Friendship International
Directors: Mike and Beth Wilson

Meeting at Fist Baptist Church of Norman

Friendship International (FI) is a ministry to people from other countries living in the Norman area.  It 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”.  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. One of our main activities is a program of English as a Second Language, helping them to develop their English language abilities for daily living here in America.   Those who attend range from compete beginners who need to learn to make basic sentences to graduate students wanting to improve their skills for gaining advanced degrees.  Another focus is helping them with needs they encounter living in a foreign country.

      Our students come to America for a number of reasons, often related to OU.  Some are students, student’s spouses, or the parents of students, taking care of their grandchildren while mom and dad attend university.  Others are hoping to improved their English enough to enter OU or another college. A few are long-time residents who just seek a time to be with other internationals, especially those from their own countries.

      While most of our students intend to return to their own countries, one of them became an American citizen.  Others are making application and are studying for the test. 

      Many of our students are Christians, some follow other religions, and some none at all. While Friendship’s ministry is to show God’s love through various avenues of ministry, we also try to discuss the Gospel when the subject arises.  In some cases, we are able to evangelize more directly and during the fall session, three students became Christians. 

       Through the weekly fellowship students have also seen 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. 

      In addition to helping students, the director and her husband met with Keith Jacobs of Regency Park Baptist Church to discuss the church’s mission trip to Latvia.  Church members wanted to present some English lessons to the Latvian church they were going to visit, and we were able to provide ideas and resources for them.  Friendship’s staff and faculty have a good deal of experience in cross-cultural ministry, as well as ability to speak a number of other languages, resources that other churches might want to draw on.

      Enrollment for Fall 2016 was 57 and 49 for Spring, 2017, for a total of 106. They ranged in age from 21 to 85, came from 16 different countries, and spoke nine languages among them. Women outnumber men about two to one. We continued to have 9 teachers, as well as three volunteer kitchen workers and a childcare director.

      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 provide snacks for all the students, and in the past, these came from the church, and FI teachers and kitchen staff.  Beginning last fall, we asked Sunday-morning Bible study groups to help out. This has proven quite successful with over ten groups supplying cakes, muffins, fruit, cheese, crackers, and other goodies

      This year we began sessions 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.  The sessions lasted about three hours and allowed teachers to discuss new ideas, their concerns, and focus on improvement of the curriculum.  The teachers really enjoyed the sessions and we 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.  Many have been blessed by it and some have become believers because of it.  All have appreciated it, some very deeply.  This came home a few weeks ago when an OU professor called Chad Smith, our music minister, to tell him that his mother had attended Friendship International many years ago and loved it.  Because of that, the professor told Chad he wanted to donate a grand piano to First Baptists’ Fine Arts Academy as a thank you. The ministry of Friendship International has blessed, and blessings have returned to it.

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