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She was a foreign missionary 28 years without leaving U.S.

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (BP)–Wyoma Jackson had always dreamed of being a foreign missionary.
But God had other plans.
Stepping down after 28 years as director of the Friendship International literacy program at Calvary Baptist Church in Tuscaloosa, Ala., Jackson realizes why God never wanted her overseas. “He sent them all to me!” she said.
Jackson, 70, has been the volunteer director of the associational literacy program for internationals practically since the day she got involved with the program in Tuscaloosa, home of the University of Alabama.
Charles Barnes, director of Baptist Campus Ministries at the time (formerly called Baptist Student Union), started the conversational English classes at the Baptist student center.
“I told Charlie I didn’t have a degree in English but maybe I could help by providing refreshments and using my nice station wagon to help pick up and take people to the class,” Jackson said. “The first day I walked in, it wasn’t 10 minutes before the director told me she was so glad the Lord had led me there that day because she wanted me to be the new director. … I told her I was sure I couldn’t do that.”
But Jackson was assured she could, and for nearly 30 years she has.
Friendship International moved out of the student center to Calvary Baptist in 1985. Nearly 90 internationals from all over the world spend Wednesday from 9:30 a.m. to noon learning English in a Christian setting.
Jackson has always had a love for internationals. One of her best friends growing up was a Chinese girl. Today, some of her best friends are the internationals she has helped speak more fluent English.
During the 28 years of Friendship International, students have come from 63 countries. Just this year, 16 countries were represented, including Hong Kong, Taiwan, Thailand, Mexico, Germany and China.
“Just being here for them makes a difference,” Jackson said. She coordinates the several volunteer teachers who spend time in smaller groups teaching various ability levels. Many of the international students come to America because a spouse is in school. Many know some English, but they can’t speak it. “We just want to show a real loving concern,” she said.
Jackson has spent nearly three decades practicing what she preaches. She and her family have almost always hosted an international student. She has developed a close-knit group of volunteers who enjoy coming every week to help the students learn English. She arranged to supply a year’s worth of diapers to a woman who gave birth to twins and had not expected the added expense. She has been an interpreter during medical emergencies and helped some students find places to live when they moved away.
“It has been wonderful all the way,” Jackson said of literacy missions. “We’re like a family here.”

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  • Laurie A. Lattimore