OTTAWA, Canada — On a brisk May 7 this year, Rick Jenkins and a team of seven Baptist Collegiate Ministry students hunkered down against the snow falling in downtown Ottawa as they began a day of ministry.
One month later on June 7, an identical-numbered team from Georgia Baptist colleges sweated in 105-degree heat in suburban Phoenix, AZ to bring Christ to a working poor neighborhood.
And this morning, going into the Fourth of July weekend, Georgia BCM President Emmy Reichart dealt with the stifling humidity of New Orleans’ French Quarter as she and her team scouted ministry opportunities in the city’s historic neighborhood.
Students participating in summer missions through Collegiate Ministries often serve in a variety of settings. The circumstance can be as challenging weather-wise as spiritually. “I can’t tell you how surprised we were to find snow in early May,” Jenkins said.
Ministering in snow in early May
This summer’s outreach of students from around the state is in full swing, setting aside a lucrative time of working to fund their fall semester in exchange for service to Christ and Kingdom building.
Collegiate Ministries sends out missionaries each summer through its popular Send Me Now outreach ministry. State missionary Clarissa Morrison says students serve around the corner and around the world as they volunteer a week, a month, or their entire summer to sharing Christ with the unchurched.
A total of 132 are being lead this summer by 9 campus ministers throughout Georgia, the nation, and seven international locations.
Jenkins, who serves as campus minister at Columbus State University, LaGrange College, and Andrew College, led the first trip of the summer barely after classes ended.
He and five Georgia students joined two from South Carolina colleges to spend a week in Canada’s capital. There, they helped a church planter build visibility for his new congregation. They toured Parliament and met with Christians serving in government. In addition, they ministered on the campus of Carlton University and at the University of Ottawa.
“Canada is only 1.5 percent evangelical, so the needs are great and the students learned just what it was like to be in the spiritual minority,” Jenkins explained.
“The number of students approaches 100,000, with a large cross-cultural population from East Asia (usually considered to be China, Taiwan, Japan and, South Korea) and Central Asia (Russia and its former republics such as the ‘-stans” or Kazakhstan, Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, and Kyrgyzstan).
“The challenges are as diverse as the language and cultural differences,” he adds. Many of those being reached know little about Christianity; befriending and inviting them to worship services – especially a popular worship gathering in a park – will go far in strengthening the church planter’s work.”
Jenkins and the church planter – Chris Julian with the International Mission Board – had served together for several years in South America. Julian moved to Canada a year ago, around the same time Jenkins returned to the states to accept his campus ministry position.
The Georgia Baptist team is the first to be used to help Julian build his congregation from the bottom up.
Jenkins says such experiences are eye-opening for many students who were raised in the South and have not traveled very far from their roots. It can be surprising to live in a different world and share their faith with students who know nothing about Christianity.
Students were part of the worship service at the Church in the Park, a weekly outreach of the new church plant. It gave the Georgians additional opportunity to meet with students from around the world and begin conversations on spiritual matters.
Sweating in 105-degree heat in suburban Phoenix
A few thousand miles away in Phoenix, Georgia Baptist students ripped carpet from the floors of an old church that was being relaunched as a new congregation. Under the carpet students found glue which bound the old rug – most likely far older than themselves – to the floor and which had to be removed.
It was a hot, sweaty job with an industrial sander with temperatures in the low 100s that was followed by an evening of leading a soccer camp across the street from the church – in 105-degree heat.
Other days were spent doing general repairs around the church which had faced years of delayed maintenance.
North American Church Planter Tim Lesher, who is launching Bridge Mesa, is grateful to the students helping the church gain visibility in the community.
Down in New Orleans, Reichart shepherded her team of seven collegians throughout The Big Easy as they began on a six-week odyssey of mapping the Irish Channel. The neighborhood adjacent to the Garden District was settled by Irish immigrants more than a century ago. Today, it is one of several neighborhoods being considered by the North American Mission Board for a church plant.
High humidity in New Orleans, high hopes for a church plant
But before a church can be launched, there need to be boots on the ground scouting out the neighborhood to determine its socio-economic base and spiritual temperament.
That includes making notes of grocery stores and shops, restaurants, the kind of multi-family and single-family housing available, and any other churches in the community. And, it includes an afternoon crawfish luncheon on the front porch of a family befriended through the students’ presence and questioning.
All of that information will be rolled into a report and given to the North American Mission Board, the trip’s sponsor.
The summer outreach is a part of the Alpharetta-based agency’s Generation Send program which utilizes collegians on summer immersion mission experiences.
The experience is one of many available to Georgia Baptist collegians seeking to learn more about ministry and how they can work missions into their everyday lives … and how they can bring back to their own community what they learned on the road during the summer.
More information on Send Me Now summer opportunities, including questions about the application process and what is required for semester missions opportunities, can be found on its site.