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“Outreach Among International Students Thriving at USM”

By Grace Thornton

All it took was one cup of coffee, and Cassie Clayton knew.

“I found out international students weren’t scary,” she said with a laugh.

When she was an entering freshman at the University of Southern Mississippi, Clayton kept getting invites to Coffee Talk, a weekly event put on by the Baptist Student Union (BSU) for international students to get some English practice with Americans.

“I had been overseas quite a bit, but I had never been around internationals here,” she said. “But I really developed a love for them right away.”

Now a junior, Clayton serves as vice president of the BSU’s international team, a ministry she sees as being poised as a window to the world.

“We have so many international students here on campus, and when they get off the buses, we are there to meet them. We take them to their dorms, show them around and take them out to eat – they might not even have any American money when they get here,” she said. “And when you do that, you have a friend for life, really.”

BSU students are intentional, taking internationals with them to church on Sundays and to tailgate at the football games. The focus in this ministry and in Coffee Talk is for American students to “begin building strong friendships with international students that will lead to the opportunity to share their faith,” said Lloyd Lunceford, director of the BSU at Southern Miss. “The students get so deeply connected with them.”

And it works, Clayton said.

“They listen because they feel we are trustworthy. And with every conversation, we try to find different springboards to direct it to the gospel,” she said, adding that they use the Bible to illustrate truths as they talk.

This year, four Japanese students have asked Clayton to meet with them for one-on-one Bible study in addition to Coffee Talk.

“It has just been amazing,” she said. “They just sit and listen; they’re not hesitant at all. They are just soaking it in.”

The ministry has not only produced fruit, it’s also been a place where American students can prepare for overseas missions. Clayton, who plans to go into career missions, said it’s been “awesome training ground” for her. It’s also preparing BSU students for the Christmas in China trip they are taking for the eighth time this year.

“We are telling them (the American students) to be sure to come to Coffee Talk and practice,” Clayton said.

The trip to China is also affecting their ministry to internationals at home, so it’s a beneficial cycle, Lunceford said.

“We’ve seen internationals accept Christ this year already, and one of the people was a Chinese student who first met [a Southern Miss BSU student] in China,” he said.

The young Chinese lady said that one reason she connected with the BSU students on campus was because they’ve experienced through their travels what it’s like to be in a foreign country, so they know some of the struggles and stresses internationals feel, Lunceford explained.

Missions work like Christmas in China is a fourth of the BSU’s ministry, and international ministry is another fourth of it, so fifty percent is reaching out to the nations, Lunceford said.

The Margaret Lackey State Mission Offering provides assistance for campus ministry to international students and missions mobilization assistance for those involved in campus ministries. International collegiate ministry is one of the facets of Mississippi Baptists’ work funded by the offering, which is promoted year-round. For more information about the Margaret Lackey State Mission Offering, visit http://www.mbcb.org/mission_strategy/missions.aspx.