Meet the Penns, IM Missionaries at the University of Illinois
Tyler and Kellie and their three children, Mason, Millie, and Madden live out a role of loving, serving, and reaching the international community that is dwelling among us in the United States.
The specific group of internationals they work with is international students. They presently serve in Champaign-Urbana, Illinois at the University of Illinois. The University of Illinois is host to thousands of international students from places like China, Japan, Indonesia, and so many more.
It is their initiative to reach a community, who can reach a student, who can reach the world through their ministry at the University of Illinois. They are a part of a Free Will Baptist church plant, The Bridge Church, that will join alongside their ministry to help love, serve, and reach out to this international student community.
“We desire to bring the knowledge of the saving grace of Jesus to these students that they too can follow Christ. It is our hope and desire that these students can return to their home country not just with a degree, but also with the light of the gospel within them.” – The Penns
Why the University of Illinois?
Kellie and I made the decision in 2011 to begin a ministry that could reach international students who are studying at our universities here in the United States. We were shocked to find out that our local state university here in Illinois was a leading university in the area of international students, with nearly 15,000 international students representing over 100 nations.
There are a few things to share about these students. First, they are some of the brightest walking our earth. They are working on technology that hasn’t been invented yet. Second, although they are very smart, many of them have very little knowledge when it comes to Jesus, the Bible, or the Christian faith. For example, we have been asked by a couple of students that we took to a Christmas play the questions, “Why was there a baby on stage?”. They had no idea that Christmas was about the birth of Jesus.
Another statistic about international statistics is also somewhat shocking and disappointing. 85% of international students will never step foot inside an American home. What this means is that all these people who have no knowledge of Jesus are often surrounded by people who do have this knowledge and yet the two groups seldom get together.
How they are ministering to international students
1Connect - Connecting to international students through meeting needs
- English Corner – We have partnered with an international student organization called the English Corner that provides international students with help in speaking English, and navigating American culture.
- Conversation Groups – These are small groups that take place throughout the week that allow the students to practice their English.
2Invite - Inviting international students into our lives
- Home – Our home is a major tool for ministry as it serves as a place to invite international students too. We invite for cookouts, dinners, game nights, and such.
- Holidays – We invite international students to share holidays with us like Thanksgiving, Christmas, or Easter.
- Hobby – We also invite international students to partake in some of our favorite hobbies like fishing, camping, kayaking, and boating.
3Create - Creating a pathway of faith
- Gospel Conversations – Our process of connecting to inviting leads to create these moments of gospel-filled conversations. They are the moments where we get to exchange the knowledge of Jesus with those who do not know.
- Bible Study – We will invite these students to attend a bible study for the first time.
- Church Service – Most of the time when we bring a student to a church service it is their very first time to ever step foot into a church service.
How you can pray for Penns
- Pray for the Bible Studies with the international students that the students will come to believe these words as truth and place their faith in Jesus.
- Pray for the English Corner that it can grow and provide a doorway to the faith for more and more international students.
- Pray for the Bridge Church that it will grow and become a major tool in helping provide the gospel to the international community here at the University of Illinois.
- Pray for the Penn family that the students they become a part of will see their hearts and become followers of Christ.
Tyler and Kellie Penn
You can partner with the Penns to reach international students in Illinois with the Gospel.