Follow the Leader
By Matt Price
While preaching in September 2012, I surveyed our congregation to find out how many different languages were spoken that day at our church. Our church is known as a multicultural and multilingual congregation. Yet, even we were astonished to discover that our congregation spoke 28 different languages that day. Considering the 110 people in the service, that’s impressive. Many in attendance were students.
The Free Will Baptist Church in Nantes, France, is near Université de Nantes, attended by 35,000 students. Around 10% of those students are from other countries. Needless to say, this is a mission field within a mission field. With a little effort, and some creative people, through the years our church has become a magnet for students looking for a place to belong.
Many of them come to Nantes to study for one to three years. As they participate in our discipleship programs, they become grounded in their faith and develop a passion to share their faith with their compatriots. In effect, our church has sent “missionaries” back to their homes in more than 30 different countries.
Shuang, a young Chinese student, began attending our church thanks to a friend’s invitation. Her family had deep ties to the Communist Party in China. So, it was understandable when Shuang said she had zero knowledge of Christianity.
She began attending English Bible studies, because her English was better than her French. During the first Bible study she attended, she had an endless string of questions. With each passing month, we could see the Holy Spirit truly moving in her life. She even began answering questions when others asked about things she had questioned herself in the beginning.
After a year in Nantes, she returned to China during one of the holiday breaks. She was excited to tell her family about the things she had learned and about the people she had met in France. When she returned from her visit, her whole behavior had changed. She was cold and distant. During one of our conversations, Shuang said, “Matt, while I was home, I realized I have been lied to my entire life. I have no idea what truth is anymore. How can I know the promises in the Bible are not simply more lies?”
Shuang stopped attending church, but I convinced her to keep attending our Bible studies. During those times, we went back to zero and worked through all her questions again. Two long years after she first entered the church, she gave her life to Christ and was baptized. The day of her baptism, she invited 20 other Chinese students to come and hear her testimony. Most of them had never been inside any type of church before. Tears filled many of their eyes as they heard about Shuang’s struggle to find truth. During her testimony, she emphatically announced to her friends she now understands truth is found in Jesus Christ and in Him alone.
Last year, Eva showed up on a Sunday morning. A student from Senegal, she had recently arrived in Nantes. She had become a Christian only a month earlier. Because of her decision to follow Christ, her Muslim family rejected her. Family members tried to take her passport so she would be unable to leave until she recanted. Her mother told Eva, “I lost your twin sister when she was five years old. Now, I have lost you.”
Eva fled her home because of the persecution she was experiencing. She arrived in Nantes without knowing anyone and with few belongings. For the next few months, our church became her family as we responded not only to her physical needs, but also to her spiritual needs. Even though she had accepted Christ as her Savior, she had little time to be discipled by Christians in Senegal. She wanted to defend her faith but lacked the tools to do so. Over the next few months, members in our church gave her those tools.
This year, Anna Forlines has come to help us with our international student ministry. She is participating in a program by the University of Nantes geared toward international students who want to learn French. Though learning French may not sound like an outreach ministry to some, this is far from the truth. When Anna took her placement tests, the director said 500 students from 60 countries are studying in the program this year.
As Anna and her classmates endeavor to learn the French language together, they will make mistakes and enjoy a lot of laughter. They will learn about one another’s lives as they conjugate verbs into past, present, and future tenses. They will share their worldviews as they struggle with the gender of French nouns.
The bond created during these moments is intense. Friendships will last a lifetime. Of course, Anna will use these connections to share the love of Christ with those who may be hearing the name of Jesus for the first time. She will seek to be a light in a very dark place. We are praying God will use Anna to bring students into a relationship with the Master.
Anna is not the first Free Will Baptist student to walk the halls of Université de Nantes. Cristina and I participated in the same program 16 years ago. We hope she will not be the last Free Will Baptist student to participate in this program. We are always looking for students who would like to spend one year abroad to make an impact for the Kingdom.
You and Your Church
How can your church get involved with cross-cultural university ministry?
If your church has a college or university nearby, you have international students nearby. You may never have a passport, but you can still answer the call to “go into all the world” simply by getting onto your local campus.
I can safely say international students will not come looking for a church. However, most are open when the church meets them in their world. Many students are looking for someone who can help improve their English. Most of the time, this simply takes time and a little patience.
If you feed them, they will come. Poor college students of every nationality need food. I have found that international students love fried chicken and mashed potatoes. But honestly…what is there not to love about that?
International student ministry takes time and patience. But there is nothing like watching someone grow from zero knowledge of Christianity to announcing to peers that the Truth cannot be found in any other name under heaven except in Jesus Christ.
About the Writer: Matt and Cristina Price are in their third term of service in France. Learn more about their ministry at www.fwbgo.com.