As I walked up to the campfire, I heard the incredible voice of Obed, singing the national anthem from his home country of Trinidad and Tobago. I was reminded how good God is to bring incredibly gifted, talented, and brilliant international collegiate students and scholars to the great state of Arkansas.
Acts 17: 26-27 reminds us that “God has determined where we would live, so we might seek Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us.”
Labor Day weekend was an incredible experience with fifteen nations from five continents represented at a statewide International Student Retreat held at a beautiful camp in Southwest Arkansas.
The weekend consisted of building new friendships for internationals and Americans, fun times of canoeing, kayaking, swimming, volleyball, ping pong, hiking, a campfire with s’mores, singing national anthems and campfire games.
A Bangladeshi student from the University of Arkansas who, with her husband moved to Arkansas just a month ago, said, “Through this retreat we were able to make friends all over Arkansas. I have always been very keen to learn about different faiths and it gave me an opportunity to learn more about Christianity.”
Two breakout sessions were offered on Saturday morning. One was about cultural word confusion, such as the use of idioms, or slang words and actions. This breakout also was an opportunity to talk about things that may be offensive to the international.
The second breakout was targeted for Christian international students, challenging them to return to their countries equipped with leading Discovery Bible Studies (DBS). Some non-Christian students, attended, and the leader, Jamie Naramore, Cross-Cultural Strategist at the Arkansas Baptist State Convention (ABSC), used the opportunity to lead and model a Discovery Bible Study to help the students discover Jesus in the Scriptures as well as how to continue the process of Discovery Bible Studies on their own.
Bekah Gulledge, Little Rock BCM International Student Campus Missionary, responded about the retreat in this way, “I found this retreat amazing. We had such a sweet time getting to share culture and discover what it means to be a Christ follower. There was a great blend of relaxing and intentional conversation.”
Chris Kohlman, Missions, Apologetics and Communications Strategist with the College and Young Leaders Team of the ABSC, shared his testimony and communicated the Gospel with clarity. He said, “This is a perfect environment that is more conducive for Gospel-centered conversations. It is a more comfortable place for asking questions about their own beliefs/worldview.”
The students had the opportunity to experience a Christian worship experience in a beautiful Chapel with the Ouachita mountains in the background. Pastor Ben Coulter from Immanuel Baptist Church in Magnolia shared God’s purpose for each one of us through the Gospel of Jesus. He also shared about the hope of people from every tongue, tribe, and nation, gathered around the throne, worshipping the Lamb described in the Book of Revelation.
Elaine Fultz an international student ministry volunteer from First Baptist Clarksville expressed her appreciation for this event by saying, “Thanks for inviting me and letting me be a part of something bigger than I can imagine!”
The retreat was a great encouragement for the internationals that grew up in countries closed to the Gospel but are now followers of Christ. It provided a safe place for one who was converted from Islam to talk openly about his faith.
It is imperative we build friendships with the international students because:
- God has brought many who are the elite of the countries to Arkansas.
- God has brought them here, that they may seek God and find Him.
- We have them for a brief period.
- The time is now.
- The international students that go back home will be leaders in their communities, states and even their countries.
As a result, we build bridges of friendships that will bear the weight of Truth.
The Baptist Collegiate Ministries and partnering churches are on this mission together. If you would like to be a part of this God given opportunity, please contact me or your local BCM Campus Minister to learn how to be trained and equipped to build relationships for the sake of the Gospel with international students on your local campus.
This article was written by Teresa “Bit” Stephens, ABSC International Student Ministry Consultant. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.