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Tarleton student ministry sets
up shop in a campus tavern
By Ken Camp
Texas Baptist Communications
STEPHENVILLE–A couple of days each fall, the Baptist Student Ministry at Tarleton State University encourages college kids to go to a bar–not to drink, but to enjoy a free meal and hear the gospel.
As part of its outreach to new students in early September, the BSM sponsors two Wednesday lunches at a tavern across the street from the Tarleton campus. The bar is closed at lunchtime, but the owner makes the building available to the campus ministry.
“We'll have students who go there who won't go to anything else we do,” said Darrell Samuelson, BSM director at Tarleton.
Churches in the Stephenville area provide the covered dish lunches at the popular student hangout. Samuelson acknowledged a couple of congregations have objected to an event at a bar. But most view it as a chance to bring a Christian witness to students who might never set foot in a church or in the BSM building.
Students are drawn to the familiar bar by the free food. While they eat, they listen to a Christian testimony by a local celebrity such as the university's football or baseball coach.
“Some of the students feel less threatened in that setting,” said Trey Felan, baseball coach at Tarleton. “We've got their attention for a little while. Maybe we'll reach somebody, or maybe a seed will be planted for later.”
Felan, a layman at First Baptist Church of Stephenville and an on-campus adviser for the BSM, spoke at a recent luncheon, using baseball analogies in his brief message based on the fourth chapter of 2 Timothy. He encouraged students to prepare “in season and out of season” for whatever lies ahead.
“Like athletes who train in the off-season, as Christians we need to be prepared by staying in the (Bible) and in prayer. That way, when we have the opportunity to witness, we're prepared to do it. And when we have setbacks, whether it's a time when we stumble or when tragedy comes, we're prepared for it. I tried to tell them what I tell my players, 'When you make a mistake, learn from it and then move on.'”
In addition to the bar outreach, the BSM also sponsors about a half-dozen other activities–most of them centered on free or low-cost food–designed to reach new students. For the last two years, the university has embraced the events as part of its welcome week schedule.
“In the first two days of school, we gave away 60 dozen donuts and hundreds of sno-cones,” Samuelson said. As volunteers distributed the sweet treats, they invited students to attend a Tuesday luau. The outdoor Hawaiian-style party featured the BSM praise band and a Christian testimony by a student leader.
One of the most popular outreach activities is the “big feed” on the third day of the new semester. Volunteers set up grills in an open area near the men's dormitories, and they offer steaks for 99 cents.
“That event really reaches the guys. They smell the meat cooking all morning, and that brings them out,” Samuelson said. “They can't believe it's not just hot dogs, but that they can get a real steak for 99 cents.”
In less than a month, the BSM made significant contact with at least 700 students through the events, Samuelson said.
“We know that because we printed 800 devotional guides, and we've distributed all but 100 of them,” he said. Students, alumni and faculty at Tarleton wrote the 40-day inspirational guides.
Event organizers acknowledged that only a fraction of the students they contacted will become active in Baptist Student Ministry, but that's not their ultimate goal.
“It's not about numbers involved in the BSM. It's about getting the gospel to numbers of students who aren't in church anywhere,” Felan said. “We may not get to see the harvest, but we're planting seeds.”