On May 20, 2017, BIC U.S. missionary Mim Stern celebrated her 90th birthday. Serving cross-culturally for more than 60 years, Mim continues doing incarnational ministry, ministering to — and living among — international students in Philadelphia.
“I’m a bit of a risk taker,” Mim said, “Otherwise, why would you live in Philadelphia?”
When she and her late husband Pete left Southern Africa after more than 30 years of missionary service, some questioned their move to Philadelphia. One missions executive called the area on 44th and Walnut Streets the “war zone.”The number of international students studying at U.S. colleges grew 7.1 percent last year alone.
In response to the executive’s concerns, Mim said, “That’s where the people are. The Lord will take care of [us].”
Following the couple’s move to Philadelphia in 1987, God not only took care of them, but also empowered them to lead many international students to know and follow Jesus.
Mim is now the resident advisor at the Philadelphia House, a residence and ministry for international students attending the many universities in Philadelphia. There, she hosts weekly Bible studies, helps maintain the property, takes students on homestays during holidays, teaches English, as well as mentors and shepherds international undergraduate and graduate students.
For students away from their homes, she is family. A mug in her kitchen — a recent gift from a male Saudi student — reads “Mom;” inside, the cup says “Love.” Outside of their cultural environment, international students long for people who care for them, she said.
“The mission field is here,” Mim expressed. In the 2015-2016 calendar year alone, the number of international students studying at U.S. colleges grew 7.1 percent.1 Today, more than 1 million international students reside in the United States.
With international student enrollment only increasing, Mim desires that the Church would recognize that “the international world is at our doorstep.”
Universities are quite open to individuals willing to offer friendship, host families, and extracurricular activities for international students, said Mim. Congregations near centers of learning can contact the universities’ foreign student advisers to see if students are interested in connecting with them.
International students who become Christ-followers are also championing the gospel when they return to their home countries. Consider Jack,2 a Chinese man discipled by Mim who is now a leader in the underground Church in China. Jack first came to the U.S. while his wife was studying at Saint Joseph’s University, where he was introduced to the Philadelphia House.
One day, he walked into Mim’s office and asked, “How do you become a Christian?” Drawn to the trusting community, Jack began to follow Jesus and grew to taking a turn in leading Bible study.Today, more than 1 million international students reside in the United States.
When Jack returned to China, he went searching for the local church he had known was meeting in his hometown. He was grieved to find the meeting space now operated as a garment factory.
Understanding how challenging it is to find a community of faith in China, Jack wanted to help other Chinese converts like himself. He is part of an organization aiding Chinese brothers and sisters — who became Christians while living abroad — to connect to the underground Church in China. Mim said that Jack — with his familiarity with Chinese culture — can impact the Kingdom more “than 5 or 10 of me.” Individuals like Jack can return home and preach the gospel in their own language and cultural context.
Throughout her ministry with international students in Philadelphia, Mim has welcomed newcomers as family. In Matthew 25, Jesus says that he is in the face of the outsider and those to whom we show hospitality: “I was a stranger and you invited me in” (Matthew 25:35).
As the Brethren in Christ U.S. family, we celebrate Mim’s 90th birthday and are deeply grateful for her vision to welcome the stranger in our midst.
If you are interested in aiding the Philadelphia House, here are current needs: funds for a renovated kitchen, volunteers with expertise in carpentry to help repair ongoing issues in an old building, and a director couple in a year or two. If you wish to learn more about opportunities to help (or about ministry with international students), please contact Mim Stern. Or give directly to Mim online.
1. “OPEN DOORS 2016: Executive Summary,” 2017 Institute of International Education, accessed June 19, 2017.
2. Name altered to protect individual’s identity.