Kathleen Macosko, middle back, with some of her students. Kathleen, whose husband is a professor of chemical engineering at University of Minnesota, and the others who work with her find great satisfaction in reaching out to Internationals with Christ's love.
"The great commission is to go throughout the world and make disciples. But God knows how lazy we are and so He's brought the world right to our doorstep," Kathleen Macosko asserts.
And Kathleen Macosko should know; hundreds of feet from around the world have passed over her doorstep to the love and hospitality they encounter on the other side.
Kathleen and her husband, Chris, work at the campus of the University of Minnesota. Chris is a professor of chemical engineering, and Kathleen is the director of a program to help internationals from the campus and community learn English and adjust to American culture.
Kathleen operates by the maxim of "intentional living." She says, "God has given us each a certain number of days to live; how are you going to use those days? When I do something, I should be thinking to myself, 'How can I use it for kingdom work?'"
For Kathleen, more often than not the principle of intentional living means thinking about how her activities can help reach an international with God's love, or being "a missionary right where we live."
But as the wife of a professor, Kathleen's life wasn't always so purposeful.
"I had four small children and a very busy husband," Kathleen explains. "The chemical engineering department here is known as one of the best in the country and it is very high pressured. Chris was very much a workaholictraveling and working at home as well as trying to begin a new company. That's why I decided not to workI saw that somebody had to stay home and hold everything together.
"Because my husband's work was so all-consuming, I almost saw it as a mistress, and I didn't like his work. It wasn't that I was jealous of it, but there was this competition [for his attention]."
She also admits that she was tired of always entertaining Chris' international guests and students. She understood from personal experience what it meant to be welcomed into a home when visiting another country, but there was already so little time to spend with Chris that such hospitality just took from what was left.
"Entertaining and hospitality were really part of his job, and therefore my job. We always had to entertain in this business.
"I don't know if other wives feel this way," Kathleen discloses, "but I wasn't always really eager to go alongside him in this area. I should be honest about that."
But God changed Kathleen's attitude and her perspective is quite different today: "The way I look at it, what do I have that can be used by the Lord? I have a dining room table, and that is what I can use for the Lord. I have to cook meals anyway; if I have to make a meal, why not make enough for a couple more people? My husband can bring them home from work, so he doesn't have to do too much extra. We can love that person and befriend them and minister to them over that meal, and that hasn't taken too much extra time."
Kathleen would say God accomplished this change in her attitude through prayerful submission to His will, and by a series of events He placed in her path.
Chris' job often took him out of the country, and Kathleen would try to travel with him as much as possible. It wasn't until she had the experience of living outside the U.S. for an extended period of time, however, that God's plan for her personal ministry began to come into focus.
In 1985, Chris took a year's sabbatical in Strassburg, France. Chris worked at the university, the four children attended French schools, and Kathleen tried to make a home for them all. At the end of the year, despite many hardships, the whole family was sad to leave. What made the difference for them was one caring French family.
"The professor [in France] was sort of my husband's host," says Kathleen, "and his family really extended themselves. They helped us find a place to live and helped us settle in. [The French professor's] wife would come over once a week and . . . she would make phone calls for me in French to help solve any problems we had."
And they had problems. While in France, a pyromaniac started a fire in their apartment; almost everybody in the family was hit by a car at one time or another"nothing serious"; and somebody tried to break into their car and steal the radio, just to mention a few mishaps.
"Just by living there you had to telephone about bills and such, and this French professor's wife helped me make these phone calls to help me get through life," Kathleen remembers.
"So we knew what it was like living in a country and not knowing the language and cultureand having only one contact. Some people come here and have no contacts."
While in France, Kathleen helped out in a conversational English class for French women. She enjoyed the experience, and when she returned to Minnesota, Kathleen eagerly accepted an offer to substitute as a teacher in a conversational English class at an international center connnected with the university.
But something about the experience was missing. The university was very cautious about maintaining a distance from religious speech, so Kathleen was never able to directly talk about what she wanted to communicate most: her relationship with Christ.
Eventually, Kathleen did find a way to ask her students if they would be interested in a study of the Bible. Several students were interested, and that began a class called American Life and Culture that continues even today.
Kathleen traveled overseas again in 1992, this time to Japan, and left her culture class in capable hands. Upon her return, she found her class had continued and grown without her help or supervision. So she decided to multiply her effectiveness by beginning another ministry. This time, Kathleen tried to more directly meet the biggest felt need of internationals: to learn English. Therefore she started a conversational English class which now meets in a church every day of the week for about one-and-a-half to two hours each day.
