FROM THE STATES: Fla., Md. and N.M. evangelism/missions news; '... [W]e have gotten really good at figuring out the ones who are needy'
Today's From the States features items from:
Florida Baptist Witness
Baptist New Mexican
Fla. church opens heart
to international students
By Keila Diaz
OCALA, Fla. (Florida Baptist Witness) -- Cross Pointe Church in Ocala is embracing a global mission field in their backyard, opening hearts and hands to international students attending the College of Central Florida.
Almost since its beginning 10 years ago, the church has recognized that international students represent a Great Commission opportunity to share Christ's love and extend the reach of the Gospel, said pastor Scott Clark.
"Our first international student was a girl from South Korea who dropped into one of our services while on her way to another church," said Clark.
He and his wife took the young woman to lunch and learned that another 30 students from other nationalities attended the school. But unlike their new friend, none of these students were Christians.
Reaching students from other nations is a mission field ripe for Florida Baptists.
With more than 30 public universities and colleges spread across the peninsula, Florida is a major draw for students from across the world.
According to the Educational Exchange Data from Open Doors 2016, Florida colleges and universities are hosting 43,462 international students primarily from China, India, Venezuela, Saudi Arabia and Brazil.
After meeting the South Korean student, the Clarks sponsored a Thanksgiving dinner for international students and began a Sunday evening Bible study for them.
That first year, four students came faithfully and two made professions of faith before graduating.
Afterward, the church connected with the college's international student program to find other ways to minister.
They learned that international students had trouble finding reliable transportation and often needed a guide to show them where to shop for essentials and how to move about in the city.
"We did a trial run during a summer semester," said Clark. That summer they picked up individual students from the airport, drove them to Walmart and even helped them buy items if they were in financial need. Later they took them to dinner and invited them to church -- offering a ride there as well.
These things they continue to do today.
Every semester the church adopts 10 students and by now that number totals over 100 adoptees. Even after the students graduate from college and attend other schools, the church continues to help and guide them through their life in America.
"Most of the international students who come here have financial means to buy things but we have gotten really good at figuring out the ones who are needy," said the pastor.
Volunteers in the church are heavily invested in the students' lives and serve as the "go to" persons when emergencies and needs arise.
Cross Pointe provides the students with a welcome packet that includes a map of the city with stores and bus stops highlighted, church information and event calendar.
Often students form a bond with the church volunteer who took them to the store on their first day in Ocala. Yuki Shimizu, an international student from Japan studying finance, became best friends with a Cross Pointe volunteer who took him on his first trip to Walmart.
Shimizu recalled the day when volunteers from Cross Pointe knocked on his door and offered to drive him to Walmart and invited him to church. "As an international student I barely spoke English and didn't have a car or access to any vehicle so I was thankful for their help."
Attending Cross Pointe was a unique experience for the Japanese student. "I had never been to any other church before, but at Cross Pointe they were very friendly even though it was kind of overwhelming because in my country we don't sing to God."
But it didn't take long for Shimizu to embrace the worship style and has attended the church for three years. Today he is involved with Mission Ocala, the church's weekly ministry to the homeless, and serves in an after school program of a local elementary school, teaching students about God.
Randolph Bellamy, assistant director of admissions and international student services at the college, applauds the church's outreach efforts. "It's a blessing having a group in the community who is willing to help international students get adjusted to life in the United States."
This article appeared in the Florida Baptist Witness (gofbw.com), newsjournal of the Florida Baptist Convention. Keila Diaz is a reporter for the Florida Baptist Witness.
Salaam Center reaches
the world from Baltimore
By Sharon Mager
BALTIMORE (BaptistLIFE) -- The Middle Eastern man could be 18 or 30 from a distance. He smiles shyly, politely shakes my hand, shows me where to park, and escorts me into the small coffee shop called the Salaam Center. The shop, located in a busy area directly across from the Baltimore Resettlement Center on Conkling Street in Baltimore, offers guests coffee, snacks, and more importantly–friendship and assistance for those, especially, who are newly arrived into our country.
I discovered my young escort, Fadi Narouz, is a mature 17-year-old, ready to graduate high school and head to Wake Forest University, N.C., where he'll study political science and philosophy. He introduces me to his parents, Reda and Nadia, both with shining dark eyes and big, friendly smiles. The couple directs the Salaam Center and gives their lives daily helping refugees from around the world. "Salaam" means "peace" in Arabic. As I'm sure they welcome all of their guests with hospitality, Reda heats a large piece of incredible baklava and pours me a cup of coffee.
Refugees from over a dozen countries enter the center seeking help and friendship. They want to learn English, and they need help with their mail, in making appointments, or arranging transportation. Children and teens need homework assistance. Mostly, they all need friends who love them and love their children.
"When you immigrate from one country to another, you can barely speak their language," Fadi explains. "You're disoriented and need whatever help you can get."
The little shop exudes life. Two women in hijabs are on each side of the room quietly going over English words with Pat Roush, Pauline Meeker, and Lynne Billups, members of Calvary Baptist Church, Bel Air, who volunteer weekly at the center. A 2-year-old girl with a huge smile and curly brown hair, waves to me then digs through the little toy area, finds a treasure and slides in again next to her mother, who hugs her. The girl's mother has five children with another on the way. As she's trying to learn English, she reveals that she needs a sofa.
