Editor’s Note: October is recognized as Cooperative Program month on the calendar of the Southern Baptist Convention. Selected articles from this issue demonstrate how the Cooperative Program is at work in Tennessee.
By Chris Turner
Director of Communications, TBC
MEMPHIS — The countenance on Abrahim’s* face betrayed the secret he was hiding inside, and he didn’t even know it. How could he? Only days before he’d accepted Christ into his heart and now he was home in a staunchly fundamentalist Islamic country.
But being alive in Christ changes everything, and Abrahim’s parents immediately noticed.
“I was only home three days and my father came to me and said I’d changed,” Abrahim said. “ ‘What is different about you?’ he kept asking. I only told him at that time that God changed my heart.”
God had changed his heart, and He used the faithful witness of fellow college students involved in the University of Memphis’ Baptist Collegiate Ministries (BCM) to do it.
“Abrahim knew very little English when he arrived on campus last year,” said Jeff Jones, the Tennessee Baptist Convention’s BCM minister at U of M. “He didn’t know anybody, but shortly after getting here he connected with several of our BCM guys. In the end, God used those relationships to bring Abrahim to saving faith in Christ.”
Abrahim is not an exception. There are 24 Tennessee BCMs on campuses across the state that include more than 5,000 students. Tennessee Baptist churches giving through the Cooperative Program and the Golden Offering for Tennessee Missions through the Tennessee Baptist Convention and local Baptist associations enable the opportunity for collegiate ministers like Jones to disciple and mentor those students to grow deeper in their faith and to develop an evangelistic worldview. The collective effort is paying off. More than 45,000 Tennessee college students annually are contacted and/or positively impacted through BCM ministries. Many of those students are internationals, coming from Last Frontier countries closed to outside missionary influences. However, many of them hear the gospel while on campus as a result of BCM ministries.
“Just in the past year we’ve seen students come to Christ from countries like Nepal, Thailand, Japan, and now Abrahim from a Muslim country,” Jones said. “Our students have taken it upon themselves to befriend internationals. Whether they come to Christ or not they genuinely love these people, but many have the opportunity to share the gospel with them at some point in that relationship.”
That was the case with Abrahim. He met Cory O’Hara shortly into the Fall 2013 semester. A friendship grew rapidly and Abrahim quickly noticed something different about Cory.
“I grew up in a devout Muslim family, praying all the time and following the Koran,” Abrahim said. “But there was no joy in Islam. I never experienced joy, but I always saw Cory with joy and I didn’t understand it and wanted to know where it came from.”
O’Hara, a senior at U of M, is one of those people who doesn’t know a stranger. He quickly and naturally connects with others and especially internationals. He served as an overseas collegiate summer missionary in the Philippines this past summer as part of a basketball team, but invested much of his time helping to plant churches.
“I’ve got to eat,” he said. “I’ve got to play sports. I’ve got to hang out with my friends. Why not invite some internationals along to participate. Being a part of the BCM has taught me that missions isn’t a trip; it’s a lifestyle.”
So is an authentic relationship with Christ, and that’s what O’Hara displayed for Abrahim.
“As his English continued to improve he just kept asking me questions about Jesus,” O’Hara said. “Then one day he came to me and he said, ‘I don’t understand why Jesus had to die. I recognize I’m a sinful man but I don’t understand why Jesus who was a good man had to die.’ I just started sharing the gospel with him and trying to help him understand that Jesus had to die for him, so that he could know Jesus and be forgiven of his sins.”
The truth of that biblical witness and the example of a joy filled life agitated Abrahim’s spirit the more he ruminated on all he’d heard and seen. Shortly before the spring semester ended, Abrahim called O’Hara.
“He told me he wanted Jesus in His life,” he said, “that he loved Jesus and wanted to give his life to Him. I just hugged him and we started talking about baptism. You could just see the joy that had come over him.”
And it was that joy that betrayed him when he returned to his country for the summer.
“Within three days my father came to me and asked me about the change he saw in my life,” Abrahim said. “I didn’t know what to say. I told him God changed my heart. By the end of summer he came back to me and asked again and I told him that I love Jesus. In my country if you follow Jesus, then your family is going to disown you and absolutely the government is going to kill you. I didn’t know what was going to happen but I didn’t care.”
At the least Abrahim was concerned his father would prevent him from returning to the University of Memphis, but two weeks before the semester began he told him he would not. Abrahim immediately contacted O’Hara and said he wanted to be baptized as soon as he arrived, and he was, within 24 hours. He is now a member of a Memphis-area Baptist church.
“Tennessee Baptists giving through the Cooperative Program have made it possible for us to be on this campus, to have a presence and to impact the nations for Jesus Christ” Jones said. “There is really no greater joy than the fruit of seeing a student get it; to see them grow in their understanding of what it means to follow Christ and what it means to reach those around them with the gospel. Cory and so many of our other students get that, and Abrahim is a fruit of that labor.”
Jones said there is no way to calculate the potential kingdom impact that can be had as the international students who have come to Christ return to their countries from Tennessee campuses. If Abrahim is an example, the impact could be significant.
“If they are going to kill me I know I’m going to heaven because of Jesus,” Abrahim said. “I love Jesus, and my relationship with God; no one can change it.”
— * Name changed