LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (BP)–Ministering to internationals from around the world isn’t solely a matter of fulltime missionary work on an international field such as Africa, Romania or Chile. Twenty-five years ago, a small group of Baptist women found an international mission field in central Arkansas.
Because of an influx of Vietnamese and Cambodian refugees who spoke little or no English, interested church women met in the summer of 1975 at Pulaski Heights Church in Little Rock to discuss opportunities to reach internationals in the area. Those signing up to become involved in Friendship International, the name selected for the organization, were asked to befriend an international woman and try to meet her needs in adjusting to central Arkansas and American culture.
Established as Friendship International’s threefold purpose: 1) to meet basic needs of the internationals, discover new friendships, improve English, develop creative skills, help children adjust to American schools, gain a better understanding of American culture and social customs and learn about Christianity from concerned friends; 2) to provide an opportunity for those who serve in the organization to meet those needs as a ministry of concern in the name of Christ; and 3) to increase world awareness.
Friendship International’s 25th anniversary was celebrated at a banquet at First Baptist Church in Little Rock on Sept. 29. One attending the celebration immediately sensed the organization’s threefold purpose had succeeded in building bridges of love and happiness between the internationals and the American women involved in the ministry. The internationals have learned English as a second language, participated in Bible study and attended classes in citizenship, crafts, cooking and computer, as well as many other areas of need and interest.
Lil Robinson, a member of Immanuel Baptist Church, Little Rock, the only American woman with a 25-year tenure in the program, has taught Bible classes 23 years and served as director for two years.
“The most rewarding aspect of my ministry in Friendship has been seeing some of those in class come to know the Lord,” she said. “Some of these have been determined to return to their native countries to witness to their families through Bible study.”
One class member from Hong Kong first came saying she would check out all religions to determine which she would follow. Robinson was especially pleased when the woman decided to follow Christ.
“Often we attend meetings and do other things feeling we are just spinning our wheels or wasting our time, but I have never felt that way about the time I have invested in ministering to internationals,” Robinson said.
Irene Murphy, who came to central Arkansas from Germany, as an international has been involved in the ministry of Friendship for 25 years. She expressed a deep gratitude to Elaine Moore, who is now living in Tuscaloosa, Ala., for being the first American woman to recognize the internationals’ loneliness, their need to be understood and their need for friends.
“Moore was the catalyst from which the organization was born and I am so thankful for her and the other Christian ladies who have given so much of themselves by first sharing their love with us and then accepting us with their unconditional love,” Murphy said.
She pointed out not only had the American women taught 125 different nationalities representing the four corners of the world, but had assisted them in many ways. They often took them to the grocery store and doctor, and taught their children.
Shedding a few tears, Murphy said she was so thankful the American women had led her to turn her life over to the Lord Jesus Christ.
“They also helped me obtain my citizenship and because they taught me English I was able to attend Mississippi College and graduate cum laude with a degree in history, religion, philosophy and German,” Murphy said. “Many other internationals have not only come to know Christ, but have been able to get their education and become productive citizens as a result of their participation in Friendship.”
Murphy, who served for four years as co-director of Friendship International, reiterated that many who have made professions of faith through Friendship have returned to their native countries to share their faith, thus spreading the ministry’s outreach all over the world.
Sherrie Bosworth, who at a young age felt called to serve on an international mission field but was unable to because of various difficulties, said she now realizes God’s intentions were for her to minister as a bus driver to the internationals in central Arkansas. For years, she has driven them to meetings from the Jacksonville Air Force Base, Lonoke, Cabot and other places in central Arkansas.
“God, knowing my heart’s desire to work with people from around the world, has faithfully made it possible for me to be available on Thursdays to serve in this capacity despite having cancer and the treatments for it,” Bosworth said. “The largest number I have brought to meetings has been 35, with 10 being my smallest number to transport.”
Nelle O’Bryan of Hot Springs, the 2000 director, is coordinating the work for the 61 internationals and 44 Americans who are currently enrolled.
O’Bryan, involved in the ministry for 18 years, has provided transportation and served as both a teacher and substitute teacher for English as a second language.
“This ministry has been the most interesting and rewarding one I have done in my life,” she said. “I have friends all over the world as a result of working in Friendship International.
“Currently our greatest need is for younger people to become involved in this ministry,” O’Bryan said.
Friendship International is sponsored by Pulaski Baptist Association, assisted by nine churches within the association, as well as churches in the North Pulaski Baptist Association.
For information on Friendship International, contact O’Bryan at (501) 376-4791.
(BP) photos posted in the BP Photo Library at www.bpnews.net. Photo titles: SINGING and TEACHING.