Arkansas ISM Forges Ahead with God’s Agenda
International Student Ministry in Arkansas has stayed the course and even intensified for many ISM workers with respect to COVID -19 guidelines. They have learned to implement regular ministry outreach to international students utilizing social distancing, mask wearing and adding virtual connecting opportunities.
The fall 2020 Open Doors reports 5,799 international students attended Arkansas colleges and universities. This report runs from Fall of 2019 through the spring/summer of 2020. Most of the students originated from India (12.1%); China (11.6%); Saudi Arabia (6.1%); Bahamas (5.6%) and Japan (5.0%). Our top five universities for international students are UA Fayetteville 1690; SAU Magnolia 939; ASU Jonesboro 719; UA Little Rock 620; and UCA 554.
The immediate onset of the COVID pivot brought creative outreach to help meet needs of internationals who were handicapped with their need for food, support, and community. For example, ASU, ATU, SAU, UALR and UCA Baptist Collegiate Ministries, in partnership with churches and local ISM organizations, such as IFO (Central AR) and iReach (Fort Smith), brought immediate meals and/or sacks of groceries to these students and remained a strong support base for them. ISM volunteers around the state also transported to and from the airport. For the few that returned, they helped coordinate quarantine needs.
The fall semester leaned itself for more creative ideas and constant evaluations on best practices to reach those students who were isolating themselves because of fear of COVID-19. Utilizing outside settings, they provided social distancing events such as welcoming events and games in parks and sport fields. These events often included individually packaged meals from local eateries or pre-packaged snacks for the students.
Regular events such as conversation club and Discovery Bible Studies for internationals have continued virtually and/or in large gathering areas where regulations can be accommodated. They were also able to provide many small group meetings with outside activities such as hiking, canoeing and outside games. Connecting students to church families or college friends continues to be the mainstay of developing friendships and providing healthy community.
We are fortunate to have BCM staff specifically investing in internationals and mentoring other American students to engage them, as well. Logan Moore works at UA Fayetteville, Paige Branham at ATU, Bekah Gulledge at Metro BCM in Little Rock, Caleb Wunstel at Conway BCM, and Colt Booth at Henderson BCM. We are also thankful for the many students engaging with international students. At ASU BCM there is an ISM leadership ministry team that specifically ministers to these students.
Other significant unique ministry to international students are: Waylon Tay from Malaysia who became a Christ follower through the BCM at UCA and Sunny Gap Baptist Church in Conway a couple of years ago. As a UCA BCM student leader, he now leads other internationals in a small group; James McCormick, a baseball player at UA Rich Mtn Community College in Mena is reaching out to the international students on the college soccer team engaging them in Gospel conversation, and connecting them to BCM and the local churches.
As a result of ISM in Arkansas, reaching out to the 5,799 internationals around the state, at least 8 have given their hearts to Christ and most have followed through with Baptism. For example, Ben Coulter, pastor of Immanuel Baptist of Magnolia has watched God draw international students to Himself through friendship, studying the Bible and attending worship. IBC Magnolia and several other churches in Arkansas along with BCM’s have caught the vision to reach internationals and send them out with God’s heart for the nations. International students are prime candidates to go out as missionaries. They already know the language and culture. It is our responsibility to offer good discipleship, training and equipping as they leave our universities and go back out into the world.
The intentionality of a loving International Student Ministry sharing the Gospel was brought home when the Little Rock community experienced the death of a dear international friend. “Katie” had given her heart to Christ in 2017. She died from a tragic car accident in September on Labor Day while returning from a Bible Conference she loved attending. The impact of her love for Jesus reached deep into the Chinese and American community. Her greatest burden was for her family to come to faith in Christ. She shared with them the difference Christ was making in her life. Her story continues to have rippling effects while many are hearing the Gospel for the first time. Many others who had wandered from Christ have returned with a resolve to follow Him with passion and purpose as Katie modeled.
The urgency to minister to international students may be at its peak. May God raise up more workers to engage these future world leaders.
Teresa “Bit” Stephens
ABSC ISM Consultant