I’m going to brag on a couple friends of mine. Both of them are shining examples of devoted service to the international students who come to our communities. Both of them live in small cities in the Midwest: one in Pittsburg, Kansas, and the other in Joplin, Missouri. And while they are content to serve in quiet ways, each has recently been highlighted in local media.
Helping Students Get Around . . . on Two Wheels
For over three decades, Don Smith—through Campus Christians—has been ministering to the students at Pittsburg State University in Pittsburg, Kansas. Throughout that time, more and more of those students have come from other countries.
In fact, today, a significant part of Don’s work is collecting, repairing, and distributing bicycles to the more than 450 international students at PSU. It was this bicycle ministry that caught the attention of The Joplin Globe, which ran a story about him.
Don told The Globe that he got the idea to loan bikes to international students 30 years ago, when he saw a similar program at the University of Missouri. That story means something to me, as I was a student at MU 30 years ago, living at the Christian Campus House, the place where Don got his inspiration. A few years later, I became the campus minister to inernationals at CCH and took over the bike ministry. But Don’s efforts go well beyond anything that I was able to do.
One of the first lessons he learned was how to keep bikes in the program. It was easy to give bicycles out. “But the first year,” Don told The Globe, “not one bike came back. Not one.”
The solution came in two parts: using stronger locks and charging a deposit of $35, which is refunded when the bike is returned. That’s increased the return rate to about 75%.
Since the beginning of July, Don has distributed 200 bikes. And as word has gotten around, American students are taking advantage of the ministry as well.
Word certainly has gotten around, not only about the bikes but about all the work that Don is doing. Two years ago, he received the Ralf J. Thomas Distinguished Service Award from PSU, and last month he and his wife were honored by Ozark Christian College, their alma mater, with the Seth Wilson Outstanding Alumnus Award.
(Andra Bryan Stefanoni, “Have Bike, Will Travel: Campus Minister Provides Wheels to Students,” The Joplin Globe, February 14, 2014)
A Mom to Many
“Mom.” That’s what scores of international students at Joplin’s Missouri Southern State University call Linda Keifer. For nine years, she and her husband, Jerry, have invited guest from around the world into their home.
“It started with a few, and then they invited their friends,” Linda told The Chart, Missouri Southern’s student newspaper. “This is what God wanted us to do.”
Several students also shared in the article what they liked about being part of the Keifers’ extended “family”:
“It’s family Sunday: to eat, relax, listen to each other, to talk about worries, hopes, dreams and wishes,” said Stephanie Kiessling from Germany. “They are sharing the American tradition and the international students [are] sharing theirs as well.”
And Lei Lei, from China, said, “When I speak to them, I feel like I’m talking to a genuine mother and father. They make me feel appreciated, welcomed, and at home.”
Linda’s ministry came full circle last year when she and Jerry traveled to Asia, becoming the guests and receiving hospitality from the students and their families.
Being part of a family means sharing in the highs and lows. So when Linda was diagnosed with colon cancer last year, the students gathered around the Keifers and comforted them. That comfort has continued as Linda has gone through surgery and receives treatment.
Just a few weeks ago, Jerry told me how much the students’ kindness has meant to them. That’s often the way it is: When we reach out to help others, we often receive as much, if not more, than we give.
(Xiaoyu “Jamie” Wu, “Mom Opens Home to Students,” The Chart, October 31, 2013)
Don and Linda wouldn’t meet a strict definition of “globally famous,” but that doesn’t mean they haven’t gained international fame, at least among those who have been touched by their simple generosity, by those who call them friends . . . and sometimes “Mom” or “Dad.”
[photos: “Bicycle,” by JMC Photos, used under a Creative Commons license; “Door Knob,” by zizzybaloobah, used under a Creative Commons license]