LOUISVILLE –The end of the school year brings many goodbyes for college students, especially for international students returning home. Many of those students will leave for the summer, or longer, with friendships built for eternity among students and leaders in Baptist Campus Ministry groups throughout Kentucky.
Brian Combs, collegiate evangelism strategist for the Kentucky Baptist Convention, said about 6,000 students from China, India, South Korea, Saudi Arabia and other nations are studying at Kentucky colleges each year. Some of their home countries are closed to Christianity and evangelical missionaries.
Since 2008, Riley Byers has ministered to international students through University of Louisville Baptist Campus Ministry. He has seen several students accept Christ as their Savior, but says, “International ministry is tricky.
“On the surface, international students are usually much more open to talking about religious things (than many U.S. students).” He noted that students from other countries often are enthusiastic to hear about Christianity or the Bible “because they don’t want to offend people, so they’ll politely listen to what you say and may even agree to do some kind of Bible study.”
That enthusiasm does not always result in a salvation decision, Byers said, so BCM’s focus is to build relationships between Christian and non-Christian students, and to try to get international students involved in a local church so they can experience the love of Christ.
Hannah Parker, a North American Mission Board-appointed intern at Murray State University’s BCM, agrees that friendship paves the way to sharing the gospel with international students.
“Whenever you build that relationship with them, they get to know more of your heart,” Parker said. “And so when you begin sharing about Jesus, and you begin talking to them about the Scriptures, it means more to them because you mean more to them.”
Earlier this year, the Murray State and U of L BCM groups organized retreats for students from other countries and their peers who are strong Christians.
While in Gatlinburg, Tenn., Parker said students bridged culture gaps, had fun and deepened friendships.
In addition to hiking and other recreation, each night students cooked a meal from another culture, including Chinese and Korean cuisine.
Cong Tran is a Murray State senior from Vietnam who went on the Gatlinburg trip. He said he is involved with BCM because they approached him his freshman year and have been friendly ever since. That welcoming attitude is what has kept him coming back every year.
Tran, who graduates in December, noted that spending time with students at the BCM allowed him to more fully understand Christianity and rid himself of some of his previous prejudices about Christians.
U of L BCM also held a retreat in the Great Smoky Mountains for international students during spring break.
“It’s a way to make the gospel known to people from all over the world,” Byers said. “And a lot of the students (who) have come to study in the United States, particularly here at U of L, (are) from restricted-access countries. They come from places where the gospel’s not able to be freely proclaimed.”
Cindy Pelphrey, KBC campus missionary for a group of colleges in the Owensboro area, coordinates the annual “Engage” conference for international students. Funded in part by gifts to the Eliza Broadus State Missions Offering, “Engage” provides students from other countries an opportunity to share their culture with their peers through a “parade of nations,” a talent show and other activities.
Nearing its 60th year, the conference concludes with a worship service where the gospel is presented. Pelphrey said some international students make professions of faith at that worship service, and many others ask questions about salvation in the days and weeks following.
Like Byers, Pelphrey said an openness to discuss the Bible does not always mean that a student from another culture will accept Christ as Savior.
“Our command is to share the gospel and to trust God with the eternal consequences of people’s decisions,” she said.
Story by Whitney Jones, KBC Communications