By Brittany Ragon
A means of being obedient to the Great Commission on a state campus — that’s what an international ministry facilitated through a Baptist Student Union (BSU) does. And that’s just what the students and staff of Mississippi State University’s (MSU) BSU are pursuing thanks to the Margaret Lackey State Mission Offering (MLSMO).
“The MLSMO helps provide the vital resources for us to have an international intern on the three largest campuses in Mississippi,” said Weaver McCracken, director of the collegiate ministries department at the Mississippi Baptist Convention Board. “These campuses have the largest populations of international students in our state and the interns give us a more effective ministry on each campus.”
For the past two years, Ashley Taylor, BSU assistant director and coordinator of the international ministry at Mississippi State, has filled that role.
Taylor would say it was through her own involvement with BSU at William Carey University in Hattiesburg, Miss., during her collegiate days that her eyes were opened to a new world of ministry, worship and Christianity that she had never before seen.
And that’s just her goal for the international ministry at Mississippi State.
“To draw international students into a relationship with the Lord or to help those with a relationship with the Lord to grow in that relationship — I think that’s the ultimate goal of the international ministry,” Taylor said. “The other goal is to acclimate them to stateside life, to Mississippi State and even to friendships and relationships here. I think the international ministry was created to kind of be the hands and feet of Jesus to those students.”
In recent years, those relationships have begun through events like the International Hour, a weekly meeting hosted on Thursday nights in which international and American students come together for conversation and fun, and the Welcome to America party, hosted at the beginning of each fall semester in conjunction with the Golden Triangle Baptist Association.
“Ultimately I hope we would help facilitate leading international students into a relationship with the Lord. If we could help change a life or bring one person to the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ, then they can go back to their home country and live it out there on a daily basis,” Taylor said. “When you look at it that way, if your program here is successful in helping draw others into relationship with the Lord, you can have an impact on the world.”
Michael Ball, BSU director, said being able to have an international ministry on a university campus is like “missions in our own backyard.”
“It is the ability to impact different nationalities that will be returning to their homes and sometimes to places that are closed or hard to reach,” he said. “Yet we have the opportunity right here, while they are students, when there’s no limitations on the freedom of sharing the gospel.”
While the university at large also offers an international program, Taylor said the BSU’s program is designed to focus on building relationships “to meet a spiritual need that the university is not going to meet.”
Ball said he sees international students being “very open and responsive” to the ministry because international students naturally have a desire to learn about culture, to develop friendships and to experience what characterizes this country.
“So if you can add relationship-building to that with the opportunities we have to minister to them and to share not just culture but the hope we have as believers, then that ministry becomes very intentional and not one simply built on international friendship.”
And most importantly, McCracken would say, “We have seen students come to know Christ.”
“We have also had the opportunity to lead them in Bible studies and discipleship experiences,” he said. “Many internationals have left their campuses changed from when they arrived — either having come to know Christ or having grown in their walk with the Lord.”
Ball said, in part, it is because of the staff provision made possible by the MLSMO that “there’s an intentional effort” being made and that there are “individuals who can give focus and direction to these ministries.”