The room reaches a sweltering temperature as hundreds of bodies move and collide in circles, jumping and swaying to traditional Indian dance steps. The sounds of drums, violins and melodic pitches fill the room. The DJ plays a current Indian pop song and the crowd roars; the room looks like a musical number from a Bollywood movie come to life. Sweat mixed with condensation from the overtaxed air conditioning system accumulates on the ceiling beams and drips onto the heads of the dancers below, unbeknownst to them. The room feels like a sauna, fogging eyeglass lenses upon entering the room.
Where are you? India, right? Nope. UT Arlington's "Big Howdy," a welcome party for international students.
Every semester several Christian organizations on the UTA campus band together to welcome incoming international students through a myriad of activities we call the Big Howdy. Because Arlington does not have public transportation, we work together with the Indian society on campus to pick students up from the airport and bring them to campus.
This year, over 600 students received a free pickup and a warm welcome. It was not just a warm welcome because it was 100 degrees or more for every pickup. What made it such a warm welcome was the attitudes and the love expressed by the volunteers who were there to greet the students as they arrived in the U.S., many of them for the first time. In addition to the airport pickups, the Big Howdy also includes rides to Wal-mart, a used item sale where students can pick up needed furniture and household items at cheap costs and a Labor Day tour of the DFW Metroplex.
The Big Howdy party is the biggest (and most fun) culmination of these welcome events. Members of local churches prepare food, donate money to buy dozens of pizzas and come to meet students from all over the world. A dance teacher instructs students in how to do the Texas two-step, and the night always ends in a giant Indian dance party with traditional Bollywood moves. The overall goal of this party is to welcome international students to our campus and to extend friendship and hospitality to them. This year we met over 1,000 new friends.
The international student enrollment for this fall semester is much higher than in previous years, particularly in regards to the Indian population. With the increase of students, there is an increase of persons of peace. A person of peace communicates an openness to the gospel, inviting you into his or her personal life and into his or her community. We met many of these people through the Big Howdy events. Already God is working in the hearts of these persons of peace as two have professed faith in Christ.
My prayer over the summer was for one friend with whom I could share Christ. God answered that prayer by giving me many more friends who want to meet regularly to discuss spiritual matters or to study the Bible. My prayer for them and for the rest of the international community is Psalm 34:8 which says, "Oh taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the man who takes refuge in him."
Will you join me in praying that these students would get a taste of how good the Lord is and hunger for more?
Caitlyn Barbee serves as a campus missionary at the University of Texas at Arlington BSM through Go Now Missions.