BANGKOK, Thailand (BP)–It had only been a day since Yvette Palmer had last seen K’na (Kah na), but as soon as Palmer stepped out of the van, her friend of one day ran up to her with tears in her eyes and hugged her.
After a few minutes of small talk, K’na grabbed Palmer by the hand and slowly dragged her away from the rest of the group. She untied the small bracelet around her wrist that read “Happy New Year 2000” and handed it to Palmer.
“This is very special to me, I’ve had it a long time,” 14-year-old K’na said as she placed the bracelet on Palmer’s arm.
Now it was Palmer’s turn to cry. One more intense hug from K’na and Palmer was gone. But she’ll never forget the young girl she met in a restricted country in Southeast Asia.
“I can’t imagine me not being able to see her again — in eternity,” said Palmer, Baptist collegiate minister at Louisiana State University at both Eunice and Alexandria. “I think that would break my heart if she didn’t have a chance.”
Born Buddhist, K’na’s chances of hearing the gospel of Jesus Christ dwindle every year. That fact alone motivated 73 college ministers to visit one of the most unreached areas of the world in order to find ways to involve college students in ministry in Southeast Asia.
The group, made up of Baptist collegiate ministers from campuses, churches and state conventions, as well as musicians scattered among the teams, split up into five countries in Southeast Asia to find ways students could minister in the region.
“The basic vision of these trips is to expose campus ministers to our field personnel and their work and expose our field personnel to campus ministers and the resources they have in students,” said Mike Lopez, who leads student mobilization for the International Mission Board. “But we also wanted to expose both groups to what God is doing in the region.”
It didn’t take long for John Ramirez to get interested.
Ramirez, director of collegiate ministries in the New England Baptist Convention, saw quickly how much the people of Southeast Asia need Christ. In particular it was the faces of young Buddhist monks in training, wearing their traditional orange robes that first inspired him.
“Those are the faces I’ll think of when I go back,” Ramirez said. “In one way they will haunt me because I know what kind of bondage they will be in, but in another way, they don’t haunt me. I see them as beautiful kids.”
As Palmer and Alan Garnett, Baptist campus minister for Western Oregon University, were touched by the people of Southeast Asia, the two already envisioned a joint missions project in Southeast Asia. They had seen agricultural projects and English language teaching opportunities where they could get their students involved.
“Just about anything we would want to do. There seemed like an open door everywhere,” Garnett said.
Last year, the IMB helped 1,756 college students travel to 90 countries for missions projects. The board provides logistical help for getting tickets, visas and insurance for students or student groups.
“Students are perfect for overseas ministry,” Lopez said. “They are non-threatening. They don’t come in with a lot of pre-set agendas. They are very flexible, loving and teachable.”
Many of these college students can minister in strategic universities around the world where there are few Christian witnesses.
“One of the things I was very encouraged by on this trip is I see the IMB strategically looking at the university campuses and wanting college students to reach them,” said Bill Henry, director of National Student Ministries at LifeWay Christian Resources.
As the board keeps enlarging its commitment into the Last Frontier, it continues to ask students to play larger roles in what had previously been known as closed countries. Southeast Asia is no exception.
“Just this year we put several of our students through the ‘Experiencing God’ study,” Garrett said. “One of the principles that comes out in that study is that being obedient to God is sometime costly to both you and those around you.
“There are a lot of different levels of cost there, but you can’t guarantee a student’s safety in any country,” he said. “Something could just as easily happen in Toronto as in a closed country. So if a student or a student’s parents aren’t willing to pay the cost, they shouldn’t be coming.”
But many of today’s students are ready to pay that cost, Garnett believes.
“Students are wanting to make a difference, and when they come to a closed country they know they are making a difference,” he said.
As Palmer plans to join Garnett on a return trip to the region with her college students, this time she has a 14-year-old reason to return.
“When it was time to go, K’na just clung to me like she didn’t want to let go, and of course I felt the same way,” Palmer said. “I didn’t want to let her go.”