salad, a Mexican casserole, a Chinese dish with mushrooms and a table loaded with cookies, brownies, cakes and pies.

Most of the food at the potlucks is provided by Mustard Seed members and the Kihms' friends. Guests, though, are welcome to bring their own dish.

For Ikuyasu Usui, 25, the plentiful, home-cooked meal is just part of the appeal.

"The Kihms are very welcoming; I feel guilty if I don't come to the potluck. They create a family atmosphere, and international students have a hard time getting that in the United States. They treat you like sons and daughters," said Usui, a Japanese graduate student in economics at KU.

Feiyan Chen, 27, agreed.

"They're just like Mom and Dad. They are also the same age as our parents, and they care about us," said Chen, a Chinese graduate student in chemical engineering at KU.

Experience love of God

But Doorstep Ministries is about much more than food and friendship. It's also about faith.

Many international students  especially those from countries like China, where the practice of religion is repressed  are eager to learn about Christianity and its place in Western culture.

The Kihms are happy to oblige them, welcoming students to attend worship services at Mustard Seed.

Ann Kihm's brother is the Rev. Pieter Willems, Mustard Seed's senior pastor. Her father is the Rev. Nick Willems, who was the church's senior pastor for many years before handing the reins over to his son in 1997.

Mustard Seed helps provide financial support to Doorstep Ministries, which is under the umbrella of the church's missions board.

During winter and summer breaks at KU, the couple leads interested students through an abbreviated version of the Alpha course, a videotape-based introduction to Christianity that is offered throughout the world.

The offer to explore the Christian faith is made very gently. No one's pushed to do anything he or she is uncomfortable with.

"This ministry grew out of our wanting them to experience the love of God, wanting them to know that God loves them and they are valuable to us," Ann Kihm said.

"We feel that even if they have a different religion or aren't interested in Christianity, we want to befriend them."

The Kihms say their ministry is richly rewarding, because it lets them make a difference in the lives of many young visitors to the United States.

"Some of them just kind of become our children, and the (older) visiting scholars become our friends. We say a lot of goodbyes, which is difficult. There's a lot of turnover," Walt Kihm said.

"But there's always others coming along."

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