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International Students

Summary: This article traces why and when we began to invest in the numerous international students who come to the US. It also summarizes such ministries by other organizations and ends with notes on what we have done in other countries.

Surely you will summon nations you know not, and nations you do not know will come
running to you, because of the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel,
for he has endowed you with splendor.
Isaiah 55:5


Our Passion for International Students
Influences from Other Organizations
Key Navigator Leaders
Primary Ethnic Groups
ISM Outside the US

Our Passion for International Students

In our early days, we usually did not focus separately on our international students. They were merely present among collegians on the campuses where we ministered.1 By the end of the 1950s, we took note of international students, but without focusing on them specifically. For example, in 1959, we held a collegiate weekend entitled “Thirty Hours One Mile High” to which 250 students came, including internationals from four countries: Germany, Turkey, India, and Hong Kong.2 Even today, some internationals are active in our overall campus ministries.

However, this article describes the emergence of a separate stream in the US, which we now call our International Students Mission (ISM). Today, we have a large and dynamic ministry spread across many US campuses. In fact, in no segment of society have we invested so much per capita. For example, in 2011 we had seventy-two ISM staff units working among 720,000 such students, a ratio of one family per ten thousand students. This was five times the coverage ratio of our overall US collegiate ministries.3 Why such a concentration?

Why have we found international students to be so strategic? First, because we have a biblical mandate to care for the alien, one of the vulnerable groups for whom God expresses his concern.4

Secondly, because this is one of God’s ways to make himself known among displaced peoples. Many of the heroes of our faith came to know God or experienced significant growth while they were away from home. Note also the strategic nature of the nations represented at Pentecost, as listed in Acts 2:5-11.

Thirdly, because such students will become influential adults. We have excellent access to future leaders of even the most isolated countries.5 People of many nations flow through a single campus.

Fourthly, because many are at an open and enquiring stage in their lives, eager to study American culture and to improve their command of English. They are often lonely and in need of legal or medical counsel, as well as help with the organization of their daily lives. They usually have freedom to explore their host culture, well away from social restrictions and expectations in their homelands. Our hospitality becomes very congenial.

Fifthly, it is attractive to envision and pray toward reaching many nations from one location.

Sixthly, our missionaries are often a good resource when they return to the US. They tend to be relationally sensitive and thus “feel at home” in a continuing cross-cultural setting, among internationals. Their knowledge of a student’s mother tongue is a big help in the discipling process.

To balance such focus and receptivity, those who are pursuing advanced degrees at US universities may be less accessible because of their heavy workload. Thus, our ministry revolves around their down times, such as meals and recreation and exploratory trips during semester breaks. Nevertheless, our engagement with them is often their only encounter with the Gospel. As Billy Graham asserted, more than 70 percent of such students never enter an American home or visit a place of worship while in the US.6

Influences from Other Organizations

When The Navigators took up the opportunities that international students in the US presented, they were following in the footsteps of Bob Finley, a friend of Dawson Trotman.

In the mid-1940s, Bob Finley enrolled as a graduate student at the University of Chicago and deliberately lived in the International House to reach some of the six hundred foreign students. Then, as a missionary to China, he found it significant that communism was being propagated by returning Chinese students who had studied in Russia. Talking with Trotman in Shanghai in 1949, his vision deepened, but his responsibilities in Asia precluded such ministry. When Trotman met him again in Tokyo in 1951, nothing had been done. Finley then resigned from the Billy Graham Association and returned to the US to minister to international students.

In September 1951, Finley recruited Carroll Lindman as his first co-laborer in his Fellowship of Overseas and University Students (Focus). Lindman worked with internationals at the University of California, cooperating with The Navigators and Campus Crusade. Finley himself ministered at the Berkeley campus with support from Nav staff Bill Michel and Warren Myers.7 Then, in 1953, Finley founded International Students, Inc. (ISI),8 based in Washington, DC, passing the leadership to Hal Guffey in 1963. Star Ranch in Colorado Springs was purchased by ISI in 1972 and their ministry continued to deepen and broaden their outreach to internationals.9

