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A Taste of Japan in Illinois

Chi Alpha group in Carbondale reaches students from more than 30 nations.

Although not a Christian, Sayaka Ikeda of Japan enjoyed herself in a Chi Alpha Bible study group when she began attending as a first-year student in 2001 at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale.

The Japanese L.I.F.E. (Love, Instruction, Fellowship, Evangelism) group offered the familiarity of home by providing a place to meet Japanese friends, eat Japanese food, and speak her native tongue.

Those in the group talked about a message of hope in a language she understood. The Bible study, worship, and prayer took place in Japanese, which helped the young student still developing her English skills learn about God’s love at a deeper level. She met Japanese Christians for the first time through the group.

“It opened my eyes to see how Jesus is God of all nations, even Japan,” she says. “At first I thought Jesus and Christianity were only for Western people.”

Ikeda accepted Jesus as Savior at Carbondale’s Calvary Campus Church in 2005. The multiethnic Assemblies of God congregation is a ministry partner of SIU Chi Alpha, part of AG U.S. Missions. Today she serves as a full-time Chi Alpha campus staff member at her alma mater, leading the same L.I.F.E. group she attended. She is also a pastor at Calvary, which started in 1988 as a way to minister to SIU’s international student population in the community of 26,000.

Calvary Campus Church Pastor Bruce David Payne is also SIU Chi Alpha director. Payne says the church’s founding pastor, Dale Call, felt led to reach out to international students, and believed God would provide Americans with a heart for the nations to minister to them.

Individuals from more than 30 foreign nations currently attend Calvary. Students from more than 90 countries have attended Carbondale student ministries. L.I.F.E. groups, such as the one Ikeda attended and now leads, are a primary avenue for connecting with international students on a cultural level.

In addition to Ikeda’s group, SIU Chi Alpha includes African, Caribbean, Chinese, Indian, and Latin American groups that meet weekly for Bible study, and often include a meal and fellowship. As with Ikeda’s group, some of the Bible studies are spoken in a native language. 

As Ikeda experienced, L.I.F.E. groups provide a safe place for international students to see what Christianity is about. 

“Hopefully, as they get saved, as many have, they’ll get discipled and start coming to church on Sunday,” says Payne, 53. 

The international students receive the opportunity to share their culture with everyone at Calvary. Once a semester, those in attendance celebrate international Sunday. The different L.I.F.E. groups sing praise and worship music in their native languages and wear clothing from their home countries. On other Sundays, the worship team translates songs so that the whole congregation sings in another language. 

Jennifer Pallikkathayil

Jennifer Pallikkathayil is a public relations professional from Columbia, Missouri, who loves sharing stories of the work God is doing in people’s lives. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Iowa State University.