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Al Qaeda terrorist’s N.C. studies highlight need for international outreach, leaders say

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–News that one of the world’s most wanted al Qaeda terrorists attended two North Carolina colleges — including a Baptist one — highlights the need for outreach to internationals, Southern Baptist leaders say.

Khalid Shaikh Mohammed — believed to be the mastermind behind the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks — attended Baptist-related Chowan College for one semester in the early 1980s before transferring to North Carolina A&T State University, where he graduated.

Often called the No. 3 man in the al Qaeda chain, Mohammed was captured in Pakistan in early March.

Chowan professor Garth Faile taught him.

“You never know who you’re teaching,” Faile told Baptist Press. “You may be teaching the next president of the United States.”

In this case, Faile was teaching a future terrorist. Faile said he does not remember Mohammed from his chemistry class, although he said the photos he has seen on the Internet look familiar.

Faile learned about his former student last year when a coworker notified him of the Chowan link. He then began digging in his academic record books.

“I looked in my book and I found [Mohammed’s name] there in the spring of 1984,” Faile said. “… I’m delighted they caught him.”

Mohammed attended Chowan during a time when the Murfreesboro, N.C., college heavily recruited international students. Nearly 20 years later, America’s colleges and universities have some 582,000 international students — many who will go back to their native land without a Christian influence.

“If we don’t show them the love of Jesus, no one else will,” said Carey Bates, former director of international outreach for the International Mission Board. “Their concept of Christ will come from the liberal media, TV sitcoms and pagan professors.”

One of Bates’ hobbies is reaching out to international students on college campuses.

“I personally stay involved with the international students, just because I believe in it,” said Bates, who now serves as a strategist in the IMB’s church services department. “We’ve seen students from other nations come to the Lord … and then go back and connect with missionaries on the field [in their country].”

Fermin Whittaker, executive director of the California Southern Baptist Convention, knows the influence that outreach to internationals can have. After preaching a sermon years ago, Whittaker was approached by a young man claiming to be the son of Mohamed Farah Aideed, the Somali warlord who eluded capture during the 1993 “Black Hawk Down” military operation. The young man was Hussein Aideed, who later succeeded his father after the elder Aideed was assassinated.

While in America Hussein Aideed served as a U.S. Marine and worked as an engineer in California.

“I said, ‘I’ve seen your face somewhere,'” Whittaker said. “He said, ‘I’m a Muslim. I came to this meeting to see what Christianity had to offer.’

“… I kept asking myself, ‘Did I communicate clearly what Christ has to offer for the world?’ He never made a decision, but the seed was planted.”

An international mission field is literally next door to most Americans, Whittaker said.

“I believe God sends people to our doorsteps who in turn can be reached for Christ and can become worldwide missionaries in their countries,” he said.

It is estimated that more than 70 percent of international students will return to their native country having never been invited into an American home, Bates said.

“Some of the world’s most influential leaders studied in the United States,” said Michael Crane, a Th.M. student at Golden Baptist Theological Seminary who reaches out to internationals in the San Francisco area. “Whether they become believers or just have a positive experience with Christianity, it can have a dramatic influence on the worldwide Christian movement. Even if they don’t become believers, they may become less hostile or even open to missions in their country.”

Of course, the prayer is that an international student will accept Christ.

“That’s our ultimate hope — who better to bring the gospel to a closed country than their own people?” Crane said.

Crane can relate to internationals. A son of missionaries, he was born in Taiwan but received his bachelor’s degree from Samford University in Birmingham, Ala. His father is from New Jersey, his mother from Florida.

“My wife and I understand what it’s like to be a stranger,” said Crane, who is studying to serve fulltime on the international mission field. “There are scriptural passages that talk about welcoming the stranger. We value that.”

Christians can befriend an international through a school’s “friendship family program,” Crane said.

“Families can adopt a student and invite them over for dinner,” he said. “It’s a great way to help.”

    About the Author

  • Michael Foust