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10/1/97 International students present challenge, blessing at Southern

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)–It was a midnight telephone call from Merle Mateika. He was on a pay telephone at the border. His traveling papers were inadequate and the stone-faced guards would not permit him to enter the country.
While this situation sounds more like a 1960s East/West Berlin face- off, it actually occurred last August at the Canadian-American border. Mateika, a newly admitted master of church music student at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, finally made it through the border. However, his admittance was not gained without some last-minute faxes, phone calls and wire transfers arranged by the Louisville, Ky., seminary’s international student office.
“Most Americans are unaware of the detailed U.S. government laws which regulate international students’ entry and activity in our country,” said Rob Plummer, Southern’s international student coordinator.
“Each international student we welcome is a living testimony of human sacrifice and God’s provision,” Plummer said. “Many of our internationals have given up homes, extended family and prominent ministries to come here to receive theological training. Our school is honored to host these exemplary servants of Christ.”
To be permitted to study in America, international students must be fully admitted to a U.S. educational institution and have legally enforceable proof that they will be financially supported during their time of study. This proof usually takes the form of an affidavit signed by a family member, a church or a sponsor.
U.S. law also restricts international students to working a maximum of 20 hours per week on campus. Unless spouses are also full-time students, they are not permitted to be employed in any job.
“It’s understandable that the Congress wants to protect jobs for U.S. citizens,” Plummer said. “But the regulations can create quite a financial burden on our students.”
This semester, Southern Seminary welcomed 11 new international students, coming from such diverse locales as the Bahamas and South Africa. One hundred twenty international students from roughly 30 different countries presently are taking classes at Southern. Another 210 internationals study at extension centers, some of whom are instructed in French, Vietnamese or Spanish.
The seminary’s Women’s Auxiliary International Student Committee recently hosted a dinner to welcome the new students.
“Our main service to internationals is through prayer,” explained Barbara Sharp, who presented each student with a welcome basket. The auxiliary also coordinates trips, collects donated furniture and provides various other services to international students.
“These women are like my grandmother to me,” said Kate Tampol, a master of divinity student who came in 1995 to Southern from the Philippines.
At the international dinner, students were also welcomed by the former president of Southern’s Korean students, Suk Kyun Kwon, and Nigerian student Duro Ayanrinola. Kwon received his master of divinity degree in 1994 and currently is pursuing a doctor of philosophy degree.
Ayanrinola, a doctor of missiology student, advised the internationals to keep their spiritual life as a priority, as well as carefully budgeting limited finances.
“Don’t, I say don’t, get a credit card, brothers and sisters,” Ayanrinola warned. “Don’t go into debt.” Ayanrinola received his master of divinity degree from Southern in 1996. Following completion of the D.Miss. degree, he plans to return to his native land in order to serve as a missionary for the Nigerian Baptist Convention.
Internationals and Americans mixed freely after the dinner and presentations. American students and the internationals took advantage of the meal to fellowship and learn more about their respective cultures, Plummer noted.
“Our international students are one of the greatest assets of this seminary,” Plummer said. “They challenge our limited, materialistic and languid view of Christendom.
“I would remind American students that God’s Word commands us to love the ‘aliens’ living among us. The Old Testament repeatedly cites the Israelites’ love or lack of love of foreigners as a sign of true or contrived religion.”
Plummer added, “The Book of Revelation promises that people from every nation will worship before God’s throne. Southern is getting a good start at that now.”