When Assemblies of God U.S. Missions pastors Matt and Cathy Boyle volunteered to pick up a group of students from China, all coming to visit and work in the United States via J-1 visas, they had no idea that the scope of their ministry was about to swell beyond their wildest dreams.
Matt and Cathy Boyle, associate and international pastors at Mid-Cape Worship Center, both are ordained AG ministers. They also have the unique opportunity to serve as U.S. missionaries with Cape Cod Global Outreach, ministering to young men and women from around the globe without ever leaving their 65-mile-long island and home, Cape Cod, Massachusetts.
For the past 15 years, the Boyles have ministered to internationals who come to Cape Cod every year on seasonal work visas, also known as the H-2b. But it wasn’t until 2011 that Cathy says they became aware of a larger and urgent need.
Much like the H-2b visa program, the J-1 work and travel program affords overseas students the opportunity to come to the U.S. As part of this program, students must have been enrolled in a university for at least one semester, be able to speak English, and complete a rigorous application process, ultimately overseen by the U.S. State Department. The cost to get to the U.S. is anywhere from $1,500 to $5,000. Once students arrive, they are expected to pay for all expenses related to their stay, including rent.
In 2011, Cathy Boyle volunteered to pick up a group of 11 students from China and drive them to their hotel. However, upon arrival, she learned the students had misunderstood the hotel reservation process and didn’t have anywhere to stay. That night the Boyles took in all 11 of the students, suddenly cognizant of the annual housing crisis facing J-1 students who arrive in Cape Cod.
When the 10,000 J-1 students arrive in the U.S. between the end of May to the middle of July, 4,000 of them descend upon Cape Cod. However, hundreds of students arrive without prearranged housing, let alone access to transportation.
If housing cannot be found, the Boyles say students are forced to sleep in the woods, on park benches, or even go door-to-door in an effort to find a room to rent for the night. The issue also compounds as J-1 students are unable to get paid without a Social Security number and, according to the Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce, they must have a “suitable mailing address” within days of filling out their application.
Since becoming attuned to this need, the Boyles have started the Mid-Cape Housing Program and have joined forces with folks from 13 different churches in an effort to provide safe housing for every student who arrives in the Cape. The Boyles have learned that many churchgoers are fearful of letting strangers stay in their homes.
Another issue related to the housing shortage is that J-1 students are easy prey for predators.
“These are smart and beautiful people, which make them desirable for traffickers,” Matt says. “But when church organizations get involved, communities see a 25 percent reduction in trafficking and other predatory totals.”
The Boyles have thrown themselves wholeheartedly into this ministry, seeking prayers, missionary associates, college interns, and provisions and manpower to fix the many bicycles they loan J-1 students each year. Cathy Boyle co-administrates a Facebook group to educate J-1 students on protection, advocacy, housing dos and don’t-s, and what to look for when seeking transportation. The group now reaches about 1,500 of the 4,000 J-1 students that come to Cape Cod each year.
Additionally, the Boyles are part of a team that hosts welcome dinners that provide information to the students.
“The best apologetics you can possibly have is lunch,” Matt says. “Everyone has a story, and if we take the time to hear theirs, they want to hear ours.”
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