'Simply tremendous': 350 students make salvation decisions at Wild Adventures amusement park, 185 others sense call to ministry


VALDOSTA, Ga. — More than 350 Georgia students made commitments to Christ at the Wild Adventures amusement park in Valdosta on Thursday and Friday, providing a spiritual grand finale to a year that will be remembered for large numbers of salvation decisions.

More than 2,500 people attended the Georgia Baptist Mission Board’s annual MOVE Conference, a two-day evangelistic outreach for middle and high school students at a venue billed as 170 acres of rides, slides and exotic animals.

In addition to the students who became followers of Christ, another 185 sensed calls to ministry, said Chris Trent, the Mission Board’s next generation catalyst who organized the event.

“It was tremendous because we saw so many decisions made for the Lord,” Trent said. “From the moment we walked on stage, there was just something happening. It felt like the Holy Spirit was moving from the very start. Getting to see that many decisions from teenagers was just simply tremendous.”

The Mission Board organizes the MOVE Conference, the largest winter evangelism initiative for teenagers in Georgia, as a service to the state’s churches, many of which have made it a mainstay of their youth ministries.

Trent, who was a longtime youth minister before joining the Mission Board staff, said he loves seeing churches from across Georgia coming together at Wild Adventures to have fun and worship together while hearing biblical preaching.

“I love getting to be a part of it, and I’m thankful for my team that makes this thing happen,” he said.

Stephen Fraser, student minister at Bethesda Baptist Church in Ellerslie, said he has brought his students to the MOVE Conference for the past three years.

“We’ve seen God move among our students,” Fraser said. “The Georgia Baptist Mission Board is a ministry I can trust. They always have topnotch worship leaders and speakers who I know are going to share the gospel and really challenge and encourage our students. They have done a good job of giving a call to students to respond to salvation but, even more so in the past few years, to respond if God is calling them to ministry.”

Kevin Stout, student pastor Central Baptist church in Warner Robins, said scheduling the event between Christmas and New Year’s Day, gives students something to do when little else is on their schedules.

“MOVE is a trustworthy event where I can bring students so that I know they’re going to hear the gospel proclaimed,” Stout said. “They’re going to hear phenomenal, engaging worship. They’re going to have a great time. There are clear calls to action for our students to make a decision, whether it’s to accept Christ as Lord and Savior or to accept a call into ministry.”

Church leaders across Georgia reported “a widespread spiritual hunger” since the COVID-19 pandemic subsided. The cumulative results have been eye catching. In 2022 alone, Georgia churches reported a 47 percent increase in baptisms. And anecdotal evidence suggests the moment may have grown stronger in 2023.

For example, some 1,600 people responded to the gospel during a four-day crusade in Baxley in October.

At East Georgia State College in early December, 19-year-old Robbie Lane, an aspiring minister and starting shortstop on the school’s baseball team, baptized 11 of his teammates who came to Christ in a campus Bible study.

Abilene Baptist Church outside Augusta had 107 salvation decisions on a single day in August.

Kevin Williams, pastor at First Baptist Church of Villa Rica, said he's seeing  what he describes as a spiritual shift that is bringing the Bible back to the Bible Belt.

“People are searching for truth,” he said in August,  a day after 220 students in Carroll County, Ga., surrendered their lives to Christ. “We’re living in a time that the Bible warns about, when people will be calling wrong right and right wrong. We’ve reached a point where people are saying enough is enough. It’s like a switch has flipped and things are going back the right direction.”

First Baptist Church of Centralhatchee, population 400, reported 72 salvation decisions in a single day in early August. At about the same time, some two hours away in Fayetteville, 42 people made salvation decisions in a Sunday morning worship service at McDonough Road Baptist Church, as did 54 people at an event sponsored by the Columbus Baptist Association.

Jenni Carter, kids ministry consultant for the Georgia Baptist Mission Board, said thousands of children made salvation decisions during the summer break at Vacation Bible Schools held at churches across the state.

Carter said churches of every size and in every region of the state reported not only the highest attendance in years at Vacation Bible School but also large numbers of children committing their lives to Christ.

At Fayetteville’s New Hope Baptist Church, 86 children responded to the gospel during Vacation Bible School attended by more than 630 children on the congregation's two campuses in June.

More than 30 migrant workers who came to southwest Georgia to harvest watermelons prayed to receive Christ at dinner at First Baptist Church of Rochelle in July.

At the Georgia Baptist Mission Board’s IMPACT camp on the Shorter University campus, 73 students made salvation decisions and 31 others said they felt that God was calling them into ministry.

A Simons Island youth retreat hosted by the Council of Korean Southern Baptist Churches of Georgia resulted in 15 students making salvation decisions.

At least 27 students in Stephens, Banks and Franklin counties have made professions of faith during the school year that just ended through Christian learning centers that provide students a place to study the Bible and pray together.

Center Baptist Church in Robertstown recorded 37 salvation decisions at a trout tournament on the Chattahoochee River that drew more than 400 people to the Chattahoochee River.

In the first quarter of this year, 119 college and university students made salvation decisions through Baptist Collegiate Ministries, said Beverly Skinner, collegiate ministry catalyst for the Mission Board.

In some instances, several churches in a single community have joined together for evangelistic outreaches, as was the case with Love Loud Bowden, where 32 people made professions of faith.

In February, 41 people surrendered to Christ at a wild game dinner in the fellowship hall at Bethel Baptist Church in the tiny community of Omega where some 400 men had gathered.

In January, First Baptist Church in Blackshear reported 19 professions of faith at a venison supper. Another 28 people recommitted their lives to Christ at that event.