By 1979, when Leiton Chinn wrote his paper on the historical development of ministry to international students, ISI had settled in well. He writes: “The former Young Life camp worked well for ISI’s expanding ministry of training internationals on staff in a central location.” Accordingly, ISI expanded fast in the decade after this purchase. At the end of 1979, they had around 150 staff in forty US cities, as well as overseas affiliate ministries and staff in Costa Rica, Ecuador, Japan, East Africa, Egypt, Sweden, Nagaland, and Paraguay.10

In the previous decade, IVCF had appointed Paul Little to lead a special department of international student ministry. Though there were very few paid staff, he developed a network of volunteer helpers, many of whom were IVCF alumni. Paul moved on in 1964, but the mission still had a couple of dedicated staff in 1967.11

In that year, Campus Crusade sent staff member Dan Bice to work with international students in Boulder, Colorado in preparation for a future assignment to South America. The Crusade ministry was formally started in 1968-1969 and was called “Internationals in America.” By 1969-1970, these Crusade staff exceeded thirty, and IIA divided to work partly with International Students and partly in Ethnic Ministries. By 1978, Crusade dissolved its specific ISM segment and shifted the responsibility for reaching internationals to their regular campus staff.12

Key Navigator Leaders

The seeds of a focused ministry to internationals began in 1972 when Nate M.13 saw how many Lebanese were studying in the US. After his time in Iran, he returned in 1976 to initiate contact. Around the same time, as we dispersed our China Task Force, Tom and Carolyn Eynon started our International Student Ministries (ISM) in Dallas, and Jake and Vera Combs began similarly with Chinese students in Kansas City. We had our first ISM booth at the 1977 Urbana Convention in Illinois. In September 1977, Nate M. was officially appointed as our first staff member to work specifically with international students.

Although we held our first national conference14 for such students as early as 1979, it was not until 1985 that our US leaders gave sustained attention to this segment. Then, on behalf of the USLT, Roger Fleming met with our ISM staff to learn from them. Excerpts from his report:

If we are intent on developing a 3E ministry among internationals, we might do well to focus on the smaller or lesser campuses where the (academic) pressure is not quite so great. Currently, our experience tells us that our greatest contribution in ministry to these people is pre-evangelism, evangelism, and follow-up. We could have a more significant establishing and equipping ministry if we searched out Christians among them, but this might be counterproductive to our desire to reach those people who are generally “unreachable” in their own countries. A second benefit . . . seems to be the significant cross-cultural experience for Americans involved in these ministries. Clearly, we need to determine how the international student ministry fits in to the global picture of The Navigators and to develop a strategy for it.

Spurred on by this, our preparations for the ISM consultation in January 1986 identified the staff already committed as:

Full-time staff

  1. Tom Eynon: Boston (supervisor, Dave Seiver)
  2. Jeff Paetzhold and Nate M.: Madison (supervisor, Lee Maschoff)
  3. Jake Combs: Kansas City (supervisor, Ron Bennett)
  4. Gene Tuel: Lawrence (supervisor, Ron Bennett)

Part-time (actively involved)

  1. Jack Hill: La Fayette, AK
  2. Mike Crouse: Oklahoma City, OK
  3. Randy Torpen: Stevens Point, WI
  4. Ron Goerzen: Whitewater, WI
  5. Dave Frahm: LaCrosse, WI
  6. Dan Wooldridge: Davis, CA
  7. Roy Robertson: Denton, TX (leaving to go overseas)
  8. Larry Blake: Albuquerque, NM
  9. Chuck Ailes: E. Lansing, MI

Gene Tuel assembled a solid document on the challenges and requirements of an ISM strategy in the US.15 Given that there were then 340,000 international students in the US, the case for a coordinated strategy was strong. One argument was that our history had demonstrated that “ministries only blossom when they are given full-time attention; when someone is given the responsibility and is free to give it his total attention.”

After identifying the two aspects of God’s plan:

  • Sending us to the peoples (Isaiah 49:6; Jonah 1:1-2; Acts 1:8)
  • Bringing the peoples to us (Zechariah 8:20-23; Acts 2:5-12)

This document then laid out in fresh terms the potential of those who receive Christ and return to their own countries, adding several observations:

  • They are looking and longing for American friends and family to relate to closely and are often disappointed and disillusioned when they don’t find them.
  • The first two-to-four weeks of their stay here is the most crucial time to meet them.
  • The American society and educational system encourage them to be open, to question, to investigate and work hard.
  • The opportunity is not only evangelistic, but also to make disciples and develop laborers among the Christian internationals, some of whom come from Navigator ministries.

