He remembers thinking they did not have much time. Most Japanese exchange students attending Arkansas State University in Jonesboro stay at least a year; but this girl would be here a short six months.
For 17 years, international students have been welcomed into the home of Ross and Jane Burton, members of First Baptist Church in Jonesboro, Ark. The couple has used American culture to share Christ through the church’s adopt-a-college student ministry.
Ross Burton and his wife Jane hoped for time enough to use their everyday life in America as an inroad to share the gospel. It worked.
Burton baptized the student Dec. 4 at First Baptist Church Jonesboro, a place where members and college students connect through an adopt-a-college student ministry. Ross has been a part of this ministry for 17 years.
“It’s not in my job description, and I have no training in international ministry,” said Burton, church administrator.
The Burtons switched from adopting American students to adopting international students four years ago. That decision led to a two-week vacation in Japan last summer, a trip where he and his wife had to depend solely on four of their ex-adopted students and their families to navigate the language and to maneuver one of the busiest train stations in the world.
“If we had tried that trip on our own, we would’ve been lost and not seen much at all,” he said. “We never would’ve attempted visiting a country other than one where they speak English except for these kids we know.”
Like his adopted “kids,” the Burtons finally understood how it felt to be in a foreign country and how valuable a host family providing practical assistance can be. “I’ve taught them to drive; I’ve taken them to Sam’s Club,” he said. He even shares his hunting spoils. “Yesterday, I sent out a message: ‘Anyone who wants to try deer meat for the first time, come to our house.’ I cooked up some very, very fresh venison.”
Jane and Ross Burton
The short-term Japanese student who got baptized recently took Burton up on his offer to hear a brief lesson on an American favorite pastime: football. Burton told her he’d watch a TV football game with her, pause it when she had questions and explain the sport play-by-play.
After the football lesson, Burton used the drive back to her home to bring up Christianity.
“You’ve been coming to Sunday school and you have a Bible, do you have any questions I can answer?” he asked. She had also attended weekly English speaking classes sponsored by the Arkansas State University Baptist College Ministry.
“Actually, I’ve decided to become a follower of Jesus,” she said.
“Really?” Burton said. He was so excited he couldn’t even drive and had to stop the car.
This international student represents one of 6,507 in Arkansas, said Teresa “Bit” Stephens, Metro Baptist college minister in Little Rock, quoting the latest statistics beginning in December last year.
“The church is in a position to reach the nations with the gospel right here in Arkansas, right now,” Stephens said. “Students come from very close-knit families. For Americans to have internationals in their homes is prime opportunity for the hearts of internationals to be softened to the love of God they see and experience in the home. Ross Burton is a prime example of this.”
Missions Consultant for the Arkansas Baptist State Convention College & Young Leaders Team Lynn Loyd agrees.
“Within the next 25 years the United States population will shift to being a majority of minorities,” she said. “Cross-cultural life will be the new norm. Reaching international college students now is a great way to prepare our churches to be the church of the future.”
When Americans reach international students, those converted new believers take the gospel around the world, as this new Japanese believer’s itinerary shows.
“After school is over, she goes to Europe and then Germany and then India for six weeks to help with a school there,” Burton said. And, finally, she returns back home to start another semester at a university right where she started: Japan.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Lisa Falknor writes for the College & Young Leaders Team of the Arkansas Baptist State Convention and is a correspondent for the Arkansas Baptist News, newsjournal of the Arkansas Baptist State Convention, where this article first appeared.)