By Janet Bresenham
For 20-year-old Liang Qing, who came to Portales from the Sichuan province in southwest China, home and family are far out of reach.
For Jennifer Hunter, 18, home seems far away, too, even though her parents live in Farmington in the Four Corners region of New Mexico.
Both of them find a sense of home, family and community while attending Eastern New Mexico University with the director and volunteers from Portales and Clovis who serve students’ souls, spirits and stomachs at the Wesley Foundation, the United Methodist student ministry center right across from campus on South Avenue K.
“This is kind of my family,” said Hunter, a freshman studying chemistry and secondary education who was wearing a T-shirt that proclaimed ‘Jesus is not religion.’ “We know what’s going on in each other’s lives and we care about each other. It’s kind of our support system, especially when I’m homesick.”
Qing, a business administration major who goes by the English name of Esther, echoes those sentiments.
“I came here my second or third week of school here and I kept coming almost every week for Bible studies and lunch,” said Qing, an ENMU junior who arrived in August of 2007. “It’s like family. I’m far from home and this is good for me.”
Hunter and Qing said the Wesley’s director and his wife welcome them warmly and create a feeling of home and comfort.
John Lowry-King, who has served as interim director of the Wesley Foundation since August, and his wife Betty have opened up their hearts and even sometimes their home to the students they serve.
“Betty and John are like my Mom and Dad,” Qing said. “They play an important role in my life. They care about me a lot. Anytime I need to talk, they are there for me.”
“I enjoy the contact not only with the students but also with the people in the local communities who love these students,” Lowry-King said. “We have volunteers in Portales and Clovis who would do anything we ask because they love serving.”
Lowry-King said he and his wife try to make biblical principles relevant to students’ lives and emphasize the importance of sharing God’s love in everyday life.
“Those weeks when I come to talk and study the Bible, I feel better,” Qing said.
As part of that practical ministry, every Wednesday, more than 50 students and others flock to the Wesley’s large dining room and kitchen to enjoy the free lunch and fellowship offered during the noon hour. Volunteers from area Methodist churches bring or pay for the food served and visit with the students. Later in the afternoon, Lowry-King presents a Bible study for students who want some spiritual refreshment, sometimes accompanied by a movie that ties into the theme being taught.
During the month of February, Marynell Urban, Mary Forester and Gustina Bonner from the First United Methodist Church of Clovis have been preparing and serving heaping helpings of homemade food to the appreciative group. Their chicken and rice proved so popular that they made it twice, along with lasagna, vegetables, French bread and desserts.
“For students like me, especially in the dorms, it’s usually either ramen noodles or cafeteria food, so it’s nice to come for real, homemade food,” Hunter said.
The lunch has even extended the ministry to serve more than students. One group of construction workers from Clovis and Portales, who are building the new ENMU science center across the street, have been joining students for lunch and even offered to help pay for some of the costs, Lowry-King said.
“We saw the big sign outside and we started coming over,” said construction site supervisor Bobby Ortega of Portales. “We like the homemade food and the preaching when John talks to us a little bit. We get inspired. We like coming back and meeting the volunteers and students.”
Among the faithful volunteers who help on Wednesdays are Terry Davis from First United Methodist Church in Portales and Andy Husted, who lives in Portales and attends Elida Methodist Church.
“I like to talk to the students and say ‘hi’ to the construction workers,” said Husted, as he walked around the room visiting with people.
The Wesley Foundation student center is open weekdays for any students who want to come relax on the comfortable couches, play games, visit with friends, play the piano or use the building’s wireless Internet access for their computers, Lowry-King said.