History of the Neighbors International Program
In the spring of 1970 a member of Columbus Avenue Baptist Church, Ann Pitman, was invited to Tarrytown Baptist Church in Austin, Texas to conduct a G.A. Recognition Service. While there, she learned about the Friendship International Program in the City of Austin. As she heard enthusiastic reports of the exciting and challenging ministry to families of foreign-born adults in the area, a seed was planted for an international program at Columbus Avenue.
That summer she and fellow members of Columbus Avenue made visits to international families at Baylor to determine the need for a similar program in Waco. Finding homesick, lonely wives of graduate students at Baylor, often with language challenges, it was evident that such a program was indeed needed. Columbus Avenue voted to begin an international ministry in the fall. A steering committee was selected and guidelines were adopted, along with a budget of $600.00. The church staff, especially Bob Evans and Dorothy Ward, gave a great deal of support and encouragement. Larry Hodges, Director of the Baptist student ministries at Baylor, suggested the name “Neighbors.” Officers were elected and some attended the annual state Conference for International Work in August. Early in September, Martha Burns from Friendship International in Austin conducted an orientation for the Neighbors volunteers. At the first Welcome Coffee later that month, seventeen international women from nine different countries came to learn about the program.
A varied class schedule was offered in the new Neighbors program in that first year with both one-on-one and group instruction in English, as well as five creative classes.
Leadership for the first year of the Neighbors program consisted of:
Ann Pitman Director
Joyce Abney Associate Director
Gladys Hudson English Instruction Coordinator
Marion Burke Preschool Childcare Coordinator
Nancy Harlan Nursery Childcare Coordinator
The Thursday morning Neighbors program continued to grow, year after year, with more international men, women, and their children participating and more classes being added. God continued to raise up volunteers from the membership of Columbus Avenue to meet the ministry needs of the growing program.
In November of 1972, Columbus Ave. called Marshall Edwards as their new pastor. His wife Doris had served as a teacher and a director in the Friendship International program in Austin and brought invaluable experience and ideas to our young program. In December of that year, the first from the Neighbors program were baptized. With the strong support of Ron Durham who became pastor in December of 1980, along with the support of the leadership in the International Sunday School Department, hundreds of internationals have become members of Columbus Avenue. Frankie and “Hop” Hopkins, Ann and Gene Pitman, and many other volunteers have loved our international population into the warmth and fellowship of our church and into the Kingdom of God.
With many special programs, events, and celebrations throughout the year, the Neighbors program gives our internationals the opportunity to learn about our culture as we learn about theirs. Specifically, our annual International Sunday emphasis focuses attention on the multiple programs of Columbus Ave. through which foreign-born adults and their families are served. The students give testimony to how God has impacted their lives through this ministry. At the same time, the church is able to hear from our students as they contribute to our worship through scriptures, prayers, and song in their native languages.
In over half a century of ministry, the Neighbors International program has ministered to over 2500 students from 100+ countries. By its 10th year, more than 400 of those students had joined the fellowship of Columbus Avenue.
Sharing the love of God has been the primary objective of the Neighbors International program as it serves our foreign-born friends. Ministry usually begins on the physical, social, and emotional level and evolves to spiritual ministry. Volunteers in the Neighbors program understand that love is something you do. In serving these gracious strangers, volunteers and members of Columbus Ave. receive the greatest blessing of all.