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   October 2018   
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Friendship International
Directors: Mike and Beth Wilson

Meeting at Fist Baptist Church of Norman

As I drove a group of our Friendship International students home the other day, I overheard a conversation between a Taiwanese woman and a Japanese woman. The Taiwanese lady was explaining to the Japanese how she had become a Christian in a Baptist Church. She explained that though it took her a period of time to understand what it meant to be Christian, she was deeply impressed from the beginning by church members’ love for her, and their acceptance of her even before she became a believer. She finished by telling the Japanese lady about the moment she accepted Jesus and how free she felt when she did. I think this story illustrates wonderfully what the ministry of Friendship International does: cares about internationals and shows them about Jesus.

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”. 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, this year we have 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 2017 was 56, and 46 for Spring 2018, for a total of 102. They ranged in age from 19 to 87, came from 12 different countries and spoke nine languages among them. The ratio of women to men is about 2.5 to one. We currently have 12 teachers, as well as three volunteer kitchen workers and three van drivers. Unfortunately, we have lost our childcare coordinator and are very much in need of a replacement. People interested should contact Beth Wilson at 314-7344.

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. In addition, we have received a large number of adult literacy materials, a gift of the Pioneer Library System. 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. Many have been blessed by it and some have become believers because of it. All have appreciated it, some very deeply. This was borne out by a comment from one of our Iranian women: “I have a good day every Thursday.” Another, who was upset about a personal issue said to her teacher, “I am feeling bad inside today.” The teacher said that when Christians are feeling bad like that, they tell Jesus and that helps them feel better. The woman nodded her head and said, “I believe in Jesus. I watch the people here.”