Jodee Helwig admits she didn't know what to expect when heading down to South Padre Island for Spring Break. She knew there'd be plenty of partying going on, but as a participant in the Beach Reach mission project, she also knew she wouldn't be part of it.
"I really had no idea what to expect," said Helwig, a sophomore religion major at Wayland Baptist University who hails from Robert Lee. "I was nervous and scared, but my prayer going into it was for me to see the people there through Christ's eyes and love them in spite of what they had in their hands or in spite of what they had on."
Helwig said that's exactly what happened. She and the six other Wayland students who attended Beach Reach as a ministry of First Baptist Church of Plainview during WBU's spring break had to set aside their personal judgment and see others in love.
A ministry aimed specifically at partying spring breakers, Beach Reach involved around 440 students who worked shifts serving morning breakfasts, midnight breakfasts and running a free shuttle bus service up and down the island from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. During bus duty, the Wayland group traveled together, picking up vacationers from the various restaurants, bars and party locales and delivering them to hotels and other party locations. During the rides, WBU students witnessed to the passengers and visited with them about God.
"It's incredible how open people were to talk to us - on the vans, at breakfast and on the beach," said Eddy Curry, First Baptist Church education minister who accompanied the group. "They're really seeking. They know when they get on our vans that we're going to talk to them about their spiritual lives, and they don't mind."
The group was able to lead six individuals to the Lord during the week at South Padre, and Helwig said one girl who just happened on their bus had a literal transformation.
"We went to pick up a group of kids and they didn't show up, but there was one girl in the parking lot we gave a ride to. You could tell she was searching for something. She ended up accepting Christ right there on the bus, and it really was like seeing a new creation," Helwig said.
Helwig said the week was not easy, and Beach Reach participants knew that they had to take each opportunity as it came, not knowing if they would ever get the chance to visit with a student again.
"It was all about being sensitive to the Holy Spirit and when the door was open, you took it. It was about truly loving people and seeing them through Christ's eyes. You had to get past the outward appearance and get to their hearts."
Seeing people through God's eyes and serving unselfishly was also the theme of another group of missionaries from Wayland. About a dozen students loaded up vans and headed for El Paso and then Juarez, Mexico for mission work during their spring break, sponsored by the Baptist Student Ministries and director Donnie Brown. Among those was Alma Caballero, a sophomore from Lubbock majoring in pre-Christian counseling. For her, the week was a humbling experience as the group did building projects for a pair of Mexican orphanages and did Bible stories and crafts with the orphan residents.
"We cooked breakfast, lunch and dinner for the kids at the Benito Juarez Orphanage, and one day for lunch we fixed hot dogs. The kids' faces just lit up, because they don't get hot dogs very often," she recalled. "I came back with a different outlook on life and school. I complain about pizza in the cafeteria but these kids only get pizza every two months or so."
Caballero said she was struck by the loving nature of the children, who ranged in age from 6 - 16. The afternoons were spent leading Bible stories, crafts, games, songs and puppet shows - all in Spanish, which represented a challenge for most of the students.
"I can speak it and understand it, but I'm not usually forced to use Spanish," Caballero said. "There, I spoke it all the time and found myself thinking in Spanish."
Another humbling experience for Caballero was learning what a privilege education is in Mexico, due for the most part to fees required to move up in grade levels.
"When one of the kids prayed, he thanked God for the Americans, because he knew we were there because of Him. He prayed, 'Thank you that I can study,' because he has been able to go to school," Caballero recalled. "That really humbled me because we tend to have a hard time getting up to go study yet they struggle so much and see it as a privilege."
The group was joined for a few days by the Baptist Student Ministries group from the University of Texas at El Paso. The students distributed flyers on four campuses of the university in Juarez advertising a large rally being held. In their free time, they went mountain climbing and saw the sights in Juarez, including eating at an authentic Mexican restaurant complete with mariachi singers, Aztec dancers and cock fights.
Caballero said she came home with a renewed sense of service and wants to put her service to work in her own community. And she admitted she came away with a bit more than just the great memories and lessons learned.
"I got addicted to Mexican Coca-Cola," she laughed. "If anything, I'll go back to Mexico just for the Coke."