LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)–Hundreds of international students populate the classrooms at the University of Louisville, including a small group from India.
Mark Stam, international student campus minister for the Baptist campus ministry at U of L and a student at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., noticed this group several months ago and acted on a desire to reach them with the Gospel.
A dozen students from Southern Seminary took part in an evangelistic sports event with a dozen Indian students and one Tunisian student from U of L Sept. 15. Stam helped organize the outreach geared to establishing relationships with the Indian students.
“We have a burden for the Indian community in Louisville, and yet our influence among the Indian community has been quite small,” Stam said. “Many Indians in Louisville do not have friendships with Americans, but they want such friendships and this was an opportunity to get that started. This activity was one of our efforts to reach into that community, establish contact and begin to form relationships with them.”
Jacob Preston, student missions coordinator at Southern, described the event as successful, recounting, “… after the students played the sports for a few hours there was a time of fellowship where they were able to share with one another. I noticed several students having personal, one-on-one conversations about Hinduism and opening the door to future conversations.”
Stam said Indian students gather to play cricket several times a week at U of L, and they had expressed interest in learning American sports. Since baseball and cricket share some similarities, Stam chose to have the seminary students teach baseball to the Indian students.
The evening began with Lee Sexton, director of the health and recreation center at Southern, explaining the rules of baseball. After this instruction time, the groups formed two teams and played Wiffle ball for 20 minutes, followed by 20 minutes of baseball using a tennis ball. Dinaesh Swamynathan, an Indian engineering student at U of L, then explained the rules of cricket, and the teams tackled that sport for half an hour until dark.
Sexton said he split the teams evenly, putting half the American students and half the Indian students on each team, to open the door for conversations. A pizza fellowship after the games offered further opportunity for forming relationships.
“It was great to establish contact with the Indian students where there would otherwise be no contact,” Sexton said. “With no contact, there is no opportunity for relationship. So this was a bridge-building opportunity.”
Sexton said he enjoyed learning about the family and cultural backgrounds of the foreign students, as well as hearing about how they came to the United States.
“There was one man I spoke to named Pusche, who grew up in the northern part of India near a plant where tennis balls and other athletic balls that we use in the United States are made,” he said. “So many of the things we experience, things we take for granted, are made in India. It was interesting to learn these things and it’s encouraging to be able to establish those relationships.”
At the event, Sexton ran into an Indian student, Elan, whom he had met before. In 2004 Elan had attended Clifton Baptist Church, where Sexton is a member. Sexton invited Elan to his home for Thanksgiving that year but soon lost contact with him when Elan stopped attending Clifton. At the evangelistic event, Sexton learned encouraging news about Elan.
“I was glad to see Elan there and to find out that he had been baptized and joined a body of believers, Southeast Christian Church, in Louisville,” he said. “That was very encouraging to hear because I know that baptism can be a litmus test for many people who grew up in Hindu cultures, and I knew this act revealed Elan’s commitment to Christ.”
Stam said it was great to have Elan and another Indian Christian present to show the Indian non-believers that Christianity is not just a “white man’s religion.” Stam said he was encouraged that relationships developed between attendees.
“It was helpful for the Indians who are Hindus to meet Indian students who are Christians, and I was happy for our American friends to be able to establish friendships with these guys,” he said. “Some of the American students were sharing the Gospel or sharing about their relationship with God, and I think it was a good time for relationship-building and friendship-building.”
Chad Helmer, a master of divinity student at Southern, said he has already experienced the fruit of the event’s relationship development.
“I was encouraged that every time I walked up to an Indian student at the event there was already a seminary student engaging in conversation with them, often about the Gospel,” he said. “I have seen some of the Indian students since then and they have been receptive to talking to me, whereas before they didn’t acknowledge me. I had one show interest in attending church with me.”
Stam said he would like to hold similar events in the future.
“I would like to hold a similar cricket event a couple of times each semester for the Indian students,” he said. “I don’t know of any Indian churches in Louisville, and I really have a burden for the Indian students. What we want to do is give them a chance to hear, understand and respond to the Gospel.”