By Ansley Brackin
Communications Specialist for North Georgia Conference of the United Methodist Church
Pennie Eddy of McEver Road United Methodist Church recently finished her last semester with Asbury University, during which she attended a lecture lead by the college president, Dr. Timothy Tennent; a lesson that would set a spark in a new ministry. When he the mentioned that most international students would never be invited into an American home, he was not even referring to his lesson. However, the tiny side note drew Eddy’s mind to the women’s college close to McEver Road UMC, Brenau University.
Eddy’s congregation was in search of ways to better their campus ministry, but until spring of last year had never thought of the international program at Brenau University as an area in need. When Eddy came to the church with the desire to reach out to the international women, the bible study class had coincidentally just read a book on world religion by Adam Hamilton. It was like a premonition to the doors that would soon open.
Before Holy Week, the church hosted a Meet and Greet for the ladies to get to know members of the congregation. The end result was a group a new faces eager to return for the Easter play the following week and even receive host families. One of Eddy’s favorite moments was seeing women of different races and beliefs standing at McEver Road’s Cross. “I imagine that’s what it is like in heaven, to see all nationalities standing at the cross,” says Eddy.
After speaking with the students more, the church found that their biggest need was finding a way to obtain the typical college essentials: clothes, snacks, and school supplies. McEver Road UMC offered a trip in their church bus to the Mall of Georgia right before the group left for their home countries. Eddy remembers a young lady asking if students had to be Christian to get on the bus. “I said, ‘no. All you need is the desire to get on. We just want to be here for you.’ I think that meant a lot to them,” recalls Eddy.
After this radical sort of movement was set, women of all beliefs became very curious about the Christian traditions. They were interested in attending services and learning about Christian values without ever being pushed into the religion. “Loving first” continues to be the mantra of this international ministry. This way of reaching out resulted in a building of strong bonds within the women’s final months in the United States. Much of the congregation was invited to several recitals involving the visiting students. Pictures with their new Christian families were a necessity before returning home.
It has since been a God-driven ministry, without extreme formality. The congregation, with the help and enthusiasm of their pastor Rev. Robert Bruce, is simply tending to the needs of the students. Brenau University is eager to continue accepting the help of McEver Road UMC.
Fifty goodie bags were made for the arrival of this year’s international students to place in their dorm rooms. A few students are returning from last year. Phoenix Organization invited the women to a special dinner which the University requested McEver Road to provide transportation for. The school also looks forward to bringing the congregation onto the campus to provide a special meal in the future.
A picnic followed by a trip to the mall was one of the first adventures planned by the church, followed by a hike to show off Georgia’s fall colors. Several students also took a trip to the Natural Science Live Animal Exhibit. The kick-off Meet and Greet took place November 13th, along with the pairing of host families, if desired. This year, two men have enthusiastically joined in the ministry from the graduate program at Brenau.
A goal for this year is for each host family to share at least one meal with their student during the holidays, a time where the school cafeteria is closed for a month. “We want to support them in their new community,” says Eddy, “and a way to do that is to give them a place to have a holiday meal”. She is fairly certain after last year’s success that this goal will be exceeded quickly.
In December they plan on taking them to Gainesville First UMC for their Christmas is One Language program, tying into the connectional system of the UMC. Around finals time, pizzas will be delivered to help get the ladies through studying.
As aforementioned, many international students are not invited into an American home when studying abroad, about 80-90% represent this issue. After hearing constant accolades on this ministry at McEver Road UMC, Eddy believes that many churches are simply unaware that international students are in need. “We get to go home at night to our families when they don’t,” she states, “and for them to know someone here cares for them… We’ve just really embraced that.” Such reminders have inspired several other churches to reach out to local international programs.
McEver Road UMC has discovered a need within college campuses that has gone unnoticed. Simple ways of life like shopping, transportation, and basic familiarity, for the average American, can be a struggle for visitors. Anyone wandering in a new place can understand the relief of a helping hand.
Is your church located near a college in need of help with international students? Is your congregation already involved with a similar ministry to that of McEver Road UMC’s? Please, share with us.