Hello, my name is Dave and I recently went to Los Angeles for my exchange in 2022. In fact, I only returned to Singapore in early June this year!
Even before I went for my exchange, I knew the importance of plugging into a church community (Hebrews 10:24-25) and how important it is to read God’s word.
So I began to look through the Christian groups on campus. They had as many as 15 groups, since religion is a pretty big thing in American universities.
I was a bit anxious because I wasn’t sure which one to join, so I looked at their Instagram pages and faith statement to see if it made sense and was biblical.
I found one group called Grace on Campus (GOC). When I looked at their Instagram, one of the things that stood out to me was that their Instagram wasn’t just photos of them having fun, but it had a focus on God’s word.
So when I began school, I joined their Christian Fellowship on Thursday nights and we studied Philippians.
We were supposed to be at the chapel, but it was unavailable, so we met on one of the lawns of the school. It was freezing but it was so amazing.
They were really welcoming. They asked me how I heard about them, and many people just came up to say hi and even ask how I came to know Christ.
The pastor, whom they called a campus shepherd, would preach on a passage, and at the end, we would close with songs of praise.
After that, people would stay and chat about things that struck us during the sermon. The staff would always bring lots of nice food too.
It felt like I was back at home again. These were brothers and sisters who transcended national boundaries, and I really felt that we were united in Christ.
Even though I was the first Singaporean and exchange student who joined their group, I didn’t feel disconnected at any point in time.
GOC also held Book Clubs every Saturday, some of which I joined. We would passionately read books like The Chronicles of Narnia and The Hobbit.
Afterwards, I found out that GOC was a ministry of Grace Community Church, and they offered rides to the church on Sundays.
I felt their hospitality and love in this way because LA is very big — driving from the school to church would take 35 minutes alone!
When I went to church on Sundays, it was an amazing experience for me, since I am from a small church in Singapore. It was the first time going to a church with thousands of people and it was really a different culture there.
After the 11am service, we would go for lunch together. After that, some people would return to the school campus, while some would stay for the 6pm evening service and baptism service.
Between lunch and the evening service, we would hang around the church. Some would study, some would play the cello or the piano, and others would just chat to get to know each other better.
A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for a time of adversity
Soon, I was invited to Men’s Fellowship which was on Wednesday or Friday nights depending on which group I joined.
They were reading Disciplines of a Godly Man by R. Kent Hughes, which made such a huge impact on my life.
And these guys in our men’s small group were really the closest brothers.
They pointed me to the gospel and encouraged me so much through God’s Word. They really kept me accountable which meant so much to me.
They would also always ask about how Singapore and my home church are like.
When I shared with them that my home church and the Singapore campus fellowship I attend in university are biblical and faithful, they were so heartened.
And they encouraged me by saying, “Share with your brothers and sisters in Singapore that you have brothers and sisters in the United States, who are also struggling with the same struggles but are also pressing on.”
Because of our bond with one another, towards the second half of the semester we were meeting on Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.
All I desired was to just spend time with the church community, fellowshipping and sitting under God’s Word together with them.
Loving the Word, loving the gospel
One big change was learning how to read and enjoy God’s Word.
I struggled with quiet time for a long time, but when I saw them excited for God’s Word, Bible-centered teaching and prayer, I began to pray that the Lord would give me discipline and desire to read His Word.
The guys in the Men’s Fellowship were passionate about God’s Word. When they read it, they really read it with so much emotion (an exclamation mark is an exclamation mark!).
There was something in the first few sessions that led me to tell them, “Pray for me, because when I read, I am not that excited.”
By God’s grace, He answered my prayers. I really enjoy His Word more; their eagerness to read the Word inspired me!
“Share with your brothers and sisters in Singapore that you have brothers and sisters in the United States, who are also struggling with the same struggles but are also pressing on.”
Towards the second half of the semester, because California weather is amazing, we would sit on a sofa outdoors and enjoy reading Christian books and His Word together.
I learnt how to just enjoy God’s Word for what it is. If there are certain verses that stick out, I just meditated over them. I didn’t have to be so academic.
The other change was definitely in evangelism.
When I was in Singapore, we would have walk-up evangelism for my campus fellowship. I didn’t dare go for that. I feared man, and I feared for my own image.
But on the second or third week with GOC, my small group leaders told me that they would be having “cold contact walk-up evangelism” on Santa Monica Pier, one of the tourist spots.
My reply was, “Uh… I’m definitely afraid.” But my leader said, “We’re all afraid too.”
So I just decided to go along with them. I even prayed about all my irrational fears, like people becoming violent — but there was actually nothing to fear.
Because we teamed up with another university, there were hundreds of students on Santa Monica Pier, walking around in pairs and sharing the gospel.
That inspired me to share the gospel more and gave me boldness and courage. I realised it wasn’t that scary after that, because there were many people who were willing to listen.
Together with a friend, I talked and listened to one homeless guy for an hour. He was definitely quite tired, hungry and resentful against society and the world.
After sharing the gospel with him, my friend encouraged the him to seek aid from a biblical church. We gave him a bottle of water and a granola bar to help him in a simple way before leaving.
