Friendship International

Directors: Mike and Beth Wilson

Meeting at Fist Baptist Church of Norman

International ministry opportunities are found everywhere in Norman, and Friendship International (FI) is one way to engage them. Recently, we were invited by a former student of the program to attend a birthday party for two of her grandchildren. We arrived at the house expecting to see her and a few family members. Instead, almost 40 Cameroonian from all over the metropolitan area showed up. We were so surprised at the number, but not the fact that many were clearly Christians. One man, a professor at Langston University, told me that there are several hundred Cameroonians in the area, and I immediate thought “ministry opportunity!”. There was delicious African food and much good visiting. Another man recognized Beth as having been his first English teacher at OU and told her how she had welcomed and encouraged him. He said that she gave him the confidence to learn English. Today he is an oncology nurse at OU Health Sciences.

Friendship International is a ministry to such people from other countries living in the Norman area, and is funded by Union Baptist Association and First Baptist Church of Norman. As the name implies, our focus is on friendship and hospitality in the name of Jesus, showing Christian love through welcoming and helping “strangers in a foreign land”. Our core activity is a program of English as a Second Language, helping them to develop their English language abilities for daily living here in America. But equally important is our reaching out to encourage and help the students where they have need. Sometimes this means inviting them to a meal, accompanying them to a doctor’s appointment, or helping them with a legal problem, such as the woman who had been cheated out of almost $3000 by an unscrupulous apartment manager.

Those who attend include university students and their families, long-term international residents, spouses of American citizens, and other internationals who find themselves in Norman for an extended period of time. Their English-language abilities range from beginners who need to learn to make basic sentences to graduate students wanting to improve their skills for gaining advanced degrees. In addition to our classes that focus on reading, writing, listening and speaking, we have recently added an English Bible class that teaches Christian students personal evangelism skills in English. It is taught by a retired IMB missionary and has been very well received.

Many of our students are Christians, some follow other religions, and some none at all. While Friendship’s intention is to show God’s love through various avenues of ministry, we are also always ready to present the Gospel when the opportunity arises. Through the weekly fellowship students also see answers to their prayer requests, which we take each week in the opening assembly. Several of the students have been attending Bible studies and many have developed relationships with teachers and members of the church.

Enrollment for Fall 2018 was 48, and 57 for Spring, 2019, making a total of 102. They ranged in age from 16 to 87, came from 12 different countries, and spoke nine languages among them. Most of our students are women, with about five of them for every man. We currently have 12 teachers, as well as three volunteer kitchen workers and three van drivers. Our childcare coordinator was able to return this year, a big boost for the program, as we often have seven or eight children of students.

Special activities this year included a Thanksgiving dinner that included traditional American Thanksgiving dishes as well as international foods brought by students. For Christmas, students went to teachers’ homes where they enjoyed traditional American Christmas games, activities, and the Christmas story. In addition, they tried American Christmas foods.

We have continued to have workshops to help teachers in preparing their weekly lessons and to become acquainted with the large number of materials that had been donated by the ESL program at OU. Our workshops have allowed teachers to discuss new ideas, their concerns and interests in their teaching, and to focus on improvement of the curriculum. The teachers have really enjoyed the sessions and have begun using the new materials and ideas in their classes.

Friendship International has been an associational and church ministry for over 40 years. Hundreds and hundreds of people have participated in it, improving their English skills, learning about American culture, and developing relationships with American Christians. All have appreciated it, some very deeply, and some have become believers because of it.

Last spring, an extremely nice man from an Asian country just showed up one Sunday morning in our university class, and I soon learned that he was here to help care for the children while his wife completed her PhD. We were so glad to meet him and invited him to come to our English classes at Friendship International on Thursday mornings. He came, and in talking with him, he told us that he and his wife were interested in learning about Christianity and being Christians. At the same time the couple’s interest in Christianity sparked a response from one of our members who quickly created a class to help them learn what it means to be a Christian. Two other Internationals joined them, and they continued to attend FBC. This fall they returned to FI and joined Beth’s class, actively participating. In the meantime, the relationship with the teacher also continued to grow and the couple eagerly learned more and more. When their oldest daughter began to ask about baptism, the two turned to the teacher for help. After she explained the meaning of baptism she asked if they would like to hear the gospel and how they could become believers. They were ready and both prayed for Jesus to come into their hearts. International ministry possibilities like this are great in Norman, and UBA and FBC Norman have worked together to respond.

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  August 2020  
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