the shape of leadership

From Friendship to Leadership

A Q&A with Severin Lwali

Chris Colvin on June 27, 2018

Severin “Sevo” Lwali came to the United States from Kenya to attend college. He now oversees Chi Alpha’s outreach to international students. His long-term goal is to help make 100,000 disciples over the next 9 years.

INFLUENCE: How has your experience as an international student prepared you for this position?
Growing up in Kenya, I had never really heard about having a personal relationship with Jesus. My oldest sister went to a university in India where she got saved through a campus ministry. When she came back, she told us all about it.

At that same time, I kept having a recurring dream about sharing Jesus with my friends in high school and being so full of joy. When I finally gave my life to Jesus, my dream literally came true as I began sharing Him with everyone I knew.

When I came to the U.S. to study at Missouri State University in Springfield, Missouri, I joined the local Chi Alpha ministry. I was a new believer and going through a culture shift. But the Chi Alpha pastor took a risk with me, allowing me to lead a Bible study and even preach.

I’ll never forget that, and it’s shaped my vision for moving students from friendship to leadership.

“When I finally gave my life to Jesus, my dream literally came true as I began sharing Him with everyone I knew.”
— Severin Lwali

What does it mean to move students from friendship to leadership?
Walking in the shoes of an international student prepared me to see their perspective and understand the challenges they face. The greatest gap an international student has is lack of community. You leave behind a support system back home, and you’re not sure what to expect.

Most international students are not looking for a faith community. They just want friends. When we fill that role, we have the opportunity to lead them to faith in Christ. And when we take the risk and allow them to lead, God can do amazing things.

Jesus took a risk with 12 disciples, and that included hot-tempered Peter, doubting Thomas, and even Judas. There’s always a danger in taking that risk, but there’s incredible potential, too.

What’s the true potential of ministry to international students?
Currently there are 1.2 million international students in the United States. That’s more than double what it was just 10 years ago. And many of them are from countries that do not allow foreign missionaries to share Jesus.

There’s nothing that happens on the plane ride back home that transforms them into a missionary to their own country. We need to reach them while they are here.

What do our churches need to know about international students?
When it comes to people who don’t look or sound like you, who don’t come from where you come from, if you take the risk to invite them into your churches and into your homes, you will see God do amazing things.

Here in the U.S., every tongue, tribe and nation is coming to us. God loves the whole world, and when we love people who come from different countries and cultures, we’re loving just like He does. 

This article originally appeared in the May/June 2018 edition of Influence magazine.

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