LOVING THE STRANGER: UNIVERSITY BAPTIST CHURCH, FAYETTEVILLE
By Lisa Falknor
“The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself,” Leviticus 19:34
It all started with an Iraqi woman crying in a park.
Two years ago, NAMB missionary Courtney Osborn noticed a family grilling at a local park.
“Where are you from?” she asked the mother.
“Iraq,” the lady said.
“I’ve really wanted to meet someone from your part of the world,” Courtney told her.
The woman started crying.
“We’ve been here for over a year, and no one has ever talked to me,” she said.
Since that meeting, the woman, Courtney and 10-12 international women have met Thursday nights for a cooking lesson and Bible study. Last week, this woman and other international women asked Courtney to schedule an exercise class. They plan to meet twice a week at the BCM, a place where they can take off their hijabs in private. Courtney is inviting American women from University Baptist Church (UBC) to join them. UBC co-partners with Courtney in her outreach to internationals.
“University Baptist Church has shown great love for internationals,” said BCM Metro Campus Minister, Bit Stephens. “They help support two of their members who are full time working with ISI–an International Student Ministry. They invested in Courtney as a UBC staff partnering with the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville BCM to bridge the Gospel specifically with internationals.”
UBC Missions Pastor Ryan Martin explained that the church’s international student outreach began six years ago when those two UBC members on staff with ISI trained other UBC members how to befriend internationals. Ryan said the church caught the vision.
Besides cooking and exercise classes, UBC families participate in the adopt-a-student program. Over a dozen families host students in their home for a semester or a year. The church works through secular programs at the university: “We don’t want to reinvent the wheel,” said Ryan.
As missions pastor, Ryan said the church not only brings internationals into the world of UBC members, but it also brings church members into the world of internationals. For three years, he’s taught a UBC Survey of World Religion seminar. The group visits other places of worship like the Temple Shalom on Sang Avenue in Fayetteville or the Hindu Temple in Springdale. Additionally, a few men attend an Islamic Center near the university and go to coffee with mosque members. They have no hidden agendas. “We say that we’re believers in Christ who want to learn about their religion.”
UBC Pastor Brad Wheeler said outreach like this “is not an event but a way of life.” What should mark Christians is that they’re a “lover of strangers”–especially through the ministry of hospitality. Brad said he and his wife clear their calendars every Monday to invite others into their home–not an easy task with four children. “I want to help people to recognize it’s the everyday, normal job of evangelical Christians, not just those with the gift of evangelism,” he said. “Jesus could not be clearer about this.”
Brad said evangelism should not be divorced from the local church. “The local church is treated either as a revival to come to or something people do not use at all.” But, the power of the church as a supernatural community where its members have only one thing in common (Jesus!) is an evangelical message too. “When a non-Christian sees a living, Christian community, it’s most effective. I’ve seen that shake people up in a good way.”
Brad uses Sunday nights to talk about community outreach. For example, he’ll ask Joe to share for 30 minutes in small group time about connecting with someone from another country. “I’ll ask, ‘How can we join you?’” Brad said. “‘How can we pray for you?’” Frequently, the testimony has an effect on listeners. “Sometimes a person listening will think, ‘Hey, I know Joe. If Joe can do it, I can do it.” Brad said the next question leads to an expectation: “Why am I not doing it?’”