By Emily Ballard
Baylor’s Cross Cultural Ministries program beckons students who want to learn about other cultures and to interact with the diverse group of students the ministry reaches.
Last Tuesday marked the launch of Cross Cultural Ministries’ new monthly activity called “This is My Story.” The program welcomes all students to the Bobo Spiritual Life Center to participate in sharing some of their life stories with small groups of people.
“It’s a time to build community,” said Julia Fanning, the program assistant of Formation and Spiritual Life. “It’s a place where our shared stories will help us learn. Students can just show up. If you’re from Waco or Shanghai, it doesn’t matter.”
The small groups formed at this first meeting will meet throughout the semester and will serve as a safe place for vulnerability, Fanning said.
“From our different stories we are creating a shared story,” she said.
Students have an opportunity to practice listening skills and gain cultural awareness.
Graduate student Hector Castelltort, ministry associate for Cross Cultural Ministries, leads “This is My Story.” He shared his own story of coming to the U.S. from Mexico when he was 15 years old because his parents thought Mexico was too dangerous and believed he would receive better education in the U.S.
Despite the unfortunate circumstances of having to leave his parents and his home in Mexico, Castelltort said he is thankful for his experiences in the U.S., particularly for the opportunity to explore cultures other than his own.
“I feel being in the U.S. has brought me close to God,” he said.
Cross Cultural Ministries activities are based on the idea that Christians are responsible for building and living in community, Fanning said.
“It began because something we believe in is Christian hospitality, loving others who are different from you,” she said.
During the meeting, international and U.S.-born students mingled rather than separating into cliques based on their ethnicity or cultural background.
“I think a lot of students have come here and found a home,” Fanning said. “Friendships have blossomed between students and between students and our staff here.”
At “This is My Story,” Lee Ann Robelia, administrative associate for Formation, held a thick ball of purple yarn in her hands as she shared her life story with the group of students. When she finished, she tossed the ball of yarn to a student across the room while holding on to the flyaway string with a finger. By the time everyone had introduced themselves, a 21-point violet star of yarn linked the group.
“Suddenly, I star in your story and you star in mine,” Robelia said. “This is how community is built.
Hong Kong senior Evonne Yip attended Hong Kong Baptist University before enrolling at Baylor. She attends Cross Cultural Ministries activities every week, she said, which has helped grow her accustomed to American culture.
“The biggest problem is language,” she said. “Some native speakers who talk with us help us become more efficient with English.”
Cross Cultural Ministries includes 12 leaders, most of them students.
Dr. Jonathan Lenells, assistant professor of mathematics, is an exception. He arrived four years ago from Vaxjo, Sweden, to teach at Baylor. Students gravitated toward Lenells’ cheery laugh at Tuesday’s event. He led a small group of five students.
Lenells said Cross Cultural Ministries has brought him meaningful friendships despite the difficulty of making lasting friendships with exchange students who only have a year at Baylor.
“It encourages me to build friendships, go beyond, step outside my box, see other cultures, grow as a Christian,” he said.
Every other Tuesday, Cross Cultural Ministries members of a particular country prepare a cultural meal for all students in attendance, often around 100 people, Fanning said. Mexican carnitas were served at a recent dinner and the cuisine this week was Brazilian. Nigerian food is on the list for this semester as well.
Surabaya, Indonesia, graduate student Iwan Njoto Sandjaja said he has an important job to do for “This is My Story.” He brings pizza for students to enjoy while mingling. He said it is important to share food as seen through Jesus Christ’s ministry depicted in the Bible. When on chef duty for a Cross Cultural Ministries dinner, Sandjaja prepared his favorite Indonesian dish, chicken satay with peanut sauce on the side.
“I have made dear friends through those dinners,” Castelltort said. “I would like for Cross Cultural Ministries to be a place where American students learn other cultures, expand their horizons and for international students to have a cross-cultural experience they never forget.”