By Chris Turner
Director of Communications, TBC
MEMPHIS — Lindy May stood on a busy street in Chiang Mai, Thailand, and felt utterly alone.
Horns blared as thousands of people shuttled by on bicycles and motor scooters and others hurried by on sidewalks and past storefronts. The rhythmic chaos resembled the movements within an ant colony.
Yet May felt alone, overwhelmed because she knew the semi-ornate storefront just across the street was nothing more than a facade around a doorway to a living hell. The banner hanging outside promoted Pepsi-Cola, but the real commodity inside was women — many of them still girls — enslaved and tangled in the snare of sex trafficking. Their bondage wasn’t just physical, it was spiritual, and May could sense it.
“It is such a dark place,” she said. “You can feel the spiritual oppression. It would have been overwhelming if the Lord hadn’t carried me through. It’s so sad because those girls are in spiritual bondage and there is no hope. They have never heard the name of Jesus.”
And it was May’s mission to make sure as many of them as possible would have that chance. May, a senior at the University of Memphis, was one of 19 summer missionaries sent out across the country or around the globe by the Tennessee Baptist Convention’s Baptist Collegiate Ministry located on U of M’s campus. Statewide, Tennessee Baptists, giving through the Cooperative Program and Golden Offering for Tennessee Missions, helped support 59 summer collegiate missionaries from 24 BCMs.
May served as a BCM summer missionary last year in Thailand, teaching in a village, but she learned that so many of the girls, and often children, are sold or taken into slavery and wind up as prostitutes in the massage parlors in Chiang Mai and Bangkok.
“I saw a request posted this year for someone to reach out to those girls and I knew that is exactly what I wanted to do,” she said. “These were the same kinds of kids I had taught before and I wanted to make a difference in their lives. I may never see the harvest from what I’ve done but I know there were a lot of [gospel] seeds planted in their lives with the ones we had the opportunity to share with.”
May, a member of Gateway Baptist Church, Atoka, didn’t start her tenure at U of M charging across the globe with the gospel. The path to international relations and overseas service as a summer missionary was widened by a bowl of chili and a chunk of corn bread when she invited a group of international students to her apartment for dinner.
“They just freaked out,” she said. “It wasn’t anything that big, just chili and corn bread, but they were so excited to be invited into someone’s home and experience just a little of our culture.”
Statistically, May’s guests were some of the few international students who ever see the inside of an American home, or even connect with an American on a level deeper than a passing hello.
“Research tells us that 80 percent of all students who come to an American university from another country are never invited in,” said Jeff Jones, the Tennessee Baptist Convention’s BCM director at the University of Memphis. “Our students associated with the BCM heard that, took it as a challenge, and took it upon themselves to reach out to internationals. They’ve built friendships and relationships and have truly become their friends.”
That was never May’s intention however. Connecting with internationals when she arrived on campus from Atoka, located in Tipton County, was the last thing on her mind. In fact, her arrival on campus was much more about ministry to herself than it was ministry to others.
“I was looking for friendships when I came as a freshman and my first night here I went to the BCM’s Grub on the Grass,” she said. “I had been talking to people about pledging a sorority but I connected with a lot of people that first night and I found the friendships I was looking for at the BCM. I never pledged [a sorority]. Being a part of the BCM has had a huge impact on my time here and I’ve made what will be life-long friends.”
It is also where she began to grow in her faith, gaining a better understanding of what it means to be Jesus’ disciple.
“When I got here I thought my relationship with Jesus was all about me,” May said. “But I learned Jesus did not save me just for me. Yes, He loves me and He died for me, but the gospel made it’s way to me on its way to someone else. It’s not for me to keep; it’s for me to share, and God has really shown me during my time here the grandness of His plan to redeem the world.”
And God didn’t waste much time expanding May’s world. Just weeks into her freshman year she sensed God pressing her to reach out to the international students around her. It was a decision that figuratively opened the world to May.
“I really resisted at first,” May said. “I wanted to have fun and I really didn’t have time to invest in connecting with internationals, but God kept prodding me and so one day I said I’d just go grab lunch with them. Those girls I went with were Japanese and they stole my heart. We hung out that entire year and I got to share the gospel with them numerous times. They asked so many questions. One of them became a really good friend and last year she accepted Christ.
With more than 100 of the world’s people groups — many of them Last Frontier countries — now living in Tennessee, the state can easily be seen as an international mission field. That statement is certainly true for Tennessee’s university campuses.
“The nations are here,” May said. “God is bringing the nations to our campuses. Yes, it is important for us to go, but we also have an opportunity to reach people [with the gospel] right here.”
And that outreach could begin with chili and corn bread. Who knows where it might take you?