Every year, Dallas Theological Seminary draws students from around the world, including some from such nations as Vietnam, Lebanon, Bangladesh, and Cameroon. DTS students come from a variety of backgrounds and professions—a single Australian student, a family of five from Russia, and a medical doctor from Spain. Some enter school with a few acquaintances in the States, while others arrive without a friend. Many come with only a single suitcase. They rely on the generosity of others and the Lord’s provision to furnish the necessities of life.
At the beginning of the fall semester, I met some of these new students and witnessed firsthand their excitement to study the Word of God. In October 2018, I had the privilege to participate in International Fun Day—an outing the DTS Chaplain’s office hosts every year.
Pastor Joe Allen, the campus pastor at DTS, along with his wife, Lindsey, have organized different outings since they moved to Dallas four years ago. They wanted to give international students a day they could enjoy and have fun. For that reason, over the past several years, they have chosen to introduce the different aspects of Texas culture. For example, in the past, they’ve attended a baseball game and the rodeo. While participation has remained consistent, averaging around forty students, this year's outing more than doubled with almost 100 students and their family in attendance!
Thanks to the generosity of a couple in East Texas, the chaplain’s office provided transportation to bring the students out to a 2000+ acre ranch. A large lake, walking trails, open fields for sports, a jungle gym for the kids, and a spacious deck with plenty of seating welcomed the visitors. The Lord provided a beautiful warm sunny day, perfect to utilize the property to its fullest.
Pastor Joe said, “I just love to watch the student’s faces as they experience something new,” which indeed happened on this trip. Students got to shoot soda cans from a modified rifle, watched as a bowling ball got launched from a cannon, and roast marshmallows for the first time, before turning them into s’mores. A Jordanian man said his son had always wanted to experience a canoe trip, and at this event, his dream came true.
An Indian student’s daughter wanted to see a real horse. Although the property didn’t have a horse on it, our hosts found a friend to bring one over. The children flocked around it while petting and taking pictures with it.
A Brazilian student said he had been looking forward to getting off campus to rest. After all the deadlines and stress of studying, he said the trip helped him refocus on why he was taking classes. While for some students this was their first opportunity to be on the water, for others, such as a student from the Solomon Islands, the canoes were a reminder of home. A Chinese student enjoyed fishing most of the day and caught over a dozen fish! Very few had ridden on a four-wheeler before, so the half-hour guided trips stayed full the entire day.
All day long, students played—while fishing, canoeing, kayaking, playing soccer and cornhole, swimming across the lake, or just basking in the sunlight. Groups of students gathered on the deck to talk or sing, while others walked around the property to collect pine cones to bring home. Children splashed along the shore, played on the swings, and played tag in the fields. I had plenty of moments where I stopped to witness the true fellowship that comes with enjoying each other’s company, which was a pleasure all on its own.
After dinner, everyone gathered down by the lake, where a fire crackled away. As the sun set and children roasted marshmallows, a Haitian student pulled out a guitar to play. It brought tears to my eyes to hear voices from different nations praising God in song. It gave me a glimpse of the day when a great multitude that no one can count from every nation, tribe, people, and language will give glory to our God.
There aren’t enough words in any of the languages present to describe the joy on every face. Grateful to find rest from their studies, students smiled. As I have personally reflected over that day, I think there was one word that encapsulated the day: generosity. You see, when we arrived, I was looking for the owners, whom I had never met before. I asked around, but I couldn’t find the owners. Everyone kept telling me that I needed to talk to A.C.
I finally found him and asked if he owned the ranch. Just like everyone else, he told me he wasn’t the owner. Confused I waited to see what would happen. Pastor Joe called him to the front, and A.C. said, “I’m not the owner, only a steward, and everything you see around you is a blessing from God’s hand.”
For A.C. and Mary, they genuinely don’t view themselves as owners of anything, but managers of what God has given. Mary said, “Since nothing belongs to us in the first place, how can we not share with others?” I was personally blessed to see the open hand with which they held their home. I hope I can be so generous with all of God's blessings in that way.
Not long after meeting A.C., I thought about an earlier conversation I had with a student from Africa. He chose to be separated from his family for a few years so that he could study God’s Word, arriving with only a suitcase. As he evaluated American culture, he said he liked the comfort and access we have to education and conveniences. When I asked him why he would undergo such an incredible sacrifice, only to go back to his own country with further hardship, he said the same as A.C. and Mary, “How could I not share what God has blessed me with?”
Both have the right perspective—everything comes from God and can bring glory to Him. For some, God has given them material things, such as land, or a home, or vehicles. For others, He has blessed them with education or talents or training to share. I learned as much from the generosity of these students as I did from our hosts. God’s blessings are not for us to keep for ourselves, but to pass on to others.
I cannot find better words to describe our time together than those of a Rwandan student who wrote a thank you note to A.C. and Mary. “Your words have taught me always to remember that our possessions belong to God, and we are stewards who should do the work of stewardship faithfully.”
The Lord has taught me that everything He has provided is something we can share. It is up to us to continue to work hard, so we have something to give to others (Eph 4:28). Even if our gifts are small, Jesus teaches that we need to remain faithful with little before He gives us more (Matt 25:21). We will never know how God will use what He’s given for His name’s sake.