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Club Spotlight: Friends of Internationals

Local+and+international+students+mingle+at+a%0AFOI+dinner.+Photo+courtesy+of+Jim+Mather
Local and international students mingle at a
FOI dinner. Photo courtesy of Jim Mather

Local and international students mingle at a FOI dinner. Photo courtesy of Jim Mather

Local and international students mingle at a FOI dinner. Photo courtesy of Jim Mather

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Missionary leaders Jim and Mary Mather came to the University of South Alabama in 1998 after receiving a phone call to help international students on campus through the student and community organization, Friends of Internationals. The husband-wife duo met in Pennsylvania and married in 1985. Since then they have traveled around the globe, making their way through countries like Haiti and Pakistan. According to the Mathers, they share a heart for international people and the desire to intentionally pursue diversity in our communities.

In the twenty years since the Mathers took over FOI, their home has become a home-away-fromhome for international students, providing counsel, encouragement and sometimes a shoulder to cry on.

“International students leave what they know to experience what they don’t know, to develop their careers, explore the world and to build relationships,” Jim Mather said. “We want to assist that process.”

Jim Mather said his faith motivates him to reach across cultures and bring nations together regardless of age, race or religion.

“In the book of Revelations the last book of the Bible, is a scene of this wedding banquet,” Jim Mather said. “All of these people, multiethnic, come around this massive table to celebrate and share a meal together. That picture in my mind is something we should be doing now, which is intentionally building relationships with the whole world. Not in a confrontational way but in a family way.”

FOI hosts a variety of events throughout the school year to increase awareness of international students and give USA students, faculty and staff the opportunity to have cross-cultural exposure. Events range from foreign movie nights, talent shows, community service opportunities, with organizations such as Habitat for Humanity, group discussions, Bible studies and cultural nights where students can learn about cultures and experience food from other countries.

Bader Almutairi, an exchange student from Kuwait, recently attended a Bible study hosted by FOI.

“I want to learn about all religions,” Almutairi said. “I’m reading about Christian and Jewish people and how they become close to their God. I wanted to go to FOI because the people seemed friendly. After I left, I felt happy because they are welcoming people. I learned not all people are bad. There are bad people, and there are good people in each religion. I met good people in FOI and that was an amazing experience for me.”

USA student Elizabeth Nettleton is from Mississippi and attended FOI events in the past. She said she always felt embraced by FOI.

“Friends of Internationals gave me the perspective of the right way to serve internationals who are living in America,” Nettleton stated. “FOI allowed me the opportunity to interact with people from countries that I had yet to visit.”

The Mathers and Nettleton said for many, speaking with people from different cultures can feel intimidating. Nettleton urges people to see others as people before their place of birth or spiritual belief and to think of a time when they were wrongly judged at first glance.

“Everyone deserves a chance of being known,” Nettleton said. “No matter their skin color, their spiritual choices, or their clothing choice.”

FOI’s student organization is open to all students on USA’s campus. Visit their website www.foimobile.org for more information.

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Club Spotlight: Friends of Internationals