Dan Gehman, director of residential services at Immerse International, talks about how his unique study abroad program is a vehicle for missions in its own way.
When you thought you were ready for a conversation with a native speaker:
Maybe you were a high school exchange student, or maybe you studied abroad in college. Think back on that feeling of being a foreigner for months. Even for the most adventurous among us, it gets overwhelming to have strange food put in front of you, or to try to figure out a new form of transportation, or (most of all) to struggle to communicate in a different language. But for most of us, the adventure toughens us up and makes us feel alive!
Have you ever thought about how it would feel to view America as that challenging, overwhelming, exciting place? At Immerse International (formerly known as the Millersville International House), that is the experience of students from all over the world. Here at Immerse, we have a community of 30 international students from 12-15 nations at any given time. These students attend local colleges and universities in addition to our English language program.
Personally, I know how it feels to invest oneself in time overseas. After serving in Germany for two years with EMM’s Youth Evangelism Service (YES) program, I served as the administrator for YES and STAT (Summer Training Action Teams) in Western Europe. Because of my wife’s and my love of the nations and of hospitality, God led us to be directors at Immerse. We want to offer students the benefits of time abroad and a leg up on their English skills – and with support staff and North American believers living here, our hope is to live the love of Jesus in front of the nations.
Immerse serves not only the students, but also the volunteer staff. Through my connections with EMM and Germany, in our first years we were able to invite over a dozen volunteers from Germany to come serve in the kitchen, on the grounds, and in the house. Now over half of them are in some type of full-time ministry. One of these volunteers, who served as a cook, chose to go into full-time ministry because of his time at Immerse. He is now a pastor.
Another volunteer, Matthias, recommitted his life to God on his flight to the U.S. (Those long plane rides can be such good times to think.) Matthias served with great passion and challenged all of us in our walks of faith. Now he is also a pastor in Germany. As their own faith relationships are strengthened, our staff disciples and mentors young people in their walks with Christ. We have great times of prayer together, lifting up to God the many nations represented here.
Over the years, it has been exciting to see the students from all over the globe gain a better understanding of who Jesus is. Several have come to Christ. One has gone on to be a missionary in her home country. Another went on to graduate school and led numerous others from her country to Christ. While students are here, we try to give them the richest cultural experience and fullest language immersion possible. Most recently, we took this semester’s group of students to the PA Farm Show, where they tried on cowboy hats, communed with farm animals, and watched horses and steers parade in the arena. As we give foreign students that great “study abroad” experience, we also hope to infuse their time here with a sense of Christ’s joyful service and love.
Dan is married to Jenny, and they have one son who is finishing up college. Prior to his role at Immerse International, Dan served on three YES teams to Germany and then worked at EMM headquarters for 10 years. He came to Immerse when it was still an EMM program, and has served there for almost 19 years.