Originally published in Western Recorder – http://www.westernrecorder.org/1155.article
Murray—Around 50 Murray State University international students gathered with First Baptist Church of Murray for food and fellowship to kick off their school year on Aug. 13. It was just one of many events that First Baptist will host for the international student ministry.
Three years ago, Steve and Paula Alcott started the ministry after a few Chinese students approached him in Walmart asking for a ride back to campus. As they spoke on the ride back, he explained that he had just returned from visiting his daughter, who is a missionary in China. The couple invited the students to church.
“After the first service, we asked if they had any questions. One of the girls spoke up and said, ‘Yes, what was that in there?'” Paula recalled.
“I said that was a worship service for the God that we serve that created the world,” Paula said. “But inside, I was thinking, ‘How do we begin with the process of explaining the gospel to someone who has never heard?'”
They began inviting the students over to their home and sharing the gospel with them through Storyteller’s Bible study for international students.
Baptist Campus Ministry students began inviting internationals and from those first students, the group grew to 40 Chinese students the first year. Now many different nationalities are represented.
“We felt like it was a divine appointment that we met at Walmart. It wasn’t just by accident,” Paula added.
The group has grown so large that they are divided into two Sunday School classes—one for those seeking to learn the basics of Christianity, and the other for those who are Christians.
“We’ve noticed that for some internationals, this is the very first time they have ever been to church. … They are really learning and searching and just don’t know the extreme basics,” said Carole Inman, the pastor’s wife at First Baptist and one of the host homes for Sunday dinners. Conversely, she explained, many international students, particularly the Nigerians, were raised Christian.
On one occasion, they had a group of 40 Taiwanese students find their way to the church. It was the first time they had ever even heard of Christianity. The ministry brought in people specifically to minister to them, teaching the basics of Christianity and answering their questions.
Each Sunday, the church sends a bus to campus to pick up the students, since many of them don’t have vehicles. They attend Sunday School and church, then go to a home for lunch. Once a month, they meet for lunch with the other college students in the church.
“We have an amazing number of college students that are really connecting with them, very passionate, and it’s pretty cool,” Inman added.
The students also come together periodically for events such as a cooking night, where students make food from their native countries for others to try.
Since many of the students can’t go home for Christmas, the church does something for them at Christmastime.
In addition, summer activities abound, such as visits to the local drive-in theatre or being part of the Fourth of July parade.
Over the past three years, around 12 of the internationals have been baptized.
“There have never been a whole bunch of them baptized at once. They’re sitting under a Sunday School teacher for a while before they really make a decision. It’s a really big decision for them,” Inman said, pointing out that many of them have to consider their family’s response to their converting to Christianity.
She describes what she has seen of their decisions as “steady and heartfelt.”
“It’s been a combination of trying to build relationships with people and trying to share the gospel with them,” Steve Alcott concluded. (WR)