At that time, our focus was especially on campuses where there were more than two hundred internationals and where there was a supportive Nav supervisor.

Primary Ethnic Groups

Across the years, most of our ISM staff have focused on Chinese students who have been numerous and unusually open and, of course, of rising geopolitical importance.16 Our ministries have also been strong among Japanese international students in the US. Doubtless, this has been helped by three of our American ethnic Japanese making regular trips to Japan to follow up and connect those who return to their homeland.17 For us, Indonesians have been at least as significant in numbers as Japanese.

However, partly because we did not promote The Navigators as an organization while students were studying in the US, making fruitful connections after their American experience proved hard. Their best linkages were often with students who had preceded those returning home: there was a shared history. In China, for example, our expatriates were usually too busy to begin to relate deeply to returning Chinese.

Nate M., observing that students returning to their home countries often did not connect well with their churches or with local Navigators, resolved to work on this.18 He made his first exploratory trip in 1988 to Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia, and Indonesia in order to help connect those who had studied in the US within Nav groups into satisfying long-term relationships in their home countries. He also distributed the M.I.S. Enabler, an occasional newsletter for those involved in a ministry to international students.19 Nate’s initiative was a fruitful model.20

Because many of our international students were Asians, we made regular visits to countries such as Indonesia and Japan,21 to help returning students connect with fellow nationals in their home countries. When successful, this extended the impact that such returnees could have throughout their lives.22

The USLT continued to be enthusiastic. By 1988, Ray Hoo was chairing a national advisory committee for our ministry to international students. After recording that their mission was “to reach and equip international students to be disciples and laborers for Jesus Christ, multiplying in their world, with special focus on students from restricted countries and unreached peoples,” he set out a comprehensive set of functions and guidelines and goals for his committee.23

At that time, there were 111 staff and laborers in the US working with internationals. Thus:

  • Western Division: thirty-seven people in twenty-five cities
  • Central Division: forty people in fifteen cities
  • Eastern Division: thirty-four people in twelve cities

Our American ISM, sponsored by Ray Hoo, became part of our International Missions Group. Structurally, the size of our American ISM and the caliber of the staff (often, returned US missionaries) who comprised it gave a measure of independence to this branch of our ministry. An ISM leadership team was established, ably led by David Lyons.24

From the inception of a distinct American ISM around 1990, our staff census provides the names and numbers of those engaged in this ministry. For select years:

  • September 1991 (96)
  • September 1993 (100)
  • September 1995 (114)
  • September 2003 (127)
  • December 2008 (107)

Across the years, much significant ISM work has occurred within our US collegiate ministry where international students were the most responsive people on campus, often reached as friends and classmates of Navigator undergraduate and graduate students. Several former Nav staff left The Navigators to do ministry with International Students Inc. (ISI) because they did not have a clear place in The Navigators. Many later returned to The Navigators during a period of instability within ISI in the early 1990s.25

This account reveals ambivalence across the years as regards where our work among international students best fits, organizationally. We saw how Campus Crusade in 1978 absorbed their international student ministry into their collegiate and ethnic frameworks. However, we did not follow that route.

Ray Hoo placed our ministry within the responsibilities of what is now US NavMissions. When ISM has had a clear focus and a gifted leader, it has flourished as a separate unit. Today, ISM is a recognized mission within the US Navigators.

The ministry continues. Ward Ballard, our incoming ISM director in 2016, observes that our older ISM staff (usually, returned missionaries) work well with graduate students but that younger internationals pursuing their first degree are often reached within our collegiate ministries.26 In support of ISM continuing as one of our US missions, David Lyons recently gave a persuasive account27 of the advantages of keeping ISM separate in terms of specialized cross-cultural skills and lasting relationships that often persist and deepen after students return to their own countries, as Nate M. recognized. International students returning home are a precious resource in their frequently hostile settings and with their educational advantages.

ISM Outside the US

What about international students who have attended universities in other countries?

ISM in Australia

While Nate M. was seeing opportunities in the US in the 1970s, Australian Universities were seeing great fruitfulness, especially among students from Malaysia and Hong Kong.

