When Lydia* came to the University of Arkansas at Little Rock in 2011 to study physics, she believed that learning was the purpose of her life. Every school she attended in her home country of China had taught her the importance of knowledge and told her there was no God.
Lydia soon became friends with another Chinese student named Nancy*. A young Christian, Nancy began to pray for Lydia and invited her to a Bible study with seven other Chinese at the home of Teresa “Bit” Stephens, the Campus Minister for the Little Rock Metro BCM. Stephens said that while she and another International Student Ministry worker were sharing the Gospel regularly in Bible study, they had not expected what would happen next.
“God used a couple of us Americans, as well as others who were pouring into [the students] in their heart language, to faithfully share the Gospel,” Stephens said. “Only two of the seven had arrived in the U.S. as Christians, and everyone else became Christians within one year.” All have now been baptized.
Campus ministries around the state are uniquely positioned to share the Gospel with international students according to David James, Team Leader for the ABSC College + Young Leaders team. He referenced a 2016 report by the Institute of International Education called “Open Doors: Report on International Educational Exchange,” which stated there were 5,665 foreign students in Arkansas. The leading places of origin for these international students were India (18.9 percent), China (14.3), Saudi Arabia (12.5), Japan (3.8), and Panama (3.6).
“The world is coming to our doorstep, and we have to decide how we are going to impact that together as a convention,” James said.
In addition to 39 Baptist Collegiate Ministries (BCMs) on college campuses around the state, James said he can document 25 churches and associations that are “committed to and already working with international students.” And Arkansas Baptists who give to the annual Dixie Jackson Arkansas Missions Offering are helping support international student outreach by funding campus ministries’ expenses, providing opportunities to engage internationals, and supplying Bibles for churches’ international student ministries.
Reaching the hard to reach
Stephens remembers the day that Lydia accepted Christ in May 2014. After sharing her own testimony in the Bible study, Stephens received a series of text messages from Lydia. “She started sharing her profession of faith right there in those texts, and it was genuine,” Stephens said. “God just changed her from the inside-out.”
Lydia became a soul-winner. She was baptized in November 2014 and later joined a team of students involved in a Chinese Bible study ministry in Little Rock. Their goal was to reach other Chinese students in Little Rock and Conway with the Gospel. Stephens said Lydia and two other leaders, David and Hannah, were “instrumental” in leading 20 students to Christ over the next three years.
Lydia shared the Gospel with other Chinese, as well. Tragically, a Chinese student attending Ohio State University attempted suicide on his flight home; the airplane made an emergency landing in Little Rock. When the young man was hospitalized at UAMS, Lydia and Stephens visited him and met his parents, who had flown-in to be with him. Though he was in a coma, Stephens and Lydia shared the Gospel with him.
“I asked his parents if it was all right for me to talk with their son about God,” Stephens said. “When they said yes, I shared with him and Lydia interpreted.”
The young man did not wake from his coma and passed away the next day. Several local churches, including Immanuel Baptist Chinese Church, ministered to the parents before they returned to China. “Lydia was the student bridge between this family and the local churches,” Stephens said. “The boy’s mom and dad both received Christ while they were here.”
“Lydia’s story is a great example of how the Dixie Jackson Offering allows us to see the value of missions from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth, which is the Acts 1:8 model,” James said. “We have to raise up Arkansas people willing to go overseas but who are also willing to go to our international neighbors next door.”
According to the International Mission Board’s (IMB) research on people groups—pulled from a 2015 US Census five-year ACS of Foreign Born and Languages Spoken at Home—there are at least 127 people groups in Arkansas. Sixty-eight of these groups are classified as unreached people groups by the IMB, meaning the population is less than 2 percent evangelical. Thirty-two of these are also considered unengaged with a church-planting strategy anywhere in the world.
“It seems that internationals from some of the hardest to reach places on the globe are coming to our backyard for school or work, and many have been able to stay,” said Jamie Naramore, ABSC International Church Strategist. Naramore and the College + Young Leaders team are working together with churches around the state to gather information about these people groups and create a regional map that illustrates where they are.
“We have the unique opportunity to welcome them and reach them as missionaries here, and they could be a potential mission force if they go back home or here if they stay!” Naramore said. “Maybe the door has been closed for us to go [to these countries], but the door has been opened for them to come; it’s not a coincidence that God has brought them here.”
This May, Lydia graduated from UA Little Rock with her Ph.D., and her mother traveled to Arkansas for graduation and to stay for the summer. Lydia had been sharing the Gospel with her mother from a distance, and the Chinese community in Little Rock also stepped-in and began to minister to her. While they would often ask, “Are you ready to receive Christ?” each time she would say, “I’m not ready yet.”
But the night before Lydia’s mother was to return home, they asked one more time. This time she replied, “Yes, I’m ready.”
The Dixie Jackson Arkansas Missions Offering supports Gospel-missions in Arkansas and around the world. The far reaching impact of the offering illustrates what God can do as He leads Arkansas Baptists to go above and beyond!
By Rachel Gaddis
*Names changed for security