When I first suggested an art camp in 1991, I was thinking of high school students interested in majoring in art at BJU. Little did I know that art camp was to become a mission outreach as well.
In 2006, a Chinese student named Freda enrolled in art camp. She had come from Taiwan to visit her uncle and aunt in Greenville, South Carolina. Her uncle decided to enroll Freda in some teen camps in town, and the BJU camps seemed like a safe place for her. He wanted to help her learn more English and become proficient in the language, and he may have had some idea of introducing her to a career choice. His first choice was science camp. Then he added art, music and drama. All of these would put Freda in an environment where language would be important.
See Also: EDUcamp: Explore Your Future
When Freda arrived for her first camp, the culture shock hit her. Movies and pop culture had built an expectation of a continual party environment, but with prejudice toward those different from the norm. She didn’t see those characteristics. In the residence hall, students were friendly, and during the first camp, one girl was especially helpful. But chapel was strange. She wasn’t familiar with hymns, didn’t understand the words, and was mystified by the different ideas about worship. As a Buddhist, she was used to an outward spirituality, but the chapel program with its direct and personal prayers, singing and preaching from the Bible was new.
To Freda, knowing God was important, but it was not something to talk about. Without her grandfather, a Buddhist priest, religion felt impersonal. Chinese was her language, and though she had studied English, it terrified her to think of communicating with it. Everything was so strange.
One of the residence hall counselors adopted Freda as a friend and started a conversation about God. As she began to relax and be less fearful, Freda began to notice other students who seemed happy. They began reaching out to her, especially in her art classes when girls invited her to sit with them and encouraged her. A counselor asked to sit with her in chapel. These contacts helped her not to feel embarrassed or rejected. The counselor was kind and gracious. When she talked about God, it seemed genuine because of her actions.
When Freda asked her questions, a second counselor opened her Bible and explained the ineffectiveness of our efforts to know God or please Him. When other people talked about God, they spoke strongly of a real relationship. With a copy of The Bridge tract and its simple illustrations, Freda began to understand her need for putting faith in Jesus. She had never heard of a God who would die for His people. When she understood this, she prayed and asked God to come into her life. She had a desire to have a personal relationship with Jesus. As the word got around, teachers and friends rejoiced with her. The counselors noticed she smiled more and was more open with others. One of her teachers, John Roberts, encouraged her to enroll at BJU where she could study the Bible and learn more of God’s Word.
When Freda shared her decision with her family in Taiwan, she didn’t receive the support she had hoped she would. Freda was baptized in a Taiwanese church the following summer. While it was a memorable step for her, her parents chose not to attend. Interestingly, her Buddhist grandfather and one of her elementary school teachers who is a Catholic continued to patiently explain the importance of faith to her parents. By God’s providence, her parents came to visit Freda for the first time during this past summer.
Freda did enroll in the art program at BJU, and with the support of the faculty, she graduated as a much-matured Christian with good art skills, hard work and a much stronger command of English. She appreciates the help and encouragement she received from the faculty. God used them to develop her skill and understanding of art. She has since received a Master of Fine Arts in Printmaking from Savannah College of Art & Design. She taught at BJU for several years and now teaches at the University of South Carolina Upstate. She has learned that each student’s background and experience is different. Knowing how to patiently communicate with students and encourage their growth is key to teaching.
Special written for BJUtoday by retired art instructor Kathy Bell.