At the University of New South Wales (UNSW) in Sydney, a few students from Hong Kong and Malaysia became believers; then a team formed and finally a large ministry group with scores of students turning to Christ, being trained and “sent” back home. A fine example is Ben Wong who received some training in Sydney and, after leading the ISM ministry at UNSW, returned to Hong Kong to begin a fellowship in a small apartment in a Kowloon high-rise block. This initiative grew into a multi-cell church which was reproduced in countries throughout Asia and other parts of the world. Factors which facilitated this God-given growth included the welcoming Asian flavor (metaphorically and literally) for internationals in a foreign land. Group members served selflessly, helping with accommodation, studies, and having lots of fun. While not without problems, they were strong in knowing and applying the Scriptures and prayer and faith in action.

In Melbourne, though the campus focus was on Australians, Robert Bolton was moved to share Christ with Chris, a medical student who in turn led his friend Ed to Christ, and Ed shared the Gospel with a commerce student named Alan Ch’ng.28 After growing spiritually in the Australian Nav group, Alan grasped the promise of Isaiah 43:4. Immediately, God honored his faith as students responded to the Gospel. Dave Haynes discipled Alan through this process and soon it became clear that God was initiating a significant movement among Malaysians and a few other nationalities. Doug and Geneve Utley were helping the men and women, especially the emerging leaders, as scores of internationals came to Christ each year. Many “accommodation houses” were set up where the Gospel was shared, young believers were established, leaders had the chance to fail, and succeed and everyone had a great deal of fun!

Factors that God was using here included faith in the promises of God claimed in prayer. There were prayer conferences leading to action. There were transparent examples of walking with God, sacrificial serving and sharing stories with new friends. The Scriptures were taught and learned. Most students completed the Studies in Christian Living and the Topical Memory System. Because such students could not afford to fly home often, summer training programs and other trips solidified the relationships and contributed to growth. Community was a highlight as they lived together, shared their possessions, played football, shopped, and ate together. Fortunately, they had a kingdom-minded pastor in Melbourne, Alan Webb, who saw evidence of the grace of God and supported them.

Our Australian staff tried hard to prepare students to flourish spiritually when they returned to their home countries. We taught from 1 Corinthians 6-10, yet it was recognized that disciples who were isolated on their return struggled. So, we decided as much as possible to send them back in cohorts, encouraging them to trust God for jobs and accommodation close to each other. Parents were initially concerned, but as they saw the transformed lives of their grown-up children, godly marriages, and grandchildren, they approved. Many have put their trust in the living God. Many are now serving as leaders in the extended families, churches, and communities. Some are Navigator leaders such as Alan and Connie Ch’ng; Koay Chee Hoe and Alice; Michael Wee; Yuk Kiem and Lay Choo; and others.

International students were encouraged to value their relationships; many became friends for life. Some held back, but it is noteworthy that fifty who had been internationals in Australia travelled from Malaysia, China, Thailand, Singapore and, of course, Australia in order to attend a reunion29 in Sydney in 2013, forty years later. Some even brought their young adult children to the reunion because they wanted to thank those people whom they had never met for their impact on their parents’ lives.30

ISM in New Zealand

New Zealanders have a strong relationship with Pacific islanders, of whom some seventy thousand study in New Zealand.31 Indeed, New Zealand can lay claim to being the first Navigator country to reach out to international students, beginning in the late-1960s. Later, this ministry flourished to the point where ISM New Zealand32 was set up as an independent agency that separated from The Navigators organizationally in September 1999 but retained, especially through Jim Chew, a fraternal relationship with us. God has blessed this extensive and dynamic ministry, initially led by Terry McGrath.33

ISM in Africa

How about Africans? Dr. Bob and Mary Taussig from Manhattan, Kansas, were serving at Ahmadu Bello University in Zaria, Nigeria, in the early 1970s. On his return to the US, he founded Helping International Students (HIS) in 1978, specifically those at Kansas State University.34 He formed a team and produced check lists and other aids in enthusiastically reaching out to foreign students.

Dr. Keith and Carol Plate had gone as medical missionaries to Nigeria, with the Christian Reformed Mission. They shared our vision. Indeed, they attended our 1972 European staff conference in Norway. When our ministry began in a Nigerian city, they moved there to be on our team.35 Since returning to Iowa City, they have had an influential ministry for many years among internationals. They continue to travel back to Africa, linking with our African leaders, on medical trips and for prayer retreats. Their ministry has spread.

