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For many of the 449 international students at Arkansas Tech University, church members at First Baptist Church (FBC) Russellville are the first Americans they meet.

Especially at the start of a semester, the members help students get settled into university life and into the daunting reality of living in another country. Students arrive jet-lagged, hungry, speaking very little English. Church members assist them with practical tasks like turning on the electricity, enrolling their kids in school or buying milk at Walmart.

“When students first arrive is a key time because this is when they need help and friends,” said Winnie Kinsey, FBC member. She and her husband Mike have been serving students like this for 5 years.

“At the beginning of every semester, Arkansas Tech (ATU) takes the new international students by bus to Walmart several evenings to buy the things they need. We and others meet the students there and offer to help them by showing them where to find things and giving them advice. We give them information cards with our names, phone numbers, etcetera so that they can contact us if they need help.”

“FBC Russellville started intentionally engaging the internationals at ATU nearly twenty years ago,” said BCM Metro Campus Minister Bit Stephens. “Their consistent involvement through the years is a rare find. They are just as passionate today as when they began.”

Two mainstay ministries are an international student Sunday school class and Friday night fellowships called Worldwide.

Internationals at first met in a ‘regular’ college Sunday school class. This did not work.

“We tried to take whatever our college department was doing and teach it slower, but because of the English barrier, it did not make sense to the students,” said Tina Chronister who began this ministry at FBC Russellville 17 years ago alongside her husband Mark. “”Who’s Luke?” they asked. Why is he writing a book?” and “What is sin?”

“That’s when we knew we’d have to come up with our own curriculum,” she said. “We started with Genesis 1:1.”

The small group Sunday morning gathering led into Friday night fellowships called Worldwide–an outreach that involves 30 American volunteers and oftentimes 100 hungry college students.

“Friday nights have become a wonderful opportunity for Americans to connect with, welcome and befriend students from around the world,” said Justin Myrick, FBC Russellville college pastor. “There are three phases to our Friday nights: a free meal prepared by volunteers, an English corner based on a story from one of the Gospel accounts of Jesus, and games in the (church) gym.”

Paige Branham, international student assistant coordinator for ATU and member of FBC Russellville attends Worldwide, calling it “well-known in the community.” “The college avoids scheduling events at the same time,” she said. “We have a good working relationship with the Tech campus.” She looks forward to Friday nights. “It’s really powerful to hear international students reading the scriptures. Most aren’t believers.”

Some will become Christians easily like one student Kinsey met at Walmart from China. “When I asked him why it was so easy for him to become a Christian, he said, ‘I just want to! That is what I wanted!’ “she said.

Other times, students are harder to reach, agreed Kinsey and Branham.

“International student work is not easy,” Kinsey said.”It is sometimes disappointing….But remember I Corinthians 15:58 : … always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.”

(To get copies of the FBC Russellville Bible study tailored specifically to the level and hearts of internationals, contact ldfalknor3@gmail.com.)

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