Tracey Nash understands how internationals might feel when they come to America.
After moving several times during her childhood and teen years she often felt “like the new kid on the block,” said Nash, director of Crossroads International Friendship House at Mississippi State University in Starkville.
She has volunteered with internationals for several years, she noted, but has served as the director of Crossroads since 2008. “After volunteering, such as taking the women to the mall, shopping and other activities, I fell in love with these people.”
The number participating in Friendship House varies, but each year a large event, called the “Welcome to the USA” party, draws some 200 people. International students are the majority of the group, but wives and families of visiting professors at the university also attend.
“A number of wives recently married before their husbands came to Starkville to teach,” Nash explained. “They are well educated, but can’t work because they don’t know the language. Therefore, they sit at home in a small apartment all day. They lead a lonely life.”
Crossroads Friendship House, which meets at Calvary Baptist Church in Starkville, is sponsored by the Golden Triangle Baptist Association, which provides volunteers, Bible studies, assistance with ESL classes and prayer for the internationals.
English as a Second Language (ESL) is the main focus of the program. ESL is taught Monday through Thursday from 9-11:00 a.m. with beginner, intermediate and advanced classes.
“Our mission is to build relationships so we may share the gospel,” Nash said. “It is our hope that we are planting seeds that our friends will carry back to their home country in which they may share the love of God with others. We do not force our beliefs on anyone, but we do share what the Lord has done for us.”
ESL classes help the internationals communicate and acclimate to the culture where they now live, giving them more confidence in interacting with others. The classes provide something to look forward to and the possibility of making friends with other internationals in similar circumstances.
All international students at Mississippi State receive an invitation to the “Welcome to the USA” party, co-hosted by the university’s Baptist Student Union. Several volunteers prepare food, including ethnic recipes. Older international students offer fellowship.
A weekly BSU “international hour” invites them to interact with BSU members.
An annual “garage giveaway” provides gently-used clothing, small appliances, dishes, furniture, sheets and blankets, baby items, etc. All are free. Volunteers help with sorting, bagging, delivery and “shopping” at the giveaway.
Internationals share their stories
Everyone has a story to share, Nash said. These two come to mind.
“A young lady we’ll call Paula came from a Middle Eastern country. She became a beloved friend of three volunteers,” she said. “One brought Paula a bilingual Holy Bible, which was in her heart language. Another friend taught a Bible study Paula attended. A third friend sat with her, reading to help her understand the Scriptures. Paula made a profession of faith in Christ Jesus and was baptized. Later, her daughter professed Jesus as her Lord and Savior and was baptized also.”
Another student, Nash refers to as Heathcliff, was a parent of a college student.
“He was from an Asian country and a Buddhist. He attended a local Baptist church for about five months straight. When he returned to his home country, he told his American friend, ‘It does not feel right not to be in church on Sunday,’” she recalled. “That friend knew that he had helped with construction projects at a Baptist church in his country. That friend encouraged him to go to a Christian church.”
Seeds are being planted, Nash said. “A favorite Scripture is 1 Corinthians 3: 5–9: only God makes things grow. The Lord is calling people to Himself,” she noted.
“It is my honor and privilege to be a part and serve our international friends. They have taught me so much more than I’ve taught them. They are so easy to love.”