In times past, the idea of taking the Gospel to all nations was an intimidating command. It took a brave person of great faith to leave their home country and submerge themselves into a new culture, often in dangerous territory where their lives were threatened.
In our modern world, however, the nations are coming to us—to America, and right here to Arkansas. People from all over the world come to the colleges and universities in our state because they can often get an American education for less tuition than what they would pay in another state.
According to internationalstudent.com, there are over 5,500 international students in Arkansas. With colleges and universities in all four corners of the state, people in Arkansas Baptist churches all over our state can volunteer in international ministries and be a light to the nations. It’s easier than you think.
First Baptist Church in Russellville, Ark., is a good example. With over 350 international students at Arkansas Tech, College Minister Justin Myrick has taken an active role in reaching this group from around the world.
“International students are very interested in learning about American culture. They really want to see how we celebrate Christmas and Thanksgiving and birthdays,” Justin says. “But many will never be invited into an American home while they are here.”
The church offers a free dinner for international students on Friday nights where they can meet Americans and practice English by reading the Bible. There is also plenty of fellowship time and playing American games like basketball and volleyball.
“We really hope that Christians will meet international students at our Friday night events and then include them in their lives after that. The (Davidsons*) are a great example of that,” says Justin, referring to Paul and Jennifer Davidson* who have befriended several Saudi Arabian families from the university.
Jennifer has formed some particularly strong relationships with the Saudi women, and she offers this advice:
First, be friendly and talk to them. “All they know about Americans is what they learn through Hollywood. They think we all do drugs and cheat on our spouses. They think we’re all like the Kardashians,” Jennifer says. “But they respect me because I’m conservative. We found a lot of things we agree on, and other things we politely disagree on.”
Second, learn about their culture. “They are just like us. They are moms, and they love their children,” Jennifer says. She emphasizes the importance of showing them the love of Christ and being interested in who they are, not just a project of someone to convert.
Third, don’t be afraid to invite them into your home and include them in your activities. “I have done things that accidentally offended them,” Jennifer says. “But they knew I didn’t intend to. They knew my heart was in the right place.” She just keeps an open mind and learns from her mistakes, which has taught her a lot about the culture of Islam.
Fourth, Jennifer encourages having what she calls “Gospel conversations,” which is the practice of including phrases that Christians use with each other. “I tell my Muslim friends that I’m praying for them when they share difficult decisions or situations,” Jennifer says. She also shares the way God has answered prayers and how He is working in her life.
“Most of what I do is plant seeds,” Jennifer says. One Muslim couple even tried to persuade her and Paul to convert to Islam. “They were evangelizing us while we were evangelizing them,” Jennifer says with a sweet laugh. The Saudi couple invited the Davidsons to their house for dinner, and showed them a video of Islam and shared their version of the story of Abraham. The couples politely disagreed, but the entire exchange was very cordial, and everyone continues to be friendly.
Justin hopes for more couples to get involved to the level that the Davidsons have done. “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few,” Justin says. “We’ve praying that people’s eyes would be open to see the world at their doorstep.”
If you don’t have an international ministry in your area, Justin suggests calling the international department at the local university and finding out how you can volunteer. “Sometimes they just need someone to meet them at Walmart to help with shopping and translating. That’s a great way to start a conversation.”
“And if you can’t go, you can pray,” Jennifer says. Justin agrees. “Never discount the power of prayer,” Justin says. “That’s where it all starts.” With prayer as your base, and the world at your doorstep, anyone can be a light to the nations, even in their own hometown.
*Names changed for security.