MESA, AZ — The temperature may be 105 degrees – 101 in the shade – at 7 p.m., but as the locals say, it’s a dry heat.
Try telling that to seven collegiate summer missionaries from Georgia who find themselves undergirding the work of a church planter in suburban Phoenix.
In an arid, high desert place known as the Valley of the Sun.
And, just days before Tuesday’s June 13 opening sessions of the Southern Baptist Convention’s annual meeting.
Collegiate Ministries of the Georgia Baptist Mission Board sends out more than 100 missionaries each summer through its popular Send Me Now outreach.
And this summer one such group drawn from across the state, under the leadership of Augusta University Campus Minister Chris Bryan, served in the Phoenix suburb of Mesa to bring Christ to the inner city.
‘Send Me Now is what the Great Commission is all about’
Russell Lawless from Savannah, campus minister intern at Georgia State University’s BCM and part of the Mesa team, said Send Me Now is what the Great Commission is all about … going and sharing the gospel.
“Every place where we serve worships God and does church differently. That make for a very interesting experience to see how others experience God.
“But the bottom line is that we are here to worship God and serve Him. People everywhere are born and die … some go to heaven, some go to hell. We are responsible for telling as many as possible that God loves them,” he says.
This week that love translated into pulling up carpet older than the collegians themselves in a former church. That, in itself, would not have been a difficult chore until they discovered it had all been glued to the concrete floor. Which meant renting a sander to remove all the glue, then mopping up the dust and wiping down the baseboards and wall where the sander had slung glue residue.
Then the volunteers found themselves mopping the floor to remove the dust from the sander, and then scrapping the residual glue.
It meant sorting pants and shirts, skirts, and blouses in a clothing ministry for the needy. And packing canned goods into easy-to-carry bags for the hungry who come to the church in its working poor neighborhood.
If the students learned anything in their missions exercise, it was the importance of being flexible.
After a few hours rest they freshen up to lead an evening soccer camp, building relationships with residents to introduce them to the relaunched church on the corner.
This week they were helping North American Mission Board church planter Tim Lesher and his congregation at Bridge Mesa … a relaunch of MacDonald Road Baptist Church, which had closed its doors and given its property to Valley Rim Association.
For years the association maintained the site – known as Case de Amore – as a neighborhood distribution center for food and clothing. However, it lacked a worship presence. The association asked Bridge Phoenix to assume responsibility for the ministry, and the congregation agreed – if it could also relaunch the church.
The association was delighted with the idea and Lesher and his wife, April, invested their lives in the community. It is the fifth church plant in which Lesher has participated. He and April met through a church planting encounter and were later married.
Casa de More has since been expanded to include a pregnancy resource center and other compassion ministries that introduce the neighborhood to Christ.
Mackenzie Molter, a senior at the University of Georgia, is no stranger to missions. She has participated on five mission trips that her church – Summit Baptist in Loganville – takes each summer to a ministry in Shelby, NC.
She has served there in Vacation Bible School, worked in the clothing ministry, and performed manual labor not unlike what she is doing in Mesa.
Helping people spiritually and physically
“Those trips really hooked me on missions. I had no idea what to expect but it was really fun … and a lot of work. But I learned how much I enjoyed helping other people both spiritually and physically,” she says.
Molter first learned about BCM through a friend who was already involved at UGA. She loved the small group emphasis so much that she and her group leader will be rooming together this Fall.
“A small group like we have in the BCM is great for building accountability to keep myself focused and spiritually grounded. There are so many distractions, both good and bad, in the jump from high school to college life, that you need that spiritual network,” she adds.
While at UGA she is an active member at First Baptist Church of Watkinsville.
Augusta campus minister Chris Bryan, who coordinated the Mesa trip with students from across the state, emphasized the need for students like Molter to be connected to a church while in college.
“BCM is a partnership with the local church. We don’t compete but work together for the spiritual development of our students,” he says while taking a break from moving furniture from Sunday School rooms.
“We want our students to support their church away from home and for that church to support the student. “These are possibly the most important years of development in the student’s lives as they shape their worldview. It’s important that their worldview have a Christian dimension, and they get that through BCM.”