ISM in the UK

The UK Navs formed an ISM in 2001, led by Allan and Kathy Bartlam (Birmingham). Thus, there were scattered initiatives in various cities.36 Friends International was a leading UK specialist among international students, so the Bartlams teamed with them to learn faster, again mainly with Chinese. We also had the privilege of working as wardens in two “grace houses” expressly set up to care for such students.

ISM in Bulgaria

Our most fruitful European ministry to internationals has been at the American University in Blagoevgrat, Bulgaria, starting in 1992 and led by Bill and Lisa Clark. The student body was then 85 percent Bulgarian, but it shifted so that more than 50 percent of the students now come from more than forty countries including the Balkans, the former Soviet Union, Central Asia, Mongolia, China, and Southeast Asia. Many of these countries have been closed to traditional missionaries and resistant to the Gospel. However, the Clarks found that they had a quicker openness to spiritual discussions and, as often, represented the cream of the crop from their homelands.

In the Clarks’ ministry, foreigners far outnumber Bulgarians. Some have become followers of Christ and gone on to minister to others. For example, an Albanian student came to Christ and, after attending graduate school in the US, joined the staff of a Christian organization ministering to international students, and a Moldovan student came to Christ and felt called to stay in Bulgaria and later became the pastor of a church. The Clarks have a “Logos Club” gathering every week. It’s designed as a safe place where students, regardless of their religious background, can come together to discuss topics of intellectual and/or spiritual interest. This smaller gathering will typically have five to fifteen students including some from such places as Georgia, Armenia, Turkmenistan, Serbia, and Mongolia. Many graduates from this ministry continue to walk with God and become “workers for the kingdom next door to everywhere.”

ISM in Canada

In Canada, Peter Agwa from Kenya has reached out as Nav staff to international medical students studying in Toronto. Also, Nuke Shim has sustained a significant ministry among internationals.


It seems fitting to end by noting the distinguished career which Leiton Chinn has followed. He now serves as the Lausanne senior associate for international student ministries. Pleasingly, his experience included pioneering the Nav ministry at Fort McPherson Army base in Atlanta and the University of Georgia.

He has been a catalyst for enhancing and expanding ministries among international students since 1977, with ISI until 1990 and then as president of the Association of Christians Ministering among Internationals until 2008, as well as his investment in the Ethnic America Network and the Lausanne Movement since 2004. He is well connected with Terry McGrath and Jim Chew.

By Donald McGilchrist
3961 words

See also articles on:
Men and Women Partnering
Collegiate Ministries

Home Again: Preparing International Students to Serve Christ in their Home Countries,
DawsonMedia, 2005, 146 pages.

The World at Your Door: Reaching International Students in your Home Church and School, Tom Phillips and Bob Norsworthy, ISI ,1997, 230 pages.

God Brings the World to your Doorstep, Lawson Lau, Leadership Publishers, 2006, 390 pages.


