HOUSTON—Westbury Baptist Church in Houston ministers to hundreds of college students—most of whom don’t even know where the church is located.
The church supports a campus missionary at the University of Houston to undergird the work of the Baptist Student Ministry.
Westbury Pastor Jeff Berger is a proud graduate of the school and was active in the BSM as a student.
“When the Lord brought us back to the Houston area in 2001—we were serving a church in Pasadena—I knew I wanted to be involved in BSM if I could,” he said.
Berger soon joined Union Baptist Association’s college ministry team and invested himself in that role 10 years.
As Houston-area Baptists began to explore creative ways to finance college student ministry, BSM Director B.J. Ramon proposed church-sponsored campus missionaries, and Berger was ready. Ramon suggested the campus missionary not only would work on the college campus to reach students, but also would be available to the church for other projects.
“Personally, I didn’t look at it as: ‘Oh, good. We get another staff member.’ I looked at it as an opportunity to help out on a campus that I care about and a ministry I believe in,” Berger said.
He presented the idea of a campus missionary to the congregation’s missions committee, which approved funding for the ministry, and Westbury is at the end of its third year of involvement.
Cynthia Varela serves as this year’s campus missionary, and Berger sees her as a valuable extension of Westbury’s ministry.
“One benefit for us is we have a really strong college and career group with some really good teachers and leaders—but they have day jobs. So, they are here on Sundays, but this gives us someone who can relate to our college and career group during the week,” he said. “We have a mid-week Bible study, and that’s something we didn’t have before.
“I think the biggest benefit is it gives us the opportunity to minister outside our context. Cynthia is able to do things on the U of H campus that no one in this congregation could do. If I just decided that I was going to show up at the U of H and disciple kids, I don’t think it would work very well.
“Cynthia can establish relationships and disciple students one-on-one. So, she enables us to have an impact we couldn’t otherwise have.”
While the University of Houston is a large school, it also primarily is a commuter school, Ramon noted. Most students leave campus when they finish classes, so it is important to go to them.
“Because of that, we need more people to go to where they are and find them. Most of them are not going to walk through the doors of the BSM,” he said.
That makes Valera and the other campus missionaries invaluable, he said. In addition to Westbury, Crosspoint Church, First Baptist Church of Houston, Kaleo Church and Bayou City Fellowship also sponsor campus missionaries working at the university.
Varela knows the impact of BSM. She made a profession of faith in Christ as a college freshman through a New Mexico BSM.
“They invested a lot into me, and my life changed 180 degrees. So I know there is a great deal of value in investing in the lives of students, because someone did that for me,” she said.
She spends much of her time prayerwalking the university campus, meeting students—many at the free lunch churches provide that feed about 300 students weekly—and leading Bible studies. She also leads the Tuesday night college Bible study at Westbury.
The lunch—sponsored by numerous Houston-area congregations—is a means to touch the world, Berger added.
“It’s just an amazing mission field. They’ve turned it into a three-hour lunch they serve. There’s not a speaker—it’s more a time for building relationships and witnessing. You see students from Asia; you see students from Africa; you see students from Houston. There are students from all over the world. You look at them and realize, this is the mission field. If you want to be involved in foreign missions, one sure way is through college ministry,” Berger said.
Students not only represent a variety of nations, but also varied faith traditions, Varela added.
The question she is asked most often is where the money comes from to feed so many people.
“I just tell them, ‘Different churches give the money because they love you and want to serve you,’” she said.