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Lighthouse offers ray of hope for international students

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A UMNS photo by John Gordon

A mural is painted on the side of the Lighthouse International Student Ministry building in Ocean City, Md.

Aug. 25, 2005

By John Gordon*

OCEAN CITY, Md. (UMNS) — What used to be a rowdy bar near the Ocean City boardwalk has undergone a dramatic change.

Now known as the Lighthouse International Student Ministry, it has been transformed into a haven for international workers, thanks to a United Methodist pastor and volunteers from his church.

Thousands of college students from Russia, Romania, Poland, Ireland and other countries flock to Ocean City during the summer and fall to work in busy shops, restaurants and hotels along the boardwalk. But even surrounded by hundreds of thousands of tourists, they often feel lonely and isolated, far from their homes and families.

“Most of them, this is their first time in America,” said the Rev. Jay Hurley, a pastor at Stevenson United Methodist Church in nearby Berlin. “They come and often get homesick, and sometimes they have trouble finding housing.”

The Lighthouse offers international students a place to relax and check e-mail. American students from Campus Crusade for Christ also offer tutoring in English. And every other week, church members don their aprons and cook up a free meal that usually draws more than 200 students.

Hurley and his wife came up with the idea after visiting a restaurant and noticing their young waitress, who was from Poland, looked upset.

“I just leaned over the counter and I said, ‘Can I give you a hug?’” Brenda Hurley recalled. “She just grabbed hold of my neck and just hugged me, and she said, ‘I’ve needed that; I’ve needed a mother hug.’”

LINK: Click to open full size version of image
A UMNS photo by John Gordon

Marina Osmachko, a college student from Russia, checks e-mail at the Lighthouse International Student Ministry

A church member bought the building after the bar closed and offered it for the ministry’s use. The transformation began last year.

“Behind the counter, there were 75 bottles of liquor that I took and dumped down the drain,” Jay Hurley said. “And I jokingly said, ‘We’ve got the cleanest drains in Ocean City.’”

Volunteers from the church ripped out paneling and a canopy inside the building, filling two construction dumpsters.

“The kitchen looked like it had an inch of grease on it,” the pastor said. “And you could probably skid across the floor.”

After a major cleanup, they rolled out the welcome mat for the international students.

“It was not easy to leave home for me,” said Marina Osmachko, 21, a college student from Russia. “I missed my parents, my friends a lot. Because here it’s all new, it’s all different.”

The students typically spend several thousand dollars for transportation and living quarters in crowded Ocean City apartments for several months. Many have little time for socializing because they hold down two jobs, working as much as 16 hours a day.

They are drawn by U.S. wages, which are much higher than those in their native countries. Many save their money to continue their education when they return home.

Anca Belme, a student from Romania, said she was “really feeling lonely” after coming to the United States. Volunteers at the Lighthouse also see themselves as international ambassadors.

“I was curious; how is America?” Belme said. “Because everybody is talking about America, the country of all opportunities.”

Donald Williard, a retired United Methodist pastor, gathers food for the dinners. “This grew from just overnight into what it is now.  I think it’s a natural,” he said.

LINK: Click to open full size version of image
A UMNS photo by John Gordon

Students from many countries enjoy a free dinner at the Lighthouse International Student Ministry.

Andrew Krasnyuk, a Russian student, said he was impressed by the abundance of jobs in the United States. “It’s nice to be in the USA, because every person … if they want to work, they can find work,” he said.

Other churches in the Ocean City area have joined the effort to provide free meals and assistance to the international students.

“We’re here to give hugs,” Jay Hurley said. But volunteers at the Lighthouse say they are also rewarded.

“I come out here from the kitchen sometimes and look at all these tables, with all these tables filled with kids,” the pastor said. “And tears will run down my cheek, because I know they’re being ministered to.”

*Gordon is a freelance producer and writer based in Marshall, Texas.

News media contact: Fran Coode Walsh, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5458 or newsdesk@umcom.org

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Resources

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