By Kayla Rinker
FERGUSON – Jim and Doris Bounds wanted desperately to have a home of their own. Doris remembers praying constantly, “Lord, if you allow us to buy a house, I will give it to You and You can use it in any way You want.”
He has. People from at least 46 different countries have stayed there.
“I was thinking we could have Sunday School class or a Bible study there once in a while,” Doris, now 83, said. “I had no idea He would use it like He has, but I’m so glad He did.”
Jim and Doris, longtime members of First Baptist Church in Ferguson (a suburb of St. Louis), have been married for 62 years. They have used their home and hospitality to minister to international students and refugees for nearly 40 of those years. They have befriended, shared meals and many times offered a place to stay to many foreign citizens.
“Oh my, we have met so many wonderful people,” Doris said. “And we are still in contact with many of them.”
In fact, they still correspond with the first man they helped back in 1970. Doris said Vahe Ghazarian, born in Baghdad, Iraq, attended college in Louisville, Ky. She said after graduation, Vahe had a job interview in St. Louis, and with the help of the Baptist Student Union (BSU) there, he was connected to the couple for help picking him up and getting him to his interview.
“Vahe didn’t end up getting the job but he liked St. Louis so we let him stay with us for a while,” she said. “He stayed with us for two or three weeks and during that time he became acquainted with the young people at our church.”
Once he went back to school, Vahe wanted to bring his family out of Iraq to America. Jim and Doris went to their church to ask for prayer and support for Vahe and eventually, in 1972, his family came to the United States.
“The Ghazarians still live here in St. Louis,” Doris said. “They came here not knowing where they would live but they ended up staying.”
Jim and Doris had not been ministering to Internationals long when Friendship International, supported by the BSU and the St. Louis Metro Baptist Association, was born. Friendship International’s focus is to teach English as a second language, particularly to wives of internationals who attend or have recently graduated from Washington University in St. Louis.
By teaching them English, international wives are better able to exercise the basic functions of living in the United States. Doris coordinated transportation for Friendship International up until last year.
“It was started because the wives who would come over with their husbands weren’t able to get acquainted with their neighbors or go to the grocery store or answer the phone,” Doris said.
Though the couple had already decided to help people from other countries, their passion for the mission field intensified after Jim heard a horrible story about an international student who came to St. Louis. The student was taken to a hotel room to stay the night.
“The man turned on the gas in his room that night but didn’t know he had to light it,” Doris said, speaking for Jim. “They found him the next day … dead. That story made such an impression on Jim. He never forgot it.”
They have hosted more than 200 internationals, choosing not to preach to them but rather inviting them to church and trying to be a living witness. Many of their guests eventually came to have a relationship with Jesus.
“You don’t ever really know fully how God’s working things out,” Doris said. “Sometimes you get to see a little of what He’s doing and sometimes you don’t.”
She said a woman named Kim, native to Malaysia, told her she would not go to church because she was Buddhist.
“Well, one Sunday a storm came through and Kim was so scared to stay home alone that she came to church with us,” Doris said. “She came to church a few times after that. She moved somewhere else, but kept in touch. Well, one night she called us to give us an update about how she had moved to New Zealand and she said, ‘Oh, I almost forgot to tell you, I became a Christian.’ She talked about Sunday School and taking her boys to church and how she was going to be baptized in a river in New Zealand. I’m just so glad she remembered to tell me!”
Jim and Doris have slowed down in taking in international students, but they have not stopped completely. They want to do more.
“The Lord has used us and it’s been a wonderful and exciting journey,” Doris said.