This is the second of a dozen stories highlighting the upcoming annual meeting of the Georgia Baptist Convention in Savannah. The stories, which will be published on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday for the next four weeks, will include both convention-related content and a look at how the Savannah Baptist Association is making a Kingdom impact in Coastal Georgia.
SAVANNAH — On a Tuesday night, a dorm room at Armstrong State University is transformed into a First Century church of sorts as believers gather for a Bible study. But rather than meeting in a home the half-dozen students cluster on couches and chairs in the small living room to delve into the topic of choice.
Sometimes they study a book from the Bible; on this Fall evening the study focuses on a devotional book called Open Your Bible. Roommates Haley Cook and Anna Johnson lead the group through a discussion of how to understand the Bible and make it relevant to their lives.
Such is just one of the many experiences which the university’s Baptist Collegiate Ministry (BCM) brings to the school’s nearly 7,000 students. Throughout the year up to 150 students gather to pray, study, and work out their faith in witnessing to fellow classmates and providing public service projects in the community.
And in doing so they create bonds that last a lifetime and transform the lives which brush up against their own.
Throughout the year they can be found serving in a church children’s ministry, folding items in a clothes closet, or serving meals to the disadvantaged at the Savannah Baptist Center. Others will be slinging hammers while nailing roofing shingles or wielding a paint brush on a home in bad need of repair.
For 22 years this Fall, Tony Branham has served in campus ministry – with the last seven at Armstrong. He has since added a newer educational institution – the 4,000-student body College of Coastal Georgia, just down the intestate in another port city, Brunswick – to his workload. Branham sees his role as a Georgia Baptist missionary to college students as being critical to the spiritual development of future leaders in churches as well as society at large.
“This year our theme is “investment” and is based on I Thess. 2:8 and model the Apostle Paul’s example of not just taking the gospel to others, but take the extra step and invest ourselves in their live … the act of discipling. That is what we are all about in Baptist Collegiate Ministries,” he explains.
At Armstrong, the main weekly get-together is the weekly noon lunch each Wednesday provided by area churches. It sets aside a time for students to step aside from their hectic schedules and relax and allows the churches to learn ways they can minister to the students, many of whom are far from family and home.
Ministry backbone is small groups
But perhaps the real backbone is the 10 small groups that meet at different times and locations in a more intimate setting. In those moments students let their guards down and search scripture for insight on how to relate to life and build on their spiritual foundation.
Some of the groups met in coffee shops or dorm rooms, others in the BCM building or campus commons areas. There are male and female, and others based on just male or female attendees.
Out of those groups grow commitments to take their faith outside the BCM and into the lives of others. Opportunities such as community ministry or Send Me Now summer missions, take students across town or around the world.
“We always have good participation through our Spring Break mission trips which are largely in Georgia, experiences such as working in the resort ministry at Helen First Baptist Church or in other varied settings statewide. There is variety so students have different experiences each year.
Last year our students raised $5,800, above their $5,500 goal, for Send Me Now. Those funds are combined with those from all other BCM groups and are used to provide for all expenses for students who apply for a summer mission trip. All of that is coordinated out of the Collegiate Ministries department at the Georgia Baptist Mission Board headquarters up in Atlanta,” Branham explains.
The Armstrong focus is Connect (to God), Belong (to a community of faith), Grow (spiritually), and Go (serve through missions on campus or elsewhere).
Taught to grow spiritually, share Christ with others
“Our students are taught it is not adequate to grow spiritually just to be better, but grow in order to bear fruit and share Christ with others.”
Most students, when they first arrive on campus, are a “small fish in a very big pond.” BCM gives them a safe place to discover who they are in their new and exciting journey in their life and how to make good decisions without parental involvement. We give them a secure place to grow and a support group that cares about them in a non-judgmental way regardless if they are already believers or not.
Much of that occurs in the small groups like the dorm Bible study led by Cook and Johnson. That’s where relationships develop and bonds are strengthened between believers and non-believers alike.
“This is my first semester leading a Bible study through BCM, though I have led them at my church, Burnt Hickory in Powder Springs outside of Atlanta. I want to encourage girls to read the Word and experience God for themselves. It’s my responsibility to disciple and share my beliefs and experiences with others.
“I want to help them fully grasp the meaning of a relationship with God,” Johnson says.
BCM: Shaping tomorrow’s leaders, today
That, in a nutshell, is BCM’s role in shaping tomorrow’s leaders and creating a better society. BCM adds a spiritual dimension to college and university life that creates a well-rounded educational experience and brings God front-and-center into the quest for answers to life’s questions.
Tony Branham is one of 22 fulltime Baptist Collegiate Ministry campus directors serving through the Georgia Baptist Mission Board. He and 10 other part-time directors and six interns serve, through the generosity of gifts to the Cooperative Program and Mission: Georgia state mission offering, in 50 locations statewide. He began his ministry 30 years ago as an intern at Georgia College and State University in Milledgeville.