Two years ago Maarten van Gestel accepted an invitation to do a semester of doctoral research in physics at the State University of New York (SUNY)-Albany. He accepted the invitation hoping someone in America could help him know God. He had failed to find anyone in his Netherlands homeland who could explain the Bible to him.
Days after he arrived, Maarten heard about a weekly Bible study in the Physics Doctoral Studies department led by the Southern Baptist campus minister who was also the pastor of Crossroads Baptist Church, a local SBC church. For the few months he was in Albany, Maarten seized every opportunity on campus and at church to study God's Word. Through the cooperative outreach of the campus ministry and the church, Maarten received Jesus as Lord and was baptized at Crossroads on the Sunday before he returned to the Netherlands. The pastor of Crossroads then put Maarten in touch with the IMB missionary who serves as pastor of the International Baptist Church in Maarten's home city of Eindhoven.
Since his return to the Netherlands, Maarten led his fiancée to the Lord, was married, and he and his wife have become active members of the International Baptist Church. Maarten reports that more than sixty people came to Christ and were baptized in his church this past year — mostly refugees from Africa and the Middle East. "How amazing it is," he says, "to hear people who have been atheists or Muslims all their lives, tell their testimony — risking their lives in the process." Maarten and Nicole have also been involved in establishing a Christian youth center in Eindhoven, cooperating with twenty local churches to build a facility designed to reach out to unchurched teenagers with the gospel message.
More than seventy-five years ago the Cooperative Program joined Southern Baptists' hands to enable each church to fulfill its God-given responsibility in ways a single church could never do alone. Today the greatest potential harvest from this cooperation may be found on our very own college campuses. SBC cooperation bore fruit in Maarten. Crossroads Baptist Church and the campus ministry at the SUNY -Albany were started simultaneously with cooperative support from Hudson Baptist Association, the Baptist Convention of New York, the North American Mission Board, and National Collegiate Ministries. Crossroad's founding pastor was appointed and supported as a mission pastor by NAMB at the same time he served as a part-time campus minister for the Baptist Convention of New York, funded by National Collegiate Ministries. The campus ministry at SUNY served as a catalyst for Crossroads' early years of growth, and many of its current members and leaders are former students. Recently Crossroads had the opportunity to add a campus ministry at another local college, and through partnership with NAMB and the local association, plans are underway to appoint a USC-2 missionary to further develop campus ministry among the 50,000 students in New York's capital region.
It seems unlikely that a small Southern Baptist Church could have a noticeable, worldwide impact for God's glory. Alone, it probably never would. But Maarten would testify that God's grace can and does work through small churches that partner with other churches and agencies to touch the world with the Good News of Jesus. From thousands of miles away, Maarten writes back to encourage that small church in upstate New York: "I just wanted to update you on these events, so that you may be encouraged. Were it not for Crossroads, we would not be where we are today! So please let us know how Crossroads is doing. What are your needs? Be it prayer or finances, please do not hesitate to ask. We owe our very lives to you."
Outreach Within Reach
Southern Baptist churches all over the United States sit adjacent to colleges and universities with no campus outreach. Campus outreach does not have to be out of the reach of these churches. Old-fashioned Southern Baptist partnership can make it happen. Maarten's story is one of many that can be told by SBC campus ministries. These ministries meet students at a pivotal time when they begin to form ideas and ideals for living their adult lives. Their college years are a prime time for young men and women to receive the gospel and set the pattern for a lifetime of faithful service to the Lord. Each year churches all over the world are blessed by the addition of college graduates whose SBC campus ministry instilled in them a vision to change the world for the glory of God. Their number could be multiplied many times.
More than 1,800 of the 2,800 colleges and universities in the US have no SBC campus ministry. Although Southern Baptists have the largest campus ministry presence in America, the number of students involved in our ministries is less than 2 percent of the 18 million university students in our country. SBC campus ministries combined with the four next largest evangelical campus ministry organizations still reach only about 2.5 percent of America's university students. The large numbers of unreached students and campuses in the US, combined with the potential impact of those students in Christian leadership all around the world, offer local churches of any size an opportunity for a tangible role in world-wide gospel impact. The small church and campus ministry in upstate New York has evangelized and discipled students from more than twenty countries on five continents who are now serving the Lord all over the US and around the world. In addition to the many who are serving as lay leaders in their churches, some are serving as missionaries, pastors, campus ministers, church starters, and even a Christian college vice president.
If you would like to know more about how your church can become involved in campus ministry, contact Bill Henry at: Lifeway - National Collegiate Ministries, 127 9th Ave. N., Nashville, TN 37234, BHenry@Lifeway.com.
Equipping For University Ministry Conference
Understanding, evangelizing, and discipling the secular university student.
Jointly sponsored by The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, the North American Mission Board, the International Mission Board, and LifeWay Christian Resources, June 25-27, 2001 on the campus of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky. For more information call Amy at 1-800-626-5525, ext. 4119.
Steve Ford is pastor of Crossroads Baptist Church and campus minister at SUNY-Albany, N.Y.