I was so encouraged by my church community’s zeal for evangelism, I shared the gospel with my classmates too and invited them to GOC. I also got to share the gospel with my roommate.
There was also a guy I shared the Good News with in the locker room after swimming class. Although he didn’t accept Christ, he did accept my invitation to come for Christian Fellowship on Thursday night.
My friends at GOC were so warm and welcoming, I didn’t have to be beside my new friend to constantly ensure he was taken care of. They welcomed him warmly, asked him what he thought about the sermon and shared the gospel with him.
I thank God for the courage and boldness that He has given me through such experiences during my exchange.
To the student going on exchange
“Whoever isolates himself seeks his own desire; he breaks out against all sound judgment.” (Proverbs 18:1, ESV)
When you isolate yourself, not just from human beings but also Christian community, you choose your own desires.
So, be intentional in plugging yourself into a church there! Also, keep in touch with your church family in Singapore.
One of my friends guided me on cooking over Zoom, and he sent me many recipes to follow.
My pastor would also message me and ask me about my prayer requests. So I’d share with them how thankful I am. And they continuously encouraged and prayed for me.
As a brother in my small group always says, “He who prays for me, loves me most.”
Hi, I’m Asta and I went to St. Gallen, Switzerland for my exchange in 2022. I also just came back in June!
Prior to exchange, I only knew I would be going with one friend (more on her later); I found out later that there were many other students from our university there as well.
Eventually, we grew quite close to the others since we all stayed in the same building.
It was really the best of both worlds, because I got to make friends with other people while also being close to fellow Singaporeans.
It helped with the homesickness to cook Singaporean meals together. Some of them brought spices from Singapore, especially Indian spices — and even the mala soup base from HaiDiLao too!
Finding and attending a church
Together with my friend that I went for exchange with, we looked on Google for a nearby church to attend. We knew that we had to find an English-speaking community so we could understand the sermons.
We wanted to root ourselves in a spiritual community, realising that it was important to do so since we were far from our Singapore communities.
We also wanted to know other Christians overseas, and see how the preaching and fellowship are like.
Thankfully, we found one small church that was a short bus ride away from our apartment.
The church service and flow were conducted rather similarly to my home church back in Singapore, which I appreciated.
There was also a special event called Breakfast Sunday, held on the last Sunday of every month.
Everyone would bring breakfast, and we would gather outside and eat each other’s food. It was basically potluck.
We would sit and talk with others, and there would be time for people to come up and share their testimonies.
There was no communication barrier, since everyone’s English was quite good. Even though the pastor would preach in German, the translator standing beside him would translate his words to English.
I think our Singaporean accents were the main thing that slightly confused the locals, however. Sometimes they could not understand our pronunciation, so my friend and I spoke slower and were prepared to repeat ourselves.
Impacted by their resilience and hope
One service that particularly struck me was the Easter service.
During the service, the pastor shared that his niece had passed away in an avalanche.
I could see that he was grief-stricken, because he paused many times to collect himself before continuing.
I was very encouraged by how much their family stuck together, and how much faith they had in Jesus Christ.
Even though they were still mourning the loss of their niece, the pastor shared about how Christians have hope to see their loved ones in heaven.
Church services like this one definitely kept us closer to God, especially when people shared their testimonies.
They were super impactful because we got a real look into people’s lives, and their stories made me think about the way I respond to challenges in life.
We heard about how God worked in their lives to help them overcome these trials, and how it has shaped them and their view of God.
These open-mic testimony sessions were powerful and possible only because it was a small community.
It was an open and safe space to share: People would cry freely, and seek advice and comfort from each other.
God also provided friends from the church community there
We were glad to meet a Chinese family at church. They talked to us, and asked when we would like to come to their house.
So we went over and they taught us how to make dumplings!
The mother was heavily pregnant at that time and was so tired, yet she still made the effort to reach out to us and get to know us. That was really nice and sweet of her to do so.
There was another person who reached out to us at the start too. She invited us to her house for tea, so we went and talked to her and her daughter.
She also brought us to Constance Lake, which was just around her house. We talked a lot along the way to the lake too.
I was touched that they put so much effort into welcoming us when they might not even see us again after four months. I really appreciated their intentionality and their genuine hospitality.
We exchanged WhatsApp numbers, and I’d love to go back next year to visit them!
To the student going on exchange
Go and find a church community over there, and remember to call your parents and your close friends!
You can feel very distant from your loved ones when you’re overseas, especially considering the time difference. One person would be eating lunch, and another would be eating dinner.
So, I really appreciated the friends who took the effort to Zoom with me.
I was also having trouble with my quiet time at the start. I shared about that with someone from my church, and she encouraged me to use the book that I had brought to St. Gallen — devotionals leading up to the Lent season.
She kept me accountable, and I really thank God for her.
Other than that, go and explore things you can’t find in Singapore, and have fun navigating living by yourself.
On exchange, you might have a lot of pressure to want to do everything and see everything.
But know that you have a limit and capacity for how much you can take in, so don’t over-stretch yourself!
- What does the Bible say on fellowship and spiritual community?
- If you’re not on exchange, do you know a friend who is? How can you support him or her?
- Take some time right now to pray for your friend and send them a message of encouragement!