ATLANTA — When Jing Jing of China attended a welcome luncheon for new international students at the Baptist Collegiate Ministry (BCM) of Georgia State University (GSU), she just wanted a cheap lunch and to make some friends. Christianity was the last thing on her mind.
“Before I came to America, I never heard about Christianity.” Jing Jing said. “Most Chinese in China have no religious belief partly because of government control and education. So I was indifferent about any religious belief.”
Fellow student Hong Ke had a similar experience.
“When I first got to America, I was an atheist because of the way I grew up in China,” Hong Ke said. “We didn’t know anything. It was not allowed to talk about Christianity.”
Then she “stumbled” into the GSU BCM.
“I walked into the door and didn’t know what it was,” Hong Ke said. “I have no word for it; I just feel like it was God leading me there.”
Cooperative Program funds support BCM campus ministries and the leadership of the GBC’s collegiate ministry team.
In the 35 years that Georgia Baptist Convention state missionary Teresa Royall has ministered at GSU’s BCM, she has interacted with students from multiple nations. Saudi Arabian, Chinese, Iraqi, Afghanistan, Korean, Vietnamese, Cambodian, Burmese, Hmong, Moldovan, Brazilian, Malaysian, Indonesian, Indian, English, French, and Hispanic students are among those who have attended BCM.
Few of the international students at GSU attend the BCM’s worship or Bible studies. Instead, affordable and sociable events that Royall describes as low key and highly relational draws those students.
Tuesday through Thursday, the BCM serves a $4 home-cooked meal. There is no program. Scriptures are on the tables, and there is a prayer time. The BCM plans the meal events toward friendships.
“Gathering around the table and making friends keeps them coming,” Royall said.
Cooperative Program funds support BCM campus ministries and the leadership of the GBC’s collegiate ministry team, which sponsors three major events each year that are open to each of the state’s BCMs. GSU also sponsors some of its own, including student hikes at Kennesaw Mountain.
International students often attend those events. Not only does it give them a cross-cultural experience, but also the door opens wider for building relationships. For instance, the three-hour, one-way bus trip to Cataloochee Ski Resort in Maggie Valley, NC, just one of the regular venues, provides opportunity for the best conversations, Royall said.
Royall knows that not every international student who attends BCM will become a Christian. Still, she wants the ministry to maximize the opportunity at least to make a favorable impression on the international students.
“There was a girl from Saudi Arabia who came,” Royall said. “She told her advisor that she was hanging out with the Baptists.”
When the advisor asked why, the Saudi Arabian’s answer was concise.
“The Baptists are nice to me, and I have fun with them,” she said.
Relationship building with international students takes time, Royall said. They don’t come to one event and make a decision for Christ. But through nurturing, some do.
Jing Jing kept coming because of the kindness she experienced as she made new friends.
“I was just hanging out with people in BCM,” Jing Jing said. “I didn’t pay too much attention to Christianity until I had some difficulty.”
School and a personal relationship created a hardship for her. Then she had a bad car accident. Soon, a friend invited her to the Atlanta Chinese Christian Church.
“I got so much help and love from people there to heal my pain,” she said. “And then I knew all the love is from Him (God).”
She later attended a Confluence event sponsored by the GBC. While there, she decided to become a Christian and later submitted to believer’s baptism.
“I don’t feel lonely and lost as a foreigner anymore because I am in Him,” Jing Jing said.
The BCM connected Hong Ke with another local church, Northwoods Baptist in Atlanta. Between her nurturing at Northwoods and the BCM, she eventually made a profession of faith in Christ.
“Everything just worked together,” Hang Ke said. “It’s like I’m meant to be there.”