By Sara Patterson
Arkansas Baptist News
Service, curiosity and fulfillment mark the life of Jon Blaylock, a member at Park Hill Baptist Church, North Little Rock, Arkansas, and a volunteer for the International Friendship Outreach.
With locations in Little Rock, Conway, Russellville and Fort Smith, the IFO helps international students by providing transportation starting from the initial airport pick-up, temporarily hosting students between semesters, giving apartment furniture and appliances and organizing opportunities for friendships to grow between internationals and Americans.
Blaylock began volunteering with the IFO in 2015 by hosting two international students in his home. It was through this experience that Blaylock realized food is a valuable tool for bonding between cultures.
“At that time I was under the impression that people wouldn’t want me to make their food. They don’t want some bad version of their home food when they go to a new country,” Blaylock said.
With this doubt still in his mind, Blaylock attempted to make a recipe for the students he was hosting and found it to be a success. This sparked Blaylock’s passion for what he calls culinary missions.
“That started my journey … people actually do want you to make their food, it’s really special to them. There’s a lot of people who don’t know how to cook their own food so anything that’s close to home, a bad version of their own food from home, is amazing,” Blaylock said.
Along with cooking, moving furniture is a focal part of Blaylock’s service.
“My focus is on the basic needs like trying to make sure they have a couch and a bed,” Blaylock said, “When I get to a place, I want to be able to sit down, and I want to be able to sleep at night, and I want to be able to eat something I can eat. We really need that stuff. I try to make sure people are not struggling with that stuff.”
Over the years, furniture has been passed down by the international students to those who come after them.
“We have all these students who have furniture so when they move, they offer it back for free in the group. It’s kind of a beautiful thing, that’s kind of one of the great stories I would say is when the students see what we’re doing and they begin to contribute back to it, either while they’re here or when they leave. That’s a great thing,” Blaylock said.
Blaylock has learned that providing for the students’ basic needs naturally leads to satisfying their deeper needs. Once the students are comfortable in their new life, they become more comfortable with meeting new people.
“I want them to still live the way they live but us to be able to share that together. I share the way we live with them as well. Make those connections, open those doors,” Blaylock said.
Seventy-five percent of international students never go inside an American’s home while in America. IFO volunteers respond to this disparity by finding intentional ways to show hospitality.
“If we’re going to show them the Christian life … come to our house. That’s one of the best places for us to share with them,” Blaylock said.
While Blaylock has met and served numerous international students from vastly different countries, his global experience actually makes the world feel smaller.
“To me, learning all these things, all the experiences, it really makes the world a smaller place,” Blaylock said.
From many years helping international students, Blaylock has gleaned unexpected blessings. He often finds that not-so-coincidental coincidences occur when he is doing IFO work.
“It’s like everything in life you could think of that could happen, all the little things that happen, they just work together all the time. To me, it just really makes me tick. This is not work for me because it is such a huge blessing,” Blaylock said.
One of the frequent coincidences Blaylock encounters occurs when he helps international students move into their apartments. Much of the time, a student will need the exact type of furniture that another student is getting rid of on that same day. These overlaps don’t just make Blaylock’s tasks more convenient, they ultimately affirm God’s hand in his service.
Blaylock’s volunteer story is only one of many. There are numerous ways that Americans can use their individual gifts and interests to serve with the IFO.
“You really can do whatever you want to do. It’s not like we have five things we do, and you can pick one of those five and do it. I want everybody to feel encouraged to try something, whatever it is, and they’ll probably find something they’re comfortable with, and there will probably be something that they never thought was important… that would be very meaningful to someone else,” Blaylock said.
“People want to know us and know what we believe more. Sometimes they want to try to win us and I’m comfortable with that, I understand that. For anybody who gets involved, it’s going to be a journey. I definitely think people have a lot to offer that they don’t realize,” Blaylock said.
EDITOR’S NOTE — This article was originally published by Arkansas Baptist News. To read more articles like this on Arkansas Baptists, visit arkansasbaptist.org. This article also appears in TAB News, a digital regional Baptist publication. For more information or to subscribe to the TAB News app, visit tabonline.org/TAB-News-app.
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