SEMO Baptists reach out to international students

SEMO Baptists reach out to international students

By Brian Koonce
Staff Writer

CAPE GIRARDEAU–Baptist Student Unions (BSUs) have always been an ambassador for Christ on our college campuses. But as Bob Houchins and the students at the BSU at Southeastern Missouri State University (SEMO) are finding out, an influx of international students means they’re also ambassadors of the United States.

Houchins is the director the BSU at SEMO and he said the relationships Christian students are building with international students are beginning to bear fruit.

“We saw that God was moving among international students on campus beginning last fall,” Houchins said. “We began to see Chinese students come to our opening week events and within 10 days’ time we’d met between 16 and 20 Chinese students alone.”

Houchins has a soft spot in his heart for international students, especially those from China. He has been leading the BSU on mission trips to China for the past four years. SEMO has partnered with two Chinese Universities, prompting more than 30 students from China to enroll at SEMO. In the 2005-2006 school year, there were only four Chinese students on campus.

“How do we respond to what is obviously God’s open door to students from China?” Houchins said.

The veterans of those mission trips had the answer. They took the lead and established a Bible study group for the Chinese students.

“The latest outgrowth of that is the International Coffee House we’ve started offering on Sunday nights,” he said.

At their first gathering, seven different nations were represented.

“If you had told me in August that we’d be launching this coffee house because we’ve had contact with more than 40 internationals during the fall semester, I would have said no way,” he said. “God has opened a wide door.”

The coffee house is a 90-minue relationship-building session at the BSU. The first half hour is full of music. The next half hour is one-on-one conversation. The final 30 minutes is fun and games.

It’s not billed as a ministry. Instead it’s known as a place for making friends. But even though it isn’t “High Church,” that doesn’t mean the Gospel doesn’t come up.

“Spiritual matters come up naturally the more conversations you have and the more trust you build,” Houchins said.

The key, he said is being low key.

“We try to build friendships and provide a safe, trusting environment,” he said. “We do evangelism as a natural outgrowth of friendship. We’re not trying to force anything on them.”

Next on tap, the BSU is taking 20 international students – many of them non-Christians – on their spring break mission trip in New Orleans.

“They’re going to help us rebuild houses but also rub elbows with believers,” Houchins said.

The BSU focus on international students has also opened doors to the university’s administration, he said.

“I just had a meeting with the director of the International Center where I outlined everything that been happening and his response was ‘That’s amazing. I need you to meet with my staff because we need to be working together.’”

Two students from China plus three other international students have professed faith in Christ this year, and more conversions seem likely.

“There are many students who regularly engage us about spiritual matters,” Houchins said. “There’s one student from China who has told me, ‘I cannot believe as you believe now, but I look forward to the day when I can.’”

One Chinese student who tutors Houchins in her native language is not a Christian but has read the Bible through – twice.

“She knows she needs to make a decision,” he said. “One half of her family is Hindu, the other half is Buddhist, her parents are atheists and her boyfriend is a Muslim. But she says, ‘I trust this book.’ She has a good grasp on the Old Testament because it’s similar to eastern family tradition which is similar to hers in China, but she still struggles with Jesus. The conversation is ongoing.”

Houchins said many of the students at the BSU are seeing similar interests as they build relationships with students from not only China, but Japan, France, Panama, Ivory Coast and elsewhere.