The Washington Times - December 14, 2008, 10:55PM

     Christmas is the loneliest week of the year for many overseas students and visitors, according to a man I’ve known for more than 10 years who’s based in Charlotte. Bill Bray supports friendship programs for international student ministries on over 850 university campuses in the USA. He is the president of Overseas Students Mission. He is looking for a way to encourage Americans to share their Christmas holidays with more than 624,000 international students. The largest groups are from China and India.

    Those who want to invite a student into their homes for Christmas dinners, parties or a weekend stay should call OSM at 434-295-6488 as soon as possible. The Web site is here.  He says that first and second year students are most vulnerable since they have not yet established networks of friends in the USA. 


“We have some real horror stories of students left alone and to themselves in empty dorms at this time of the year,” he says.

“Many of these students come from societies that have never experienced the joy of Christmas and other Christian holidays.

   The program is not designed to proselytize or convert non-Christians, he says, but “We want to demonstrate the love of God as demanded in the Bible, and part of that is caring for visitors.  From an educational perspective, part of being here is experiencing American culture and that includes seeing how Americans live out their faith during these holidays.

“Over 85% of Americans claim to be at least nominal Christians, and the Christmas holidays which are based on Bible commands and history often include prayers and worship – but no one is forced to participate.”

   Well, it’s a thought, folks. I remember when I was an exchange student in France spending Christmas over there. I and others in my student group were holed up in a hotel on Christmas Day until one family chose to invite us over for dinner. It made a sad day a delightful day. My French hosts were set on debating American foreign policy with us, which is a bit of a trick when you’re throwing down multiple glasses of wine and trying to argue in a foreign language.

   - Julia Duin, religion editor