In a small island far, far away, an unlikely partnership was soon to be born between two individuals with hearts for the nations.
“I met him this summer and he invited us over and their church members hosted us for one night,” shared Craig Olive, Director of IFI Florida in an IFI staff meeting “They took us out on boats to see the islands and it was just an amazing trip…”, he finished excitedly, recounting how Billy Dalton, pastor of First Baptist Church of Cedar Key, and his congregation hosted Craig and a group of international students in the fall of 2021.
Craig met Billy when a mutual friend found out they had both served overseas and were passionate about internationals. He knew he had to introduce them to one another, so the connection was made, and in just the right timing, too! Billy believed God was bringing the nations to the United States and longed for ways to serve in that realm with his church; therefore, joining forces with IFI was an easy yes.
“They took us out on boats to see the islands and it was just an amazing trip…”
September of 2021 was their first time hosting Craig’s group. There were about 20 students who stayed with different church members who had space to offer. Not only was this fruitful for Craig’s students, but for Billy’s congregation. “This was a great way to get the ball rolling”, said Billy. “This expanded their thinking when it came to the idea of ministry and for God’s plan for all the nations. They realized it’s not just traveling to China, but opening their homes to people on a Saturday or Sunday. It was huge for the revitalization process of our church and IFI has been great at providing opportunities to work towards that.”
“It was huge for the revitalization process of our church and IFI has been great at providing opportunities to work towards that.”
Since then, the partnership has continued. Billy’s church members have gotten excited at the sound of hosting Craig’s international students again, as they have seen the fruit of relationship-building and the opportunity to engage in meaningful conversations. They’ve had Craig’s group come during the holiday’s, inviting them to their Christmas service, followed by a big lunch and a fun time of riding golf carts and boats. They had a great turnout this past Christmas with about 50 students, some of whom had never attended a church service before. “One thing that surprised our people and really blessed the students was going out on the golf carts to see the stars,” Billy said. “There were neat conversations on the golf carts about how God had created such beauty. Something so simple, yet we take it for granted here on the island.”
“For some students, it was their first time experiencing nature like this”
On the other side of the coin, Craig’s team has also cherished the opportunity to take students to Cedar Key. “For some students, it was their first time experiencing nature like this,” Craig said. “It was more than just Gainesville, you know?” Not only was this trip a refreshing, entertaining time for students, but also a time where true relationships could be formed and where deep conversations could arise and flourish more naturally. And like the other events held at the university, this trip served as a great motivator for students to sign up for Friendship/Family Groups, as well as being a good source for volunteers to get affiliated with fellow internationals and initiate coffee dates or small group activities.
“This is now a part of the normal way we reach the nations as a church”, Billy said. “It’s becoming more and more of how we do ministry and helps us get excited!”
Who knew that God would partner a church of about 100 members on a little island in the middle of nowhere to reach the nations?
“Therefore in the east give glory to the Lord; exalt the name of the Lord, the God of Israel, in the islands of the sea.” Isaiah 24:15