By Travis McCormick
The International Mission Board defines the core missionary task as entering the mission field, evangelizing the lost, discipling believers, forming healthy churches, developing leaders, and facilitating partnerships as the missionary exits that field. Arkansas Baptists are discovering that this missionary task can be performed right here in our home state as God brings the nations to us. Ministry to international students provides the opportunity to disciple believers and develop them into leaders who take the Gospel home along with the skills to lead people to Christ and plant new churches.
Recently we heard a story from Ben Coulter, pastor at Immanuel Baptist in Magnolia, who entered the mission field at SAU. He met Matias*, built a relationship, shared the Gospel, led him to Christ and began the discipleship process.
In Pine Bluff we meet Isaac, a young man from Uganda who came to the U.S. as a Christ follower with a God inspired desire to be discipled and develop as a leader who could facilitate a movement among his own people. God has connected his passion with Arkansas Baptists who have taken on the missionary task to prepare him to return home and reach his people.
Isaac grew up in the Anglican church but says he never really took God seriously. Like many others, he knew about God but didn’t have a deep relationship with Him. For several years, he poured his efforts into his schoolwork, eventually abandoning church to focus on his education. After high school, he developed a passion for music and looked for any opportunity to play.
Each day he would pass by the same small church in his hometown. One day, he heard God speak, telling him to go inside. Eventually he gave in and went to the church. He heard the music and asked if he could join the team. He was told that in order to be a part of the praise band he had to be a born-again believer and a member of the church. At the time, he agreed to become both for the sake of his music. He soon realized that his motives were all wrong and he recognized his need for Jesus as savior. Once Isaac became a Christ follower, God immediately began changing his passion, moving him from musician to preacher/teacher instead.
As Isaac grew in his faith, God gave him a vision of helping people grow to become spiritually mature. He met with five other friends who shared this same vision. They began to fast and pray asking God to show them what to do. God showed them that the mission was to be global. They were to help all nations grow to maturity in Christ. And so, they prayed asking God to show them how. Three months later, God had moved them all to different places to carry out the vision He had given them.
Isaac ended up enrolling in the graduate program at the University of Arkansas Pine Bluff. Upon arriving on campus, he immediately began praying and searching for fellowships where he could be discipled, worship, pray, teach and minister with faithful Christ-followers. On Thursday nights, he would go to the Student Center and stand there alone, asking for God to lead him to such a fellowship of believers.
One night as he walked outside, Isaac looked across the road at the BCM building. He saw people joining hands and praying. He didn’t know anyone at the BCM and was nervous to go inside. Feeling the Holy Spirit leading, Isaac entered the building and joined the group as they were praying. When it came his turn, he prayed as well. “No one knew me, but they invited me to join them. They loved me and gave me a welcome.”
Tarvoris Uzoigwe (Tee), campus minister at UAPB invited Isaac to go with him to a Bible study in the dorm. He found what he had been missing as he discovered a group of students eager to study and discuss God’s word. He says, “I was so happy that we had a fellowship at the university. I told God that I will give myself, my gift, my teaching to this group.”
Isaac and his roommates, also international students who loved God, began meeting together on Friday nights for study and prayer. “I’ve longed for a fellowship that goes beyond Sunday and the corporate gathering. In the U.S., God has provided that opportunity,” Isaac says. Even the shutdown caused by the COVID-19 pandemic did not slow down his efforts to preach and to teach. During the lockdown, his roommate connected Isaac with his aunt’s church in Texas. He was given the opportunity to lead an online Bible study for students and men. Since then he has been invited by other pastors to teach sessions for four different Zoom fellowships.
Before the lockdown, several students in the BCM had received Christ. Isaac had many chances to teach and share God’s word with them. This continued even after many of them had left campus. He says, “They still call me. I give them as much time as they want. Even when they want to talk for hours. The things I used to treasure are not nearly as important now. God has shown me that people are His treasure.”
Isaac believes that God has used education and his time in Pine Bluff to introduce him to the nations. “God has given me the platform to do what He called me to do. I am not here primarily for studies, though I have to do the studies. God has brought me here to establish people in the heart, truth, fellowship and faith of God.” His desire while at UAPB is to ignite a community of people who will continue the movement, even after he has gone home.
Upon graduating, Isaac plans to return to Uganda where he will continue his work with the government as a fishery scientist. He has a vision of starting a private fishery and agricultural institution one day. Most importantly, he plans to take what God has taught him here in Arkansas and spearhead the funding and involvement of his people in missions in his home church. He is excited about the opportunity to lead others in his country to grow to maturity and to move outside of the church walls to reach people with the Gospel.
While the majority of international students in Arkansas come from unreached places, there are many like Isaac who come as Christ followers. Whether they come to an Arkansas university as a believer or accept Jesus while here, these international students can all be future evangelists and “missionaries.” God is bringing men and women from places like Uganda to places like Pine Bluff to help them learn how to reach the nations. But they are here for a relatively short period of time. This window, while short, creates the opportunity for a long-term investment in the Gospel. A student who is discipled can return home with the skills to lead others to Christ, plant a church, and disciple people as he or she was discipled in Arkansas.
If no one invests in the lives of these students, this opportunity will be lost. This means there is a real and urgent responsibility to use this window of time effectively. Consider the impact of an Isaac who goes home with a God given vision and an innate passion for his people, equipped with the skills to spread the Gospel. With over, 6,700 international students enrolled in colleges and universities in Arkansas, consider the opportunities for multiplication. The window for the missionary task is clearly open. International students such as Isaac and others are ready and willing. It’s up to us to complete the task.