by Shalia Creekmore - Faith & Purpose
With dozens of students from across the globe making their way to Jonesboro this year to attend Arkansas State University, one committee at the Baptist Collegiate Ministry is using a basic need to share the gospel.
The International Student Committee is gathering furniture, appliances and other household items to distribute to students who need anything from a bed to a washing machine.
The furniture closet ministry was launched in the fall of 2005 when BCM members learned that a fellow student was sleeping on the floor of her apartment. An international student from India, the young student had been in the United States for several months with no means to purchase a bed.
"A group of friends got money together and bought her a bed," said Megan Hogue, chair of the International Student Committee. "That's how the idea got started."
Soon, BCM members discovered that their friend was just one of many international students who was sitting on an empty apartment floor or sleeping on a pallet.
"Most are sitting on the floor and they are happy with that, but they are so happy to get a sofa or something to sit on," said Hogue.
The International Student Committee saw the need as a way to reach out to both believers and non-believers attending ASU. The nine-person committee began collecting furniture and other household items to distribute as needed.
"Unlike American students, they don't have family here to give them stuff. Most live off campus because it's cheaper, and most don't have the money to buy furniture," Hogue said.
The furniture closet relies on donations from members of local churches who are notified about the need through announcements in church bulletins or e-mails. Donations are picked up and taken to a storage unit, processed and prepared for donation to a student. The rental of the storage unit is provided by a local church member.
Since beginning the program last year, the committee has received beds, chairs, dining tables, desks, sofas, microwaves, lamps, washers and dryers, and electronics such as televisions and CD players.
"There has been no lack of donation," said Brian Greenwood, vice chair of the International Student Committee.
While the committee will take whatever you can provide, donations should be clean and in good working condition.
"We don't really have the resources to make repairs," said Greenwood. " It needs to be move-in ready."
For those international students looking for furniture or an appliance, it's as simple as making a request.
"When they call, we just ask what they need and see if we have that and then deliver it to them," Hogue said. If the item isn't in storage, the committee attempts to find the needed item.
"We just ask that if they return to their country, they either pass it on to another international student or give it back to us," Hogue said. "We've not received any back yet, but I know several that have passed it on to others."
The ministry is made known to the international students through their required orientation at the beginning of the semester and through the Office of International Programs, but Hogue says that most of the students who come to them find out about the furniture through word of mouth.
In addition to meeting a very basic need of the students, the furniture closet allows the committee members to make an initial contact with various international students and to become friends through the ministry.
"Many of them question why we're doing this," said Hogue. "Through those things, we are able to show the love of Christ."
Another ministry of the International Student Committee is The Bridge, a social gathering that invites international students to visit with American students a couple times a month. The Bridge, named for the committee's goal of bridging the gap between American and international students, sponsors various activities including a ping pong tournament, scavenger hunt and game nights.
Through the furniture closet ministry, the committee is then able to contact international students about The Bridge throughout the year.
"Generally, all of their friends are international students and they don't have a lot of American friends," said Hogue. "American students are reaching out to them and wanting to be their friends and they are excited about that. It's my goal that international students make at least one American friend while they're here."
Hogue said one difficulty of American students ministering to international students is the myth that everyone in America is a Christian, causing confusion for the non-believers who misunderstand the Christian faith.
"They expect everyone here to be a Christian. It's important that we be the purest example of Christ that we can be," Hogue said.
The international committee is hopeful that through the furniture closet and The Bridge, members can open doors to minister to those international students visiting Jonesboro and ASU.
"The difference we have here is making that first contact," said Hogue.