Boxes of frozen chicken and plates full of pancakes don't sound like ministry tools to most folks. But for participants in two different mission trips taken through Wayland Baptist University's Baptist Student Ministries last week, those two were key to the mission work.
Three students and Wayland employee Teresa Young headed for Arlington for Spring Break to serve at Mission Arlington/Mission Metroplex. Another 11 students and two sponsors - BSM Director Donnie Brown and First Baptist Church education minister Eddie Curry - pointed their van to South Padre Island for a week at Beach Reach.
The Mission Arlington trip, probably the more traditional of the two options, began on Sunday. Students from all over the country ascended on the ministry, which offers benevolence programs from dental and medical care to clothing and food to the needy in the Arlington and Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex area. Mission Arlington also leads Bible studies and after-school programs for adults and children in many apartment complexes across the area.
Along with about 400 other students, the four from Wayland spent their mornings doing service projects for the mission and its apartment properties. The first day was spent hauling 40-pound boxes of frozen chicken to one complex, where the students gave it out to interested apartment residents. The students also placed fliers on hundreds of doors advertising the week's Rainbow Express offerings, a Bible club for children held at the apartments, and other Mission Arlington services.
"We worked really hard during those mornings, hauling food and moving an apartment office to another building," said Young, director of communications at Wayland and the group's sponsor. "It definitely wasn't a typical, restful Spring Break, but we knew we were where God wanted us to be and He would bless our efforts."
During the afternoons, the group traveled to Irving to lead a Rainbow Express at apartments. An average of 26 children came daily to the four-day afternoon Bible club, which featured songs, games, crafts, Bible stories and puppets. The students were able to share the gospel story with the children and two prayed to accept Christ during the week.
"Those kids didn't know much about love. It floored me to see how some of those kids opened up to us just in those four days," said Angie Wilson, a sophomore from Hobbs, N.M. who went on the trip. "In the end, they didn't want us to leave. And it broke my heart too, to get to know them and then have to leave them."
The lessons learned for the Wayland group were valuable, both personally and spiritually.
"When I got there, I knew it would be fun and hard work, but God really helped me do an attitude check during the week," Wilson said. "I learned that you don't always get to do fun stuff. Sometimes you have to do stuff you don't want to do, and when you're obedient, God chooses to bless you. The service projects were obedience and the bible clubs were a blessing. Sometimes to learn new things and reach people, you have to step out of that comfort zone."
"I definitely learned that serving God requires you to be flexible and willing. It seemed strange at the time, but I know He can use those chicken donations to win people to Him and I was glad to be a small part of that work," she said. "The children were fun, of course, and we enjoyed just getting to love on them all week. It was also amazing to see that even in our own state there are many who have never heard the story of Jesus and what He did for us. It was great to be the first to tell some of those children the gospel story."
The Beach Reach group had a bit more nontraditional experience. Beginning Sunday evening, the group's primary tasks were to operate a free shuttle service out of their van, transporting Spring Break vacationers up and down the island from bars to hotels and back. While on the van, the students were able to witness to their partying peers and share the gospel.
As part of more than 200 Beach Reach participants, the Wayland group also took shifts at the free morning pancake breakfasts held at a local church for spring breakers and a midnight version of the same held outside a popular Padre night spot. At both events, students ate pancakes with visitors and had the chance to witness to them.
Wayland junior Kyle Parker of Plainview was one of the designated drivers, which left him with little time to really visit. But he said the other students had plenty of time to share since the two- or three-mile van ride often took 20-30 minutes due to heavy Spring Break traffic. He said the ministry was both emotionally difficult and greatly needed.
"That's the furthest spiritually stretched that you'll ever come," Parker said. "Once you cross the causeway, you're entering a whole different world. It's spiritual warfare, and you're tempted with so many things. You are exposed to things a lot of people may never have seen before. It's difficult to stay focused on why you're there."
Parker said the week was draining because of the struggle to be loving to the partygoers without being judgmental. The vacationers were also more open than he expected and some even sought him out.
"At one of the pancake breakfasts, I had a guy come up to me and say, 'I'm tired of leading this kind of lifestyle. I want something else,'" Parker recalled. "We thought a lot of people would just shut us out, but 90 percent of them are very receptive to what you have to say."
Shawn Mahannah, a sophomore from Panhandle, found his first experience at Beach Reach eye-opening, given the climate of drinking and partying typically going on there. Though his early efforts at sharing the gospel were fruitless and frustrating, he said he finally was able to lead a man to the Lord and that taught him a lesson.
"I spent some time in the prayer room and God just really took a hold of me," Mahannah said. "He showed me that if I stayed faithful to him, he would be faithful to me. Afterward, at one of the breakfasts, I shared with one guy and that one guy accepted Christ. God showed me that He will use me to win people to him."
Mahannah said he also learned not to put limitations on God, such as thinking the group could not witness to those who had been drinking. Instead, he said God proved that He could work in those people's lives as well.
"I think the one big thing students learned was that you have to be intentional about evangelism. It doesn't just happen," said BSM Director Donnie Brown. "Scripture says to be ready in season and out of season to give a response and that's what we learned.
"We also learned about the power of prayer. There was prayer going on constantly. We had fifty people come to Christ and the gospel was presented about 5,000 times over the week. We learned that the results were really left up to God. We were just doing what we were commanded to do."