Chi Alpha attracts international students

Heather Scarlett

Correction: The original headline for this story read, “Alpha Chi attracts international students.” The correct name is Chi Alpha.

Twelve years ago Steve Bortner came to Kent State with what he calls a goal to serve God by reaching out to the international students on campus. He has been doing so ever since by leading the Chi Alpha Christian group.

Bortner, who is also president of United Campus Ministries and Ohio district director of Chi Alpha, said the group at Kent State is uniquely focused on international students.

“Most Chi Alpha (groups) around the country are 80 percent American and 20 percent international,” he said, “But we are 90 percent international and 10 percent American.”

Chi Alpha’s basic goal is to share Christian messages by building friendships with international students through trips to places such as Washington, D.C. or Niagara Falls, and during English conversation classes and Bible studies, Bortner said.

“We are a friend to the internationals,” he said, “hoping to love and serve them in the hope that we represent Jesus.”

Bortner said when he came here the “loving needs” of international students were not being met.

Fulfilling loving needs means providing for household needs, getting students settled in the community and helping them enjoy what northeast Ohio has to offer, he said.

“If you find the need and fill it, you’ll be useful, which is what we have done with the international students,” Bortner said.

Flavia Frimpong, junior chemistry major, is an international student from Ghana and a member of the Chi Alpha group.

“When I came over I just wanted a Christian organization (to be involved with),” Frimpong said.

She said the group has helped her a lot with her spirituality because there is a sense of family among the Chi Alpha group.

Assistant management professor Sergey Anokhin is a former member of the Chi Alpha group and said he became involved when his wife Tatyana took Bortner’s English conversation class for spouses of international students.

“You come here. You come with just a suitcase and you don’t know much. You need to buy a car, get a license (or) health care,” he said.

These are the types of things Bortner helps with to aid international students, Anokin said, and this is how he builds friendships and shares Christ.

For example, the group held a workshop for students on car mechanics and to explain what owning a car really means, Anokin said.

“Now, our family provides financial support to the Chi Alpha group because of all the help they gave us,” he said.

Bortner said language barriers do not pose a problem for the Chi Alpha group because students have to be able to communicate in English to function in the American culture.

“Ten different countries, mostly from Africa and Asia, are represented in Chi Alpha,” he said. “So some interesting conversations about religion and culture come up.”

Bortner said it comes down to the lasting effect Chi Alpha has on the international students and he is glad of the lasting friendships he has made through his ministry.

“This is what God has called me to do and this is where he sent me,” he said. “I’m not leaving until he says otherwise. This is my campus. This is my turf.”

Those interested in Chi Alpha can view the Web site at www.chialpha.com.

Contact religion reporter Heather Scarlett at [email protected]