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Keynoter imagines the uniqueness of heaven

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)–The Apostle John in his Apocalypse envisioned a scene with people from every tribe and nation waving palm branches before the slain, but victorious, Lamb. Robed in pure white, the multi-ethic redeemed — black, white, tan — all sing praises with a unified voice.

To Southern Baptist Theological Seminary student Patrick Whyte, the more than 300 international students attending a Nov. 2-4 conference in Bowling Green, Ky., did not quite match the beloved apostle’s vision in Revelation 7. But, the congregation — representing almost 40 different nations — did reveal a tiny view of heaven.

“Think about the uniqueness of the fellowship we’re all going to have,” said Whyte, labeling the Bowling Green gathering as a microcosm of the heavenly reality. “People from every tribe, every tongue and every nation [will be] before God.”

Whyte, a master of divinity student, delivered the keynote addresses at the event. In addition to Whyte, a dozen students from the Louisville, Ky., seminary participated as counselors, family group leaders and speakers in the event which was sponsored by the Women’s Missionary Union and Kentucky Baptist Student Union groups from 15 colleges around the state.

The initial purpose of the conference was cultural assimilation — helping the international students adjust to American society. But each seminar, testimony, family group and the spontaneous conversation pointed attendees to the Gospel.

“I would say that most of the people there had never heard the Gospel before,” said David Merrifield a master of divinity student from Rutland, Vt., and a conference volunteer. “But they heard it several times in different ways throughout the weekend.”

The attending students — coming from Asia, Europe, South America and even Uzbekistan and Sri Lanka — received a full Gospel presentation by Whyte on the final day of the event.

While he is not sure how many professions of faith will come from the weekend, Merrifield knows that many Gospel seeds were planted.

“It seemed like there were a lot of people who were ripe for receiving not only information but a change of life,” Merrifield said.

Both Merrifield and Whyte came away amazed at the receptivity of the attendees. Despite the myriad of worldviews represented, the international students each demonstrated a willingness to consider the truth claims of the Gospel.

“At the end, people were presented with the opportunity to take home free ‘Jesus’ videos, and I saw many people taking those,” Merrifield said. “… People were going in there with absolutely no understanding, but leaving with questions.”

The positive response didn’t surprise Whyte, who knows the Gospel can serve as a common denominator amid cultural diversity.

“The conference gave me an appreciation for how God has uniquely committed everyone of us to be different,” Whyte said. “In spite of those differences, the common ground could also still be the Gospel.”

The multi-ethnicity also showed Merrifield how the international missions can now be done in his own backyard — in the international student communities at Kentucky colleges.

“I didn’t realize — even though it was right in front of my face — that the world has come right to us,” he said.

For Merrifield’s wife, Monica, the event reinforced the urgency of evangelizing international students.

“These students are not going to be here forever, and some of them come from closed countries,” she said. “… We have the world at our finger-tips and they’re receptive.”

But if these students are reached now, their conversion has the potential to spur tremendous Kingdom growth in the future.

“If we can raise up Christians while they’re here in school, they’re going to take back the Gospel in their own native tongue,” Merrifield said.

But Merrifield said he almost didn’t attend. With the seminary semester winding down, schoolwork was dominating his time.

“Then I thought, ‘What is the purpose for being here?’ Yeah it’s to get an education. But, I couldn’t pass up that opportunity to start in motion some of the things I’d been learning in class, but also [I had] real desire to reach out to international students,'” he said.

And seeing lives change before his eyes made the weekend more than worthwhile.

“It was an incredible experience of bringing the world together in one place,” Merrifield said. “People were there for a hundred different reasons. But I think God brought them there for one reason.”
(BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo title: REACHING THE WORLD AT HOME.

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  • Bryan Cribb