By Walt Scarborough
OCEAN CITY—Who would have guessed that French fries could open the door for ministry to thousands of students from all over the world?
It happened that way at Ocean City Church, however, when several years ago it was decided to cook French fries in front of the church on Baltimore Avenue in hopes of attracting local teenagers. The local young people didn’t respond, but international students did and a new ministry was born.
That experience marked the beginning of the summertime international student missions program at the church in Maryland’s largest resort city. The students come there from all regions of the world for summer work in hotels, restaurants and other businesses. When they arrive, church members and other Baptists are there to minister to them.
It is no surprise that food continues to be a primary way of reaching the young visitors. Dinner is provided in the church fellowship hall every Monday evening during the summer season and the students continue to respond in large numbers. Lynn Davis, who leads the program and has been involved in resort missions for years, explained that attendance ranges from about seven at the first dinner in June to 300 or more in mid-summer after the word has spread more completely.
It is fitting that Lynn and her husband, Terry, would be involved in such a ministry. Terry, long-time and recently-retired pastor at Ocean City Church, and Lynn had considered becoming international missionaries years ago, but lacked the language skills. Now, Lynn said, the international program has come to them.
To illustrate how far-reaching the program has become, she said that last year young people from 45 nations across several continents participated. Total attendance was nearly 4,000.
This ministry is one of many ways in which the Davises have seen God work. “You can do all the planning you wish, but God must provide the way,” Lynn said. And with international student missions, “God has opened that door.”
Ocean City Church is not alone in this ministry. Churches from the Eastern Association provide and serve dinner throughout the summer schedule, signing up in advance to help. In addition, nine Baptist summer missionaries from various parts of the United States are on-site to help this year. These missions workers, students themselves, also assist in other outreach under Central Atlantic Leisure Ministries (CALM), which Lynn directs.
When international students attend a dinner for the first time, they are registered by computer and given a badge to present on future visits. Each student also is presented with a free health kit containing soap, shampoo, a towel, toothbrush and other toiletries. Churches from the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware supply the kits, Lynn said.
After registering, the students can be contacted by e-mail and this is important, Lynn noted, because the relationship with the young people does not necessarily end when they return to their home countries. Lynn explained that she still receives almost daily e-mails from a young Romanian woman who was in Ocean City three years ago. Such ongoing contact is one of the hopeful signs from the program. Another is church attendance by the students while they are in the resort city.
Lynn’s hope is that the international students will continue to attend church when they go home or that they may seek out a missionary working in their country. “You have to trust God to continue it,” she said.
In order to further encourage attendance, Ocean City Church has begun a new 8 a.m. Sunday worship service this summer, directed in large part at these students. Also, an Internet room has been equipped for them in the church basement.
The students possess some English skills when they arrive in Ocean City, but an attempt is made to reach as many as possible in their first language. Therefore, Christian literature is made available to them in 27 languages, Lynn said. They are not forced to accept the literature, but it is there for them.
The Davises talk to the students and answer questions, planting spiritual seeds that they pray will one day grow. Some made professions of faith and the Davises are praying that those students will share their faith when they return to their home countries.
Terry and Lynn Davis see the ministry as a gift from God. As they minister to this diverse group for the seventh year, they realize “the Lord has placed them here,” Lynn said. “It is a very special privilege,” she added. “It will be exciting to see how He uses it from here.”