By Robert Crozier, The Daily Iowan 
One local church continues to open its doors to international students arriving at the University of Iowa by offering free necessities.
Faith Baptist Church, 1251 Village Road, will host its 11th-annual International Furniture Giveaway on Aug. 17, an event Assistant Pastor Jake Mangold said is the biggest way the congregation meets students.
In August 2012, approximately 250 students from a number of counties received around 350 pieces of furniture with no strings attached.
This year’s turnout should be about the same, he said, noting that the church also gives appliances, kitchen utensils, and other household items.
“The actual day of the giveaway is nutso …” Mangold said.
Volunteers bus the students from the Main Library to the church, sit them down, collect their addresses, explain how the Giveaway works, talk about Jesus Christ for around 15 minutes, and then send them all into the backyard to pick out what they want. The service is only available to international students attending the UI.
To reach out to the students, event organizers work with International Programs in putting a flier in Orientation packets, whose staff may refer students who need furniture to the program, said Laura Holtkamp, a UI International Student & Scholar adviser.
The UI works with many religious organizations, Holtkamp said, noting that staff members are very particular about what items are included in the packet.
When asked about her thoughts on the church’s sermon practices, Holtkamp said she and fellow staff members weren’t aware of them and referred further questions to Joan Kjaer, the International Programs strategic communications officer.
“One thing everybody needs when they land in a new place is a table, chair, desk … basic things,” she said. “International students will be exposed to many things in the States that may be new to them or unfamiliar, but that’s part of the joy of an international experience. It is certainly up to each individual to take part or not, as he or she sees fit.”
Kjaer allowed that a religious message might not be for everybody. Students who don’t want to go are not obligated to, she said.
UI graduate student Sang Kyun “Danny” Kang, a Ph.D. candidate in linguistics from South Korea, said in addition to giving the furniture, an added benefit is the church’s free delivery service.
Kang said he arrived late to the giveaway in 2007 and was only able to take away a few frying pans and silverware, but that didn’t stop him from joining the congregation and later volunteering to help make the deliveries.
“We get there, and we see their faces — so happy,” he said. “… I think it’s one of the reasons we volunteer.”
Of the 15-minute sermon, Kang said church leaders tell international students what they are going to do, how, and why.
“And the why part is the message part,” he said.
Although Kang was baptized in 2004 after reading the Bible to learn English, he and Mangold both said that the vast majority of people participating in the Giveaway program — many of whom hail from India or China — are not Christians.
Church members offer to serve students as conversation partners, Kang said, adding that he himself started going to church in 2003 for exactly that reason — conversation partners, in addition to the free food.
Between seven and 15 international students now attend the church during the school year, he said.
The congregation starts collecting furniture in May, Mangold said. The members post fliers in local apartment complexes during moving season to glean furniture that might otherwise end up in the Dumpster, and they can count on some students who received furniture in the past to give back when they leave the country.
Also, the church uses a portion of the donations to purchase furniture at auctions and garage sales, before storing it in a garage behind the building.
Today, all manner of chairs, desks, dressers, and beds are piled nearly to the ceiling.
UI junior Huimeng Yang, a native of China, said the Giveaway provided a benefit to international students. “I already bought furniture myself, so I won’t go there, but I will tell other people who need this,” she said.
She has never heard anybody talk about Christianity before, she said, noting that in China, they are not allowed to talk about religious beliefs in public.
She said she isn’t sure if she would be interested in hearing the religious message, but she said the thought does not make her uncomfortable.