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International Student Ministry - An Interview with Lisa Espineli Chinn


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Lisa Espineli Chinn’s career has been in ministry to college, including fourteen years as the National Director of International Student Ministry at InterVarsity.

Click the links below for the entire interview:

Part One: From the Philippines to Washington DC
Part Two: From Accidental Church Planter to InterVarsity Director
Part Three: International Students Ministry
Part Four: Next Steps
Part Five: Marriage and Cross Cultural Ministry


PART ONE
From the Philippines to Washington DC

As a baby, Lisa Espineli Chinn nearly died from pneumonia. During her sickness, her parents prayed for her healing and dedicated her to God’s service. Lisa went on to a career of ministry to college students, for fourteen of those years, serving as the National Director of International Student Ministry at InterVarsity. Recently she sat down with The Rev. Canon Andrew Gross to share more about what she learned in that role, and what might be next for her ministry.


Tell me a little bit about yourself. I know you grew up in the Philippines. You said you had gone to school for foreign service. Take me from there, and how you came to the United States.

So college was four years, and you graduate with a bachelors at the University of the Philippines. Now putting it in context, the University of the Philippines is the top school in the country. So that would be roughly, not my description, but others say it is the Harvard of the Philippines, so it kind of puts you in context in term of the kinds of people I worked with, the kinds of graduates, and where they go from that university. So immediately after graduation I was invited to join the InterVarsity staff to work at that university because InterVarsity work had started there and we had an active outreach to college students. I was a student leader during my college days with InterVarsity. That seemed like the track to take.  There was a clear vision for me to work and see the need among college students. It was not a hard decision, so I said “yes,” but only after the director of InterVarsity asked my parents for my hand in marriage to ministry. I am number 6 of 7 children, and it was respectful on the part of the director that they needed my parents blessing and approval to take this job because it is not the most lucrative job in town, there is no guaranteed salary. You don’t pull out your fresh graduate from the Harvard of the Philippines to a job that doesn’t have an income.


What did your parents think?

Well, the amazing thing is they said “Sure we gave her away already at 8 months.” They never really articulated that to me. I said “What do you mean?” Well, because I almost died at 8 months, my parents were poor, they couldn’t afford the hospital. They could only afford a doctor in the neighborhood. So I had pneumonia and the doctors had nothing else to do for me so they just sent my parents home and they said it’s a 50/50 chance; really iffy. So just go home and be with your child. And this, according to my parents, they said we prayed. They knew God in a vague way, that there is this power there. They had catholic background, a little smattering of protestant on my mother’s side, but the faith wasn’t personal or really strong. But this time they called on God. They said, “If you would spare our child then she is yours to do whatever you want with her.” So I call it “the spiritual arranged marriage” that I had no say about. So when my parents said that they had no choice, “Of course you can have to serve in this way.” So they released me with all their blessing and I served with InterVarsity in the Philippines for three years until I felt that if I really wanted to do this well I needed more training. The staff member who was from Hawaii, she was an American, I asked her where she went to school, and she said she went to Wheaton.  I thought, “Well maybe it is a good school.” Then I found out Billy Graham went there then I thought, “Well maybe it’s a really good school!” There was no internet, no google to check it, but I applied and end up being accepted.  I did graduate work in communications, that was 2 years, and after that there was an opportunity to work with InterVarsity in Philadelphia.

So I did that for about 8 or 9 months before going home to the Philippines. Going home was the natural thing to do. It was not like I was here as an excuse to stay longer. I came here with a prayer and a purpose. The prayer was that God would give me a friend who would just be there in his new culture, explaining it for me and being a confidant, an encourager. The purpose was further training for better service. I wanted to serve students better through the training I would get. It’s not like you are being trained to only be a staff worker. It was broad and there was a combination of theology, bible, communications, and persuasion. The program was new when I came. It was a 2 year old program when I came. I said, “You know that kinda fits what I want, and it exposed me to more than just books.”

So I returned after three years (first at Wheaton, and then Philadelphia) without thoughts of returning. The chance of a lifetime was finished. I went home to work with InterVarsity, and after about 6 years the opportunity again opened up for me to return. This time I looked at working with InterVarsity again as college staff. I said specifically that I wanted to work with international students. They passed my name around, and nobody had a job for that position but the area director in the Mid-Atlantic said, “Well, we will take her as regular college staff.” So I worked with the natives!  I worked with the local American students in George Mason,  Georgetown, and the DC area. Of course, naturally there would be internationals around me because I’m an international, but that was not my main job until later when I got married to my husband, whose full-time job was reaching international students. But it’s not like the love for it wasn’t there. Nor the exposure to it wasn’t there. The opportunity was there, but it wasn’t my focus. I would invite international students to the chapter that we had and our meetings, and encourage students in mission and all kinds of things. That was InterVarsity in 1979.


Then you made the transition to working with International students after you met your husband?

Yes, well, kind of. We also had three little kids then after getting married. So it was ministry with my husband, balancing and finding ways to serve with my husband, but then also that’s the time we started our ministry among International students at Truro.  The Truro International Program and Services. That was started in 1985, or around there, and it still exists today.

Click the links below for the entire interview:

Part One: From the Philippines to Washington DC
Part Two: From Accidental Church Planter to InterVarsity Director
Part Three: International Students Ministry
Part Four: Next Steps
Part Five: Marriage and Cross Cultural Ministry

Lisa Espineli Chinn will be a plenary speaker at Assembly 2017 in Wheaton, IL (June 27-30, 2017).  Click here to learn more and register for Assembly 2017!