Published March 24, 2015
Louisville—Forty years ago, the women of Long Run Baptist Association and Kentucky Baptist Woman Missionary Union groups saw a need to befriend the growing international community in Louisville, and Friendship International was born. On March 11, members, volunteers and guests old and new gathered to celebrate its anniversary.
Friendship International, modeled after Immanuel Baptist Church of Lexington's program by the same name, offers 10 to 20 classes in Bible, citizenship, English, computer, driver's education, scrapbooking, sewing and other various interests to internationals from every part of the world.
"It's evangelistic in some ways, but primarily it is relationship building. It's just having them become comfortable with being here and knowing they have a friend," Julie Hillen, director of Friendship International, said.
The ministry meets at Walnut Street Baptist Church every Wednesday morning from September through May. Volunteers are generally "coupled up" with an international, and they are provided rides to and from the church on Wednesday mornings, Hillen said.
Around 120 internationals and 60-70 volunteers attend the weekly meetings. Typically, their meetings include refreshments, an opening assembly, and two class periods.
"Wherever I went, I never saw anyone I had seen before. I didn't even know anyone I could call on the phone. When I came here to visit the program, I felt like I had been set free. I had found my place," said Victoria Santin, an international pastor's wife, whose remarks were read.
"Over the years I have been fortunate to receive letters from many international friends telling us what an impact we have had on their lives, and in many cases how we changed their lives completely," Edna Keeling, a 40-year member of Friendship International shared. Her words were read by Jane Allen.
However, the internationals weren't the only ones blessed by the ministry.
"Every Christmas, our family would have a group of international friends visit our home for a Christmas luncheon. We loved having people see how we celebrate Christmas in this country and the real meaning of Christmas," Keeling said.
"Friendship has provided me with leadership opportunities, and I have loved every minute of it. It is so easy to love people from other countries, and they teach us amazing things about their culture," she added.
The 40th anniversary celebration began with an invocation from Walnut Street's pastor, Mark Williams, and a presentation from the Friendship Choir led by Jim Brooks.
Following recognition of special guests, Merry and Johly, a couple from Indonesia, sang worship songs in their traditional language and in English.
Internationals in their traditional clothing participated in the "Roll Call of Nations." Altogether, there were more than 35 nations represented.
The history of Friendship International was presented with pictures and facts. A candlelight memorial for the volunteers and leaders who have passed on was held.
An impromptu offering of praise for the ministry from an unnamed former international friend from Iran ended the celebration.
"I believe that it is my biggest blessing that I come to this today," she said.
Speaking to the Friendship International volunteers, she concluded, "I want to let you know that your faith, your time and your volunteer work means a lot to all of us." (WR)
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