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Missouri students assist IMB missionary in launching German campus ministry

CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo. (BP)–Philip and Tabitha Redmond didn’t go to Germany as missionaries, but as students. Yet their university connections helped boost a fledgling student ministry program in Jena, Germany.

The Redmonds, students at Southeast Missouri State University in Cape Girardeau, spent a summer studying in the former West Germany and then a semester in the town of Jena in the former East Germany. They returned to Missouri in late February.

But the work they helped to start continues.

The Redmonds helped Southern Baptist International Mission Board college evangelist Martha Moore to begin a campus ministry in the city of Jena.

“They helped me a lot in understanding what it’s like for new students and how the university system works,” Moore said. “(It was) like having semester missionaries from the IMB, although it was totally God who sent them. They very much saw their roles as one of ministry and not just of studying here.”

Moore met the Redmonds during their first few weeks in Jena. They had been visiting churches listed in the telephone directory — most of them Lutheran — until they found the only Baptist church in town.

Moore had not been in Germany very long, and she was working to get a student ministry started. The Redmonds helped to connect Moore with other students attending the university.

“We held a lot of parties for her,” said Tabitha Redmond, who did plenty of cooking, whether it was a pasta dinner or just cookies and snacks. Students first were invited to dinner or parties, often in the Redmonds’ one-room apartment, so they could make new friends. Then, eventually, the conversation turned to invitations for a Bible study.

Several of the students were not native Germans, which helped.

“It was the beginning of the semester, and everyone was on unstable footing, looking around for friends,” said Tabitha, whose home church is First Baptist, Ironton, Mo.

Meeting Moore and helping her start Bible studies and worship services for students was not part of the Redmonds’ original plan for their semester. “But we knew we wanted to find a good church and be involved,” Tabitha said. “We were willing to help Martha in whatever ways we could.” Moore said their help was invaluable.

“They gave sacrificially of their time in countless ways, and they were really charter members to get this whole college evangelism off the ground,” she said. “I am literally months ahead because of Tabby and Philip being here to kick off the ministry with me.”

The couple invited students to attend a weekly Bible study, and they cultivated friendships with non-believers.

“They gave credibility to this brand-new campus ministry by their presence,” Moore said. “Through them, we not only met dozens of students from various countries, but also two key guys who are also exchange students from the U.S. and will lead a guys’ Bible study this spring.”

Moore also noted the blessing of Philip’s musical talent. “He twice played piano on the worship team for our seeker service, which our very traditional church began having once every two months, and his keyboard carols at our Christmas party gave it such a classy atmosphere.”

The idea of exchange students helping with mission work has not escaped the IMB. Moore said the topic was discussed at a recent meeting of IMB workers. “I consider Tabby and Philip missionaries in the true sense of the word: someone who leaves their comfort zone and country and reaches people for Christ in another culture.”

It was a different culture, but the Redmonds were ready. They saved money for two years to pay for their semesters in Germany. Philip said the visit helped bring to light the struggles many Christians face.

“We met people who were forced to delay their educations and careers because communist officials didn’t allow them to study or work,” he said. But with the restraints of communist rule diminishing, the people are beginning to enjoy a new sense of freedom.

“Where socialist propaganda was prevalent in the East Germany area, most of the people aren’t afraid to say they are atheist,” Philip said. “But they are still curious to find out what you believe.”

People in Jena and elsewhere in the former East Germany have many preconceived notions about religion, he said. They want to ask questions of Catholics and Protestants.

“I was surprised at how receptive they were to hearing the gospel,” Tabitha said. “In the former East Germany, people couldn’t attend church or hear the message for years, but you’d hear people say they had been reading their Bible for 10 years.

“They were very open to talking and discussing and going beyond just babble,” she added.
(BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo title: STUDENT MISSIONARIES.

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  • Laura Johnston