Multi-ethnic church grows out of engagement with international college students

ARLINGTON Typically, church goers walk into their churches’ front doors on a Sunday morning and see only one or two different ethnic groups within the congregation. As for the members of International Baptist Church of Arlington (IBCA), every Sunday is a chance to fellowship and worship with brothers and sisters from all over the globe.

IBCA is located near the University of Texas at Arlington and the congregation celebrated its fifth anniversary in April, continuing a vision to look for opportunities to reach out and evangelize the students on campus.

“We regularly go to the campus every Tuesday or Thursday to go out and meet students,” Pastor John Sun said. “We open up by introducing ourselves, then ask a little bit about them like where they are from or what they are studying, and from there we look for opportunities to share the gospel and invite them to our church.”

Steve Lee, professor of urban church planting at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, told the TEXAN God gave him a specific purpose and vision to start a unique church.

“The vision is to continue to reach all people groups around us and to the ends of the Earth,” said Lee, who helped gather the core team and has served as a church planting mentor. “Wherever we go, we are going to continue to reach all people groups with the gospel of Christ then raise them up as leaders to send out as missionaries. We want to fulfill the Great Commission.”

Through outreaches such as ice cream socials and study break nights on campus and events within their church, IBCA works to welcome students to the community, drawing in many international students.

“They don’t know what it is like in America and to be a part of communities, so they are eager to come out to these events,” Sun said. “Having our international students as the center point also draws in others to see different cultures.”

Sun said a primary way the church reaches international students is through an on-campus organization called International Students Inc. (ISI).

“Every year when new students come to UTA, there is a good chance they will get to hear about IBCA through ISI as they provide a lot of services to new students that are coming to America for the first time,” he said.

Clarity Thoreson, who serves as the church’s administrator and communications director, said the church also focuses its outreach on one of the biggest events on campus called the “Big Howdy.” 

Every fall semester the Big Howdy organizes a DFW tour for UTA students, held on Labor Day, Thoreson said. Organizations and churches take students to places around downtown Fort Worth, such as the stock yards and water gardens, then end with a picnic in a park nearby.

“By building these relationships early in the semester, we can invite them to other things, whether it be UTA events or church events,” she said. “It really provides a starting point for these connections to start forming.”

The Big Howdy also organizes Wal-Mart rides throughout the semester along with a big party that allows students, organizations and churches an opportunity to meet and begin forming bonds.

“The administration at UTA is actually very favorable to Christian organizations so it is truly the favor of the Lord,” Thoreson said.

According to Sun, multiple community groups are scattered throughout the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex, including ones on campus.

“We know students are busy and that they need to be able to come and go freely,” he said. “We have communities hosted by our members to provide a warm atmosphere for students to walk in and be taken care of.”

Thoreson said that the Lord has also blessed the ministry by sending co-laborers with a heart for evangelism and discipleship to their church.

“Our members have such a heart for these students,” she said. “This is a time where we can build relationships and get to know them a little bit more just through friendship, maybe even have the opportunity to share the love of Christ.”

God provided IBCA a permanent facility near the campus and in the heart of Arlington about a year ago when a local church that had experienced decline was ready to close its doors.

“In light of what God was doing in our church, they had seen how we were bringing in young people and reaching out to the community,” Sun said. “We were one of the three options that they could pass the church on to, and the Lord moved in their hearts.”

Sun told the TEXAN that a deacon of the previous church felt God placing International Baptist Church of Arlington in his heart for weeks, and after sharing his story of God working through him, the church unanimously decided to pass the building on to IBCA.

“We have been honored to take the church facility and the building to continue the work the previous church had been doing for many years,” he said. “It was purely from God, with him moving us to be at the right places and doing the right ministry.”

As IBCA is growing in their ministry, Lee said that many of their members are already serving in Vancouver, Canada, as a part of the North American Mission Board’s GenSend program.

“We want our members to be more than just church goers,” Sun said. “But to be disciples and train them so that one day they will be the ones really living out missions in their communities.”

During these past five years, Lee said the church has sown the vision of their church planting values and discipleship but are looking forward to the second stage.

“We are praying about having a second service in the morning to reach out to families,” he said. “Over the years a lot of college students have come through, but now we are taking on more cross-generational values.”

IBCA was a church plant through the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention (SBTC), and Lee said the convention has blessed IBCA through training, resources, conferences and guidance along with being a financial partner and encourager.

“When international students come to our church, we want them to be able to read in their native tongue,” Sun said. “The SBTC is the sole provider for all of our different types of Bibles, and we are thankful for the abundance of Bibles in every different language.”

For more information on SBTC Church Planting, visit  

Texan Correspondents
Morgan Collier
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