Silmara Ferreira

Ferreira has worked at Andrews University for 16 years. Her current position is associate director for International Student Services & Programs. She directs programs that assist international students, exchange students and their families with personal, academic and immigration-related concerns. She also serves as the primary advocate for international students and scholars with University departments and off-campus entities by providing support in several areas, including but not limited to cultural differences, language barriers, academic progress, conflict resolution and employment requirements and processes.

What are you involved with that allows you to change the world around you?

I am involved with many different activities to aid international students to feel welcome and part of Andrews University, such as the Welcome New International Students Program. Along with some student volunteers and staff, we organize airport pickup, welcome baskets and a bedding package (pillows, blankets, sheets and bath towels) which are placed in the residence hall or university apartments for arriving students.

Another project I am involved with is “God’s Closet.” This program provides winter clothing donations to international students who come from a tropical country and arrive here during the winter. We have helped many students and their families through this program. We do many other things to help international students adapt to life here, overcome homesickness and feel part of this University family. These include place cultural night events, international student worship, Thanksgiving banquet, Christmas banquet and one of the most important events, the International Sabbath celebration!

How did you get into this work/activity/project/etc.?

The desire to work with international students comes from my personal experience of being an international student. I arrived at Union College in Nebraska as an International student and when I was visiting Andrews University for the first time the desire to work with international students became very strong in my heart. I knew that international students like myself would benefit a lot from some simple information that would be vital for them to establish themselves without too much stress. This information would be obvious for those used to the system, but for a person who left their country and culture behind it would not be so obvious.

Knowing exactly what an international student goes through to get here and the other struggles they face upon arrival inspired me to develop and coordinate projects along with the Office of International Students & Programs team.

God has been so good by giving me this opportunity to serve and help international students in any way possible. I remember helping one particular family of four. I went to personally pick them up at the airport (we didn’t have the airport pickup program in place yet), drove them around in my van to look for a house to rent, took them to South Bend to buy a mattress (tying the mattress on top of my van to bring them back to Berrien Springs), and today I see them thriving and almost done with PhD studies.

Because of situations like that, we decided to create programs to formally welcome students and provide each one of them with the attention and support they need in order to succeed here at Andrews University

How have you been changed by this?

My experiences of working with students at Andrews University have taught me the simple and yet profound lesson that all of us want to be loved, respected and cared for. No matter what financial status, kind of family, cultural background or worldview, it comes down to what Jesus commanded us to do—love one another as you love yourself.

I view my job as a ministry. I love being able to advise students on immigration issues and when they talk about their personal difficulties, I have an opportunity to pray with them. There is no greater reward for me than to see tears turning into smiles, frowning faces turning into happy faces, and disbelief into faith. Accepting students and loving them as they are is the most influential aspect of my story here at Andrews.

How have you changed others?

Being born and raised in Sao Paulo, Brazil, my first passion, while I was pursuing my master’s degree at Andrews, was to make Andrews University known in Brazil. There are many church institutions in Sao Paulo and I wanted them to have the same opportunity I had to study at this privileged university. Therefore, I started my path to offer Andrews English programs to the division, unions, conferences and universities so administrators and pastors could study and be proficient in English to communicate better at meetings with the General Conference. One of the first pastors who was part of the program became proficient in English and now serves the global church at the GC.

I have seen lives changed! I have seen a student who came as a non-Christian and after many Bible studies, she accepted Jesus as her Savior.

There are many stories of students coming back to say thank you and tell me how much difference I made in their lives, not even knowing I was making that impact. I was just being kind. The most recent story is of a student who throughout her time at Andrews was not very sure what to do after graduation. Every time she would come to my office, we talked about her options and after giving her words of encouragement, we prayed together. This happened until her graduation last semester. An opportunity opened up for her to do her OPT (Optional Practical Training) here at Andrews University. She once again stopped by my office, very uncertain if she would get the job. Once again, we talked positively about how God had led her here, then we prayed once again.

The next time she came to visit me in my office was to give me a gift and the most important the words written on a thank you card that says:

Dear Silmara,
I just don’t know how to express my gratitude to you for all you have done for me thus far I especially appreciate your prayers and guidance when I was challenged academically, financially and spiritually. By God’s grace and your prayerful support, He has opened ways for me to work at Andrews University.
Thank you so much once again and may your ministry to AU international students continue bringing glory to Him.

I was very touched by her words because I just did what I love doing, serving in this capacity. Bringing her a sense of security and the beautiful smile of a thankful heart speaks more to my heart than anything else this world can offer.

Somehow, I contributed to changing a small part of her world. I couldn’t agree more with Anne Frank when she said: “How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.”