One of the things I like about working at Union Baptist Association is the kingdom mentality. I have the privilege of serving outside our institutional boundaries on occasion to serve a broader community.
1. Seeing the opportunities in our city
One way I get to serve the larger community is when I take summer interns on a city tour around Houston. These interns are college students spending the summer at The UBA Mission Centers of Houston or UBA Trinity Pines Conference Center. They come from towns and cities outside of Houston, and some come from outside of Texas.
Most of the students come from towns and small cities that have a strong Christian culture. Some of them attend small Christian colleges. The diversity of Houston comes as a new experience—and sometimes as a shock. There were fourteen students in the last group from the Mission Centers and sixteen students in the group from Trinity Pines Conference Center.
We spend the day experiencing other cultures and religions. We visit the third-largest Asian mall in the country for lunch. It can be intimidating to eat lunch in a restaurant where you are the only native-born Americans. The menu comes in another language, and we hope for pictures and English subtitles. But even with pictures and subtitles, it's hard to be sure about what you are getting or what it will taste like.
Other stops on the tour include a Hindu temple, a Buddhist temple, and a Muslim mosque. At the Hindu temple and the Muslim mosque, we have guides that share with us about their faith. It is one thing to read about a different faith. It is often a very new experience to hear about this different faith when shared with passion by someone who practices it.
During a debrief session at the end of the day, the students express new knowledge and understanding about people from these faiths and cultures. They also express a desire to build relationships with students in their schools who come from these cultures and practice these beliefs. Every year, several students say that this experience was the most impactful they have had all summer.
If you are interested in a city tour, contact me, and I'd be happy to show you gospel opportunities in our city.
2. Nearby international outreach
Another way I can do Kingdom sowing is by participating in the International Friendship Program at the University of Houston. Over the last ten years, my husband and I have befriended international students who are working on various degrees at the university. We have new friends from China and Turkey, and our current students are from Vietnam.
Our commitment is to spend time with them once a month. We usually spend time around a meal in our home, their home (they love to cook their favorite foods from their country), or a restaurant. Other experiences have included visiting the zoo, museums, Galveston, and a volunteer fire department fundraiser in the country.
I think our most memorable experience was to provide wedding ceremonies for two of our students from China. We turned the UBA conference room into a wedding chapel and had a great reception thanks to a little help from dear friends. Lee Hsia, pastor of Houston’s First Baptist Downtown campus, officiated, and many of their friends from school attended. Lee was able to present the gospel as a part of the ceremony. All of their friends from school were videoing everything with their phones. I was so excited to realize that as those students replayed the ceremony, they would hear the gospel again and again.
Recently we received a somewhat coded message that one couple was now a follower. We pray this for all of our students as they return home.
If you are interested in being friends with an international student, contact Melissa Aylward at the University of Houston—firstname.lastname@example.org. Don't worry; you aren’t responsible for a wedding—just dinner every month.
3. Hosting visitors from afar
One other kingdom opportunity came up when we hosted seven pastors from Russia to tour Houston and UBA churches. These pastors are from an association of churches that sprang up indigenously after the collapse of the Soviet Union. The pastors came from five cities around Russia and are now leaders over different geographical sections of the country while also pastoring their own churches. They did not have connections with denominations that could provide leadership, training, and guidance.
They experienced the culture and ate TexMex and barbeque. They visited drug rehabs, clothes closet and food pantry ministries, a faith-based dorm in a prison, large churches, small churches, and even enjoyed a consult with Dr. John Bisagno, who gave them Letters to Timothy: A Handbook for Pastors.
Almost every time I go to Russia I am told, “Sally, you do not realize what an impact that trip had on the church in Russia.”
I am always ready to share these experiences with folks—just ask my many friends who have been “volunteered” to join me! I am told we can expect another group of Russian pastors soon.
UBA believes we are Better Together not only at the local level but as we share the gospel and sow seeds for the Kingdom throughout the world. How might you be able to sow seeds today?
Sally Hinzie is a Church Consultant who has worked at UBA for many years. Her primary areas of ministry focus include church planting, bible storying training, organic church, and ministry implementation.