  1. Perhaps our earliest record is that our contact Nick Kalivoda was moving to LSU from Dallas in 1951, “partly because that campus had a large group of foreign students.” Source: February 1951 directors conference. Note also the collaborative ministry later that year at the Berkeley campus in which Bill Michel and Warren Myers participated. See page 3.
  2. Source: Area representatives’ conference, Texas, January 24-30, 1960. In 1959, we also saw the first issue of A Guide to International Friendship, a booklet prepared by Paul Little of IVCF.
  3. The US Navs had 455 staff units in 2011 ministering to a college enrolment of twenty-one million students, a ratio of 0.22 families per ten thousand students. Sources: Julia Collins for 455 staff units. for enrolment of 15.12 million in public and 5.89 million in private colleges in 2011.
  4. The Scriptures show God’s concern for aliens, widows, orphans, the sick, prisoners and others who are without power or access in their social settings.
  5. The US Department of State ( publishes a list of 319 entries of senior political leaders from Argentina to Zambia who have studied in the US. This does not include those who came to the US for military cross-training. However, it does include some ninety-two prime ministers or heads of state.
  6. Tom Phillips and Bob Norsworthy, The World at Your Door, ISI, 1997.
  7. Warren wrote: “Here, there are 1,200 students from overseas countries. Among these are eleven Afghans and Afghanistan allows no missionaries at all. . . . Also in the Bay Area are twenty to twenty-five foreign students who have already become Christians.” Source: “Dear Gang” of April 7, 1952.
  8. Trotman was a charter member of the ISI board.
  9. Preceding paragraphs largely taken from Leiton Chinn’s 1979 paper on the “Historical Development of the International Student Ministry Movement in the USA,” prepared for Dr. Ralph Winter in 1979.
  10. See Chinn, loc cit, p. 5.
  11. See Chinn, loc cit, p. 9.
  12. Chinn loc cit, p. 11.
  13. Nate grew up in Iran and was schooled in India. Coming to the US at age seventeen for college, he was attracted to the quality of life of Navigators he met. He married in 1964.
  14. August 1979 at Glen Eyrie. 3E stands for evangelizing, establishing, equipping.
  15. January 1986: ten pages plus appendices by Jeff Paetzhold, Jake Combs, and Nate M., relating to our ISM consultation in the same month. Accessed in Beidler file, International Student Ministry.
  16. In 2011, the top five countries for international students in the US were China (22 percent), India (14 percent), South Korea (10 percent), Canada (4 percent), and Taiwan (3 percent). As IVF’s international student ministry site ( well says, such students have come “most from the 10/40 Window, unreached people groups, restricted access, and closed countries.”
  17. Also, Nav staff Mike and Judie Crouse recently spent five years in Japan where Mike was the chaplain of an international church in Tokyo.
  18. Nate M. was a co-founder and past president of the Association of Christian Ministries to Internationals.
  19. DawsonMedia, 2005.
  20. By 2005, Nate had accumulated a store of insights on this strategic topic and published “Home Again: Preparing International Students to Serve Christ in Their Home Countries.”
  21. In Japan, the Japanese Navigators eventually partnered with the Japanese Christian Fellowship Network, sharing a key staff person in Tokyo. Comment by Lyons.
  22. In the reverse direction, our non-American leaders such as Badu S., visited Indonesian students in the US.
  23. Hoo to USLT, memo of February 9, 1988.
  24. David Lyons from 1988 to 2004, Dug McAlpine 2004-2006; Paul Slay, 2006 onwards.
  25. Five couples and two singles from ISI joined our staff between 1990 and 1992. Others wished to do so, but Ray Hoo was very hesitant. Later, in 1997-1998, a couple from IVF also joined us. Source: Harvey Karlsen, October 2016.
  26. ISM in 201? had only five staff couples under forty years old.
  27. Lyons to Ballard of December 6, 2016.
  28. Alan eventually became our Asia-Pacific director and then moved on to join the IET
  29. Another reunion will be held in Melbourne in 2015. Another celebration!
  30. The Australian experience provided by Doug Utley; text to McGilchrist on August 11, 2014.
  31. After studying at the University of Auckland in New Zealand, Mundy Kumar and Inoke Kubuabola returned to Fiji and Kelepi Mailau to Tonga and built substantial ministries, encouraged by visits from Eric Wilson and others from New Zealand. They were appointed associate staff in 1985, which marked the start of our official presence in Fiji and Tonga. Source: “Dear Staff” 1985-4.
  32. International Student Ministries of New Zealand has the Mission of “Helping international students in New Zealand become life-long followers of Jesus Christ, equipping and enabling them to reach their communities and nations for Him.” ISM NZ became an incorporated society in January 2000. Jim Chew served on their board from the beginning and their advisory board of reference included Navigator leaders Alan Ch’ng, Takahisa Kusuda, David Lyons, Nate M., Kelepi Mailau. For more, see
  33. Terry had considerable influence, serving as the ISM coordinator/facilitator for the Lausanne Global Leadership Network.
  34. In the late 1970s, there were seven hundred internationals at KSU. Bob had a Nav background. He had contacted Doug Sparks in late 1973 while still in Zaria and thus linked up with Mike Treneer, who soon began travelling from the UK to Nigeria.
  35. Carol was instrumental in leading our first Nigerian convert, K.M., to the Lord. She and her husband ministered in Nigeria and in Liberia.
  36. UK examples: Chinese in Swansea under the guidance of Simon and Anne Wroe and, in the late 1980s, a small team led by Paul and Jayne Arnold in Birmingham. Also, we had ministries in Lincoln, Reading, and London.
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