Roughly 300,000 college students are enrolled yearly on 51 campuses across the Houston area. As the largest “college town” in the state, Houston holds tremendous potential for Baptist Student Ministry (BSM) work. Though only 18 of the campuses currently have a BSM presence, Texas Baptists are praying for God to raise up new leaders and churches with a passion to see every campus reached with the Gospel.
The Houston Area BSM work has a significant impact on the campuses of the University of Houston (UofH), Rice University, Texas Southern University (TSU), Houston Baptist University (HBU), Houston Community College (HCC) and McGovern Medical School at UTHealth. Each BSM is unique in its culture and ministry efforts, yet all are united in their goals to engage college students to follow Christ and transform the world.
Most likely, no one would be surprised to know that food draws students into the BSMs on each campus. Especially when that food is free. Each week, free lunch is offered on campuses, meeting a basic need for students and opening the door for great conversations. At TSU, free lunch is held on Wednesdays in the Sterling Student Life Center, drawing a crowd of 20-40. After lunch is served, student leaders facilitate conversations, lead a 10-minute devotional and provide information about upcoming Bible studies and mission opportunities.
For Jamie Russell, Jr., a student leader in the TSU BSM, the ministry is essential because it provides a community rooted in scripture and truth.
“BSM gives students an alternative environment to have fun,” Russell said. “You can have fun and love Christ. Before I was saved, I thought that was impossible.”
Another common element of BSM work is a focus on evangelism. Students are taught how to share the Gospel with their roommates, classmates, teammates and friends. BSM equips students to engage in spiritual conversations as they serve students on campus by handing out free coffee, taking out the trash in the dorms or setting up a table where students share prayer requests.
At HCC, two campus missionary interns, Anton and Ryann, spend two hours in a common area each week, offering free pizza to students and building relationships. As students grab a piece of pizza, Anton and Ryann ask if they would be interested in studying the Bible. Two students this semester have been coming for 10-minute devotionals during their lunch break between classes.
This work laid a foundation to start a BSM at HCC and could open the door to ministry across the entire HCC system, which includes schools around the greater Houston area. The culture on community college campuses is often different than on four-year university campuses. Community colleges are primarily commuter campuses and often lack on-campus activities or opportunities to build relationships. Students come to campus two or three days a week and often juggle full or part-time jobs, families and other commitments. BSM Director Andy Dennis sees the work at HCC as a new mission field to reach thousands of students with the Gospel.
Discipleship is another primary activity of BSM. For medical students at UTHealth, the demands of preparing for the medical profession are immense. Dennis hosts a Monday lunch where he encourages students with foundational truths from Scripture. Med students join together to talk about challenges they face and point one another to scripture and hope in the Lord.
For the medical students, this Monday lunch is a welcome break from long hours of work and isolation. Most second and third-year students stream class lectures and spend many hours alone studying so that they can be top students.
“Monday is a place where people can have the interaction they long for—a place where there is no competition,” Dennis said.
The challenges students face involve high-stakes as they learn how to navigate tough medical scenarios, and the intense environment can manufacture more stress, according to Dennis.
For fourth-year medical student Greg Gaskey, a primary means of ministry at school is to be a source of encouragement to his classmates. “We are constantly being evaluated, and often, our grades determine our future,” Gaskey said. “From a Christian perspective, if we don’t get the grade or the evaluation we expected, the way we respond says a lot to our classmates.”
UofH is one of the most diverse campuses in the country. In the fall of 2019, more than 46,000 students were enrolled in undergraduate and graduate programs through the inner-city campus. The BSM has had a strong presence on the campus for decades. In recent years, the campus community has grown around the BSM building, which has opened the door for greater visibility and outreach.
Last semester at UofH, a couple of law professors began praying with other professors and felt burdened to share the Gospel with visiting, international scholars on campus. They contacted UofH BSM Assistant Director Snowflower Dong who was excited to help facilitate a Bible study in Chinese for interested scholars. Many scholars are only on campus for a short time, and the Bible study has opened the door for them to hear life-changing Good News. One scholar last semester became a Christian and was baptized before heading back home to China.
At HBU, BSM Director Nathan Mahand has experienced many ministry opportunities across the campus, including a new outreach to veterans. Once a month, he hosts a free lunch in conjunction with the Office of International and Veteran Students Services. The gathering provides a place for veterans to network and share life experiences.
“The lunch helps facilitate fellowship with each other,” said Shannon Bedo, director of International and Veterans Students Services at HBU. “They understand what others are going through. We can also provide tips to help with services they might need and a comfortable place for them to come and hang out. If they don’t know where to get help, we walk alongside them.”
At Rice University, Dennis has seen the academic challenges, stressors and anxiety that students face on a daily basis. Rice University is known as a leading research university and has a population of just over 4,000 undergraduate
students. Students often turn to drugs and alcohol to escape the pressures they feel, and weekend parties draw crowds of students. About once a month, BSM students serve “party pancakes” to engage with students and provide a safe alternative to the escapism.
Each fall, during Rice’s welcome week, BSM students engage with classmates through spiritual surveys. Students are asked “What is one question you would like to ask a Christian?” and then BSM students follow up with them later in the week to engage in spiritual conversations.
“There is not much cultural Christianity on this campus,” Dennis shared. “You know where you stand and if you believe in God or not.”
He has been encouraged by the openness students have to learn about different faith backgrounds. Approximately 51% of the student body is from outside of the state of Texas, and many are from other countries. The unique cultural and religious backgrounds on campus allow for many conversations about faith.
Though each BSM is as unique as the campus it is located on, all BSMs share the same goal: engage college students to follow Christ. Throughout Houston, BSM staff and students are working hard to achieve this goal by reaching the lost and growing mission-minded leaders.
“We want BSM to be a place where people who do not know Jesus can begin that journey,” said Shannon Rutherford, UofH BSM Director. “For those who know Jesus, we want them to have a place to build on their giftings so that when they leave here, they will be members in congregations who are ready to lead and ready to share the Gospel in their workplace because we had them do it a million times here. We pray they will be Kingdom-impacters around the world.”
The first year of college is an important time in the lives of students. Connect your incoming college freshmen with a BSM on his or her campus. Visit txbsm.org/connect-to-your-bsm and a BSM staff member will reach out and share about ways to get involved!