A Middle Eastern man strolls in and jovially greets everyone. Nadia is prepared. She smiles and gives the gentlemen two loaves of bread. Reda walks him out the door to chat.
In addition to sharing love in action, the family shares the source of their love, gently, as the Holy Spirit leads. "Our goal is to give people a choice to accept or reject Christ," Reda says. And they do that through building relationships with the community of refugees. In a friendly conversation, one refugee asked about Christmas and Reda happily explained the story of Jesus and redemption. Reda says the Holy Spirit softens hearts and allows them to hear the Good News.
The Narouz family came to the United States from Jordan when their 10-year-old daughter Vicky needed treatment for an inoperable brain tumor. They continue to trust God to heal her and to sustain them. Reda had evangelized with Campus Crusade for 22 years. When the family came to the United States, he saw many refugees, and though weighed down with concern for his daughter, he felt led to continue his ministry.
The center is supported by Pleasant View Baptist Church, Port Deposit, Md.; Calvary Baptist Church, Bel Air, Md.; the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware; and the North American Mission Board; though there is a great need for both financial and volunteer help.
Reda and Nadia have four children, Fadi, 15-year-old David, 10-year-old Vicky and 7-year-old Grace. The family lives frugally in a Baltimore row home with two bedrooms and one bathroom. Fadi is preparing to leave for college on a scholarship. David will help fill the translation gap.
Regardless of the cost, they're committed to the Great Commission. Jesus said to go into all the world and preach the Gospel, but God is sending the world here, Reda exclaims. Currently, only one church helps with ESL classes for one day weekly. Reda said they desperately need more people to lend a hand.
Time passes quickly, Reda says. People are hungry for Jesus. "If the church turns a blind eye, who else will love them? Who else will reach them with the love of Jesus?"
This article appeared in BaptistLIFE (baptistlife.com), newsmagazine of the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware. Sharon Mager is communications specialist for the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware.
'Best Float' award boosts
VBS for N.M. church
By James Trevillian
Soul Rio Church, Rio Rancho, won the "Best Float" award in the City of Rio Rancho Independence Day Parade. The church used the superhero-themed float to advertise their Vacation Bible School, which took place the following week on July 10-14.
The float itself was constructed to look like a city skyline at night. The outline of a cross in a spotlight parodied the iconic Bat-Signal. Church members wearing superhero outfits and patriotic red, white and blue clothes accompanied the float and gave away candy.
Alan Moss, Soul Rio's children's pastor, said that the parade float is an annual part of the church's VBS promotion. Each year's VBS curriculum theme inspires the theme of the float. The entire church is encouraged to be a part of the project, making it a "family" affair.
The night before the parade, VBS teachers, parents and other church members assemble and decorate the float. In addition to those who dress up and accompany the float, a church member provides a vehicle and drives in the parade the following day. Moss said that the parade itself "goes fast. It's over before you know it."
Even those who cannot walk with the float or help build it still play an important role by providing candy to be distributed along the parade route, according to Moss. He estimated that they received 700 bags of candy from the Soul Rio family. The candy was completely gone about halfway through the parade.
Moss stated that the parade float is "a huge success for us every year." Despite being a "smaller church," Soul Rio sees an average VBS attendance of 60-75 children per night. Moss estimated that 10-20 of these attendees learned about VBS through the parade float. Winning the Best Float award increased attention to the float and the church.
The work that goes into the float lives on past the day of the parade, too. The float's decorations are reused as stage VBS props. After VBS, the church seeks out other churches that may be able to use the float remnants and other props in their own VBS. Completing the circle, Soul Rio's spirit of cooperation has likewise resulted in it obtaining resources for its VBS from other churches.
Moss gave several pointers for churches that feel inspired to participate in their city's Independence Day parade. He encouraged churches to involve every church member in the float, whether they accompanied the float, decorated, or provided candy. He also recommended that VBS be scheduled the week following July 4th to ensure that the parade float promotion happens as close as possible to the event. Matching the float theme to the VBS curriculum theme also benefits the effort.
Moss expressed gratitude to those who invested time and resources to make Soul Rio's parade float and VBS a success. He said, "The people that participate make this work. They give up a week of nights and walk the parade route. The people are so dedicated and makes it a huge success."
This article appeared in the Baptist New Mexican (gobnm.com), newsjournal of the Baptist Convention of New Mexico. James Trevillian is social media specialist and webmaster for the Baptist Convention of New Mexico.
EDITOR'S NOTE: From the States, published each Tuesday by Baptist Press, relays news and feature stories from state Baptist papers and other publications on initiatives by Baptist churches, associations and state conventions in evangelism, church planting and Great Commission outreach, including partnership missions. Reports about churches, associations and state conventions responding to the International Mission Board's call to embrace the world's unengaged, unreached people groups also are included in From the States, along with reports about church, associational and state convention initiatives in conjunction with the North American Mission Board's call to Southern Baptist churches to broaden their efforts in starting new churches and satellite campuses. Except for minor style, formatting and grammatical changes, the items appear in Baptist Press as originally published.