LAREDO—Texas A&M International University (TAMIU) has a revived Baptist Student Ministry (BSM) presence this semester after several years of little-to-no Gospel-focused ministry on the campus. Now, more than 20 BSM students meet weekly for Bible study, discipleship, worship, and evangelism training. The newly-formed and recognized student organization did not happen overnight but was a result of years of praying and the Holy Spirit’s prompting in the lives of many individuals and churches in Laredo.
Three years ago, Dr. Ben Karner, pastor of First Baptist Church in Laredo, remembers church members gathering to pray for someone to engage in Gospel-work on the TAMIU campus.
“Laredo is a mission field,” Karner said. “There are international students from around the world and we had no Gospel witness on campus that was recognizable. We started praying for God to send someone.”
The church continued to faithfully pray over the next two years and the Lord prompted the same prayers in others around the city. In the spring of 2018, Ginger Bowman, BSM Church Life specialist for Texas Baptists, was contacted by several people about starting a work at TAMIU. Jonathan Aragon, then-pastor of United Baptist Church in Laredo; Logan Williams, an associate pastor from FBC Laredo; and Abigail Vela, a student from Texas A&M Kingsville who transferred to TAMIU; all inquired separately about potentially launching a BSM. Bowman sensed God was stirring in the hearts of people to begin a new campus ministry and traveled to Laredo last fall to meet with others who might want to join in the effort.
When Bowman went to the TAMIU campus, she met several students—including Vela, Rudy Delagarza and Ruth Ortiz—who were passionate about seeing their classmates and friends reached with the Gospel. By the end of the fall semester, they began paperwork to be officially recognized as a student organization. In early 2019, more than 20 students met together weekly for Bible study.
Through a grant from the Texas Baptist Missions Foundation, the BSM has purchased Bibles and other discipleship materials. The funds will also be used for ministry expenses and funding for a campus missionary.
Looking for a leader
In January, Vela and Delagarza identified several other student leaders to begin a leadership team and cast a vision for the campus ministry. Two hours away, at Texas A&M University-Kingsville, Joel Barrera was working as a campus missionary intern (CMI) and was approached by his director about the possibility of going to help the BSM-launch at TAMIU.
Barrera became a Christian at the age of 19 as a student at Texas A&M Kingsville. He got involved in the BSM as a leader, and after graduation, committed to serving as a campus missionary. When he heard about the opportunity to begin new work on a campus in need of the Gospel, he prayed and asked God for direction.
“When I heard there was no Gospel movement, no disciple-making, and no leadership, the potential to help lead excited me,” Barrera said. “Most people run away from brokenness. It’s a dark campus, but I wanted to run towards that.”
In April, Barrera started traveling to Laredo every week to meet with the BSM students. Together, the student leaders and Barrera cast a vision for the BSM at TAMIU. The BSM desires to be grounded and rooted in the Gospel, community, prayer and missions.
“My job is to train and equip the students to do the work,” Barrera said. “I’m giving them tools and showing them how to evangelize. I’m also trying to be that example for them. That’s how I believe God is going to grow us—by working as a team.”
Churches united to support the student-led ministry
As the students began to meet and churches in Laredo overwhelmingly responded with desires to support the work in any way needed.
“We are excited that this started naturally by the students themselves,” Ruben Harrison, associate pastor at Primera Iglesia Bautista in Laredo, said. “We’ve noticed a lot of ownership by the students … it has a lot of impact on the campus because the students are leading it and looking for organic growth.”
John David Delgado became pastor of United Baptist Church (UBC) in Laredo in January, following Aragon’s departure. He previously served in campus ministry for 11 years. Within his first few days in the city, Delgado called Vela and told her that UBC would be there to support and encourage the new BSM. The university’s president and several staff members attend and serve in leadership at the church and several students attend as well.
“We are invested in supporting the school. We love what God is doing,” Delgado said. “We will do anything we can to be a support and encourage the BSM to move forward.”
Karner noted it is difficult for churches to have a presence on the campus without a natural invitation from students.
“The BSM is vital on campus because it gives a way to reach into lives that we would otherwise have no contact with,” Karner said. “Those [BSM] students have the ability to reach into lives. If we can reach students, imagine what the results could be.”
Over the last month, the BSM leadership intentionally visited UBC, FBC and Primera to share their vision for campus ministry. The churches all welcomed the students with open arms, each taking time in their worship services to pray over their work and for God to move in a mighty way on the TAMIU campus.
While in many ways the work has just started at TAMIU, God has been raising up workers to serve the campus and support the new BSM.
“I want people to know that God is moving already in Laredo and I’m really excited to see what God is going to do in our university and our city,” Barrera said. “Please continue praying for us. I’m super excited to see what God will do.”