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Asian American church reaches college students in Austin

September 16th, 2020 / By: Erin Roach | TEXAN Correspondent / comments

Asian American church reaches college students in Austin

Pastor Charles Lee and his wife Carol host a newcomers dinner in their home to welcome new students at the University of Texas at Austin to the ministry of Acts Fellowship Church. Photos submitted

AUSTIN  In a day when many Southern Baptist churches struggle to reach college students, they are abundant at Acts Fellowship Church in Austin, a predominantly Asian American congregation the pastor described as genuine followers of Christ.  

“College students, if they are Christians, are looking for a community of faith that loves the Lord and at the same time are very authentic about their faith, not just going through the religious motions,” pastor Charles Lee told the TEXAN.

Acts Fellowship began in 1992 as a department of Korean Baptist Church in Austin with a goal of reaching second-generation Asian American students at the University of Texas. Lee was part of the ministry from the beginning.

“I was a student at the University of Texas at Austin, and I was attending the church,” Lee said, adding that he sensed a call to the ministry and upon graduation enrolled at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. He commuted for five years from Fort Worth to Austin to continue serving as an associate pastor at Acts Fellowship. In 1999, he became the pastor.

In 2004, Acts Fellowship became an autonomous congregation and met in a movie theater until settling at the facilities of Skyview Baptist Church in Austin, where they still meet. The church has about 150 students now, and the congregation has grown to include young adults, married couples and children. Before coronavirus, about 250 people attended the church on Sundays.

“Since the beginning of our ministry, we’ve probably had over 30 people that have gone to seminary, so that’s kind of interesting,” Lee said.

Acts Fellowship is predominantly Asian American but not exclusively, he said.

“We reach out to whoever God leads our way, but I would say the vast majority are Asian Americans who prefer to speak the English language,” Lee said.

Most of the students would say they’re from a church background, he said, but a significant number of those they reach don’t start as genuine Christians. “They just grew up in the church,” Lee said. 

“We reach out to a handful of people that have no church background. They just met some of our students and were invited to be a part of our ministry, and they come to know Christ,” the pastor said.

As time goes on, Lee notices new challenges in reaching college students. 

“I feel like they’re a little more spiritually distant now versus when I was in college,” he said. “At the same time, I feel like as a culture we have moved a little further away from God, so there’s a lot more students, I feel, that are unreached, that have no church background. 

“We do encounter more people that choose not to respond to the gospel, and they’d rather continue to live their lives apart from God.”

Acts Fellowship emphasizes the Great Commission and is involved in three annual mission trips, though the global pandemic disrupted those plans this year. For the past eight years, the church has sent a team to Cambodia for three weeks. They have also been sending people to New Mexico to work with Navajo Indians over the last eight years, and they also send a team to a special-needs camp in Missouri called Camp Barnabas.

“We’re continuing to work to see how we can be more involved in missions. We also have a group that goes out to serve on a monthly basis at a place called Community First here locally,” Lee said.

Acts Fellowship is a strong supporter of missions through the Cooperative Program also, and Lee said that’s important “because there should be no lone ranger Christians.”

“As a church, I believe we belong to a greater body,” Lee, a member of the Executive Board of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, said.

“I get to see firsthand how things are run and how cooperative efforts benefit the kingdom of God,” he said. “I strongly believe that together we can do more than just one church trying to do everything or to reinvent everything ourselves.”

As he looks to the church’s future, Lee is optimistic.

“I’m excited that we’re able to reach a younger crowd and hope that we can establish a strong foundation upon which to raise the next generation of believers that will be able to go even further than we have.

“It’s exciting and very energizing working with younger people, and I see a lot of hope,” he said. 

“I look forward to what God has in store in allowing us to reach the greater Austin area. This area is growing, and it’s an opportunity to be able to take the gospel to them and to see people respond in faith and for our church to be able to disciple them and raise them up as strong, mature believers in Christ.”