HATTIESBURG, Miss. (BP)–Unwrapping Christmas presents and eating traditional holiday favorites was not how 128 college students spent their Christmas. Instead, they spent “Christmas in China,” in a Dec. 17-31 project sponsored by the International Mission Board.
“Five years ago, I participated in my first Christmas in China with Southern Miss students,” recounted Lloyd Lunceford, BSU director at the University of Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg. “Ever since that experience, I have seen it as my mission to help our folks in China make the most of this strategy.”
Mississippi sent 58 students for this year’s “Christmas in China” and 35 students in 2004. Last year, the project was on track in Mississippi when Hurricane Katrina forced the cancellation of the trip.
“The whole strategy about Christmas in China is to take advantage of the opportunity to share with Chinese the meaning of Christmas,” Lunceford said. “What a great opportunity to unashamedly let people know that Christmas is all about Jesus, God’s greatest gift to mankind. I believe this is the way the holiday is intended to be celebrated.”
Carlena*, a student at William Carey College in Hattiesburg, said some people may think it absurd to spend Christmas in a foreign country, but she can’t imagine herself staying at home. This was her second Christmas in China.
“For me, being away from home this time of year to share Jesus with people who have never heard is what makes Christmas a true Christmas,” she said.
It’s that same passion for reaching the lost that ignited a desire in Lunceford to lead the Mississippi team, which worked in nine different cities throughout China.
“I believe in the strategy of taking students to the edge of lostness and telling people who have never had the chance to hear the Gospel,” he said. “What a great opportunity for students.”
Nicole*, from the Mississippi University for Women, was another student who considered it an “opportunity” to spend her Christmas break overseas.
“I have always had an interest in other countries, but all I really knew about China was that it was overpopulated. I had never left the country or, really, my little corner of the United States,” she said laughingly.
“I don’t like Chinese food. Planes make me sick. I don’t speak Chinese. And I hate being cold. Needless to say, nothing about this trip resembled my comfort zone,” Nicole said.
“When I first considered the trip, I knew that my parents would probably not be thrilled about me flying internationally, let alone missing Christmas when I’m not home much the rest of the year,” she continued. “I knew that if I was going to do something like this, it would take God coming down with a flashing neon sign saying, ‘Go.’ I underestimated God!”
Her call to go to China came during a college student conference last September when one of the speakers read Romans 10:14-15.
“All summer long, I worked at [Mississippi’s] Camp Garaywa and this verse was written in our Bible studies. I had to live out the very thing that I had taught to my campers for eight weeks. Life is not for us to live; it’s for God to use us as instruments to do His work, no matter the sacrifice that calls for,” Nicole said.
Total cost per participant was approximately $2,800. Weaver McCracken, director of collegiate ministry at the Mississippi Baptist Convention Board, said a significant part of the cost was provided through Mississippi Baptists’ Acts 1:8, Missions Mobilization initiative and through BSU state missions funding.
*Students’ first names are used in this story for security reasons. Erica Harms is the Margaret Lackey State Missions editor for the Mississippi Baptist Convention Board.