College's Baptist Student Ministry celebrates past, builds toward future

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How many lives, Jaymi Blankenship asked the room, had been touched by the Baptist Student Ministry at Kilgore College?

Dozens of hands rose into the air: students, alumni, supporters, spouses and former directors.

“It’s hard to believe: 60 years,” the current director said. “60 years of a Baptist presence on campus, and still lives are being changed.”

Another student was saved earlier this month, Blankenship told the crowd in First Baptist Church’s Fellowship Hall, evidence God is still at work through the college ministry.

“Still He’s in the business of saving lives.”

Students started gathering through the ministry in 1957, packing into a small, white farmhouse. Six years later, they dedicated a new home for the BSM – the same building in use today at 809 Nolen St.

The Baptist Student Center has seen thousands upon thousands of Kilgore College students come and go during the past six decades, and the ministry’s supporters celebrated that legacy Nov. 4 while also looking to the future, launching a capital campaign to replace the aging structure.

The BSM is a vital part of the ministry of the Gregg Baptist Association, said Dr. Montie L. Martin, interim executive director of the association. It’s home, he allowed, has lost some of its vitality to age.

“It’s also out of code in just about every way possible because the codes have changed over the years. It’s very important for us to make this change moving into the future.”

When the BSM feeds KC visitors each week, Blankenship said, “The students line up out the door and that line continues to grow.”

An average of 400 students drop-by in a given week, an ongoing ministry opportunity, one that presents a positive challenge in overflowing the 4,500 square-foot facility.

“The time is now, but we need to think about the future,” Blankenship told the crowd.

The ministry is a rock in a pond, said John LaNoue, director from 1965 to 1967: it’s efforts in the lives of students create a ripple effect in their education, their careers, their marriages and their families.

“You have students at that crucial point in their lives, when they’re making decisions that are life-changing. It’s a tremendous opportunity for us to reach these students,” LaNoue said.

For student Lydian Palencia, “It has given me a place to worship, a place I can have fellowship and a place I can grow spiritually.

Sayaka Komoriya, an international student from Japan, found Christ through the BSM.

“Now, this is the center of my mission field at Kilgore College,” she said. “We read the Bible together, we encourage one another, we love one another.”

For Shelly Gribble, who served as the ministry’s director twice, its a wealth of stories of lives changed.

“God brings people from all over the world to our little town,” she said. “God continues to work in people’s lives – students who are serving in missions, students who are faithfully serving our church.

“They come from all over the world and all over the United States for different reasons, looking for community together in little Kilgore, Texas. The lost find Jesus, and they find community.”

Highlighting other personal recollections from the past 60 years, the Saturday night celebration also included a slideshow of the BSM’s past – the students ever-changing, the building rarely.

Looking through the records, Blankenship realized the center’s roof dates back to 1983.

“Most history we want to cherish. Some history we want to fix. That’s part of the reason we’re here tonight.”

Plans for a new Baptist Student Center include constructing on a building with a slightly larger footprint, incorporating an adjoining parcel of land long-owned but under-utilized by the ministry.

The overall project is estimated at about $1 million, including construction and furnishings, and the Gregg Baptist Association is also factoring in an anticipated annual expense of $40,000 when, in the next several years, the Baptist General Convention of Texas scales back its funding.

“We have a challenge before us, but I don’t believe at all it’s a challenge that’s too big for God,” Martin said, “and God is going to work and do that through the churches in this area.”

BSM leadership has crafted a slate of gifting and naming opportunities in the capital campaign. For more information about how to contribute, contact Blankenship at 903-445-4218 or email jblankenship@kilgore.edu.

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