As Kathleen found an outlet for personal ministry, God dramatically changed her attitude toward her husband's work.
"What happened was that our two lives got together because of this," Kathleen recalls. "And once responsibility with my kids lessened, we could sit down and strategize together and think about what we should be doing: What students do you have that need to come over? What faculty?
"It's much more intentional now, and I don't feel that competition because I don't have the burdens I used to have. I used to do everything pretty much at my home by myself, trying to ease his load."
Kathleen and the others who work with her class have found deep satisfaction in serving the international community at the University of Minnesotta. It's a very needy community, she points out, and she has been surprised by what has ministered most to those in her classes.
"The thing that really struck the women [in the class] was watching American Christian women interelate with each other," she says. "It's not necessarily the programs we offer them, but it's the love that we give them and that we exhibit between each other. This is what caused them see that there is something different about Christians."
Kathleen and her volunteers go the distance with their students. They teach English, take their students on tours of the Twin Cities, offer cooking classes, and have many other activities. Their energy for all this activity stems from the perspective they have built into the progam.
"This is not work for us, this is fun. We tailor the class around our interests so that it is fun for us too. For example, one lady incorporates her love for children's literature into her classes, I enjoy leading Bible studies, and if someone liked movies the class could watch movies together. Why make it difficult for ourselves?" she asks.
In the midst of the fun they are having, Kathleen and the other workers have become experts in meeting the needs of strangers in a strange land. And they have often found that the wives of international students qualify as those most desperate for help.
"I can't emphasize the isolation that these people feel when they come . . . but for the spouse of the student, it is much worse. They have left their family, job and home to go to the other side of the worldoften with a strange man they had just married by family arrangement. And, of course, they face this weather problem in Minnesotathey've often come from some warm place to this challenging winter," Kathleen explains.
"One woman told me she was so depressed when she first came that for the whole month of January she just lay on the floor without speakingand this was a really 'with-it' girl. Of course, her husband was paralyzed with fear in wondering what was going to happen to this lady he had married just three months before.
"One Chinese girl shared, 'You know, I don't belong here. I had to leave my job, my friends, my family, and I am just lost.' That's when the gospel of Jesus Christ can pierce their hearts."
The whole experience of demonstrating God's love is important, Kathleen would say, and explaining the gospel to internationals is a long-term process.
"We are getting people who don't even know there is a God; who have never heard of a Bible or Jesus sometimesespecially the Chinese. So we're doing pre-evangelism work," she explains.
But there are times when Kathleen and the other American workers are explicit about the gospel. At Easter, for instance, she will have up to five different VCRs playing the Jesus film in different languages. Kathleen also conducts a Bible study in which the class watches and even reads the entire dialogue of the Jesus film together.
"We have typed out the Jesus film dialogue in English. . . . We watch it maybe three timesin little clips. Then we discuss the meaning of the film and it's meaning to our lives," Kathleen relates.
Perhaps it's easy to see how Kathleen has come to be involved in such a ministry. But what about others looking for a ministry outlet who have no international experience?
"There is a 75-year-old woman who helps me who has made only one brief trip overseas. She's a widow and she had not felt God's call in her life. I asked her if she would [help teach the class] and she agreed. Now she says, 'I can't tell you what this has done for my life. It gives me a sense of purpose; I feel I'm able to pour my life into other people.' "
Speaking to those who are looking for some type of outreach, Kathleen says, "If someone wants to start working with internationals in a simple way, they could begin with the students or their spouses in the department they have contact with."
And she has other tips: "The other thing to remember is we can learn about their culture; it's not polite to always talk about ourselves. So even if we're teaching an English class, the first half hour of the class is chit-chat about them. It's something to connect us; we're always looking for ways to connect with them."
Kathleen also cautions that we should "[be] aware that their felt need is to learn English. In our classes, whether we're having a Bible study, or watching the Jesus film, or taking them on tours of the twin cities, we're always conscious that they need to learn vocabulary and conversational English.
"If they feel they are learning English, they'll keep coming backeven if it is a Jesus film they're watching."
Kathleen also encourages people to learn from her mistakes: "The other point is never to do it alone. I started out alone and I felt so unstable and unsupported. I went to someone in our church and asked if they could get someone to help and they said yes. Try never to do this alone."
But we would also do well to learn from her example: "I see myself as a catalyst and a mediator. Because I am in the university community, I can be a bridge to the non-university community to draw them in. I see myself as a catalyst to get other people going in this ministry, so that it's not just me doing the ministry, but I'm trying to multiply it."