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AU News

Spring Break Outreach: Students Minister in LA, Florida

April 5, 2023
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Two groups of Anderson University students were on opposite ends of the country sharing Jesus’ love over Spring Break. Teams traveled to Los Angeles (left) and Panama City Beach, Florida (right).

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Anderson University students shared Jesus’ love in a variety of ways over Spring Break. 

According to James Hanson, director of campus ministries and campus pastor, the goal of these short-term trips is to expose students to the ministry opportunities and to possibly catch a vision for where God may be leading them beyond that.

Los Angeles, California

Four students went to Los Angeles to minister to homeless individuals and human trafficking victims, in partnership with Send Network in Los Angeles through the North American Mission Board. Partnering with Set Free LA, a local church that reaches out to individuals who are homeless and struggling with drug addiction, students went to Skid Row, an area containing block after block of homeless people. Leading the group was Kaitlyn Jenkins, assistant campus minister.

The students were Tyler Henson, Berkley Richards, Joshua Tofel and Madison Weeks.

“Truly, I feel like we did a little bit of everything,” said Jenkins. “The main parts of the trip were geared at working with people of the homeless community as well as women involved with trafficking.” 

Richards, a secondary social studies education major, said that before going to Skid Row, some members of Set Free LA shared testimonies of how Jesus changed their lives.

“They looked like this group of dudes that—I don’t want to say scary—but look intimidating. The great thing about it is that they are able to use their testimony and their story to the other people on the streets and say ‘hey, I was like this nine months, a year, two years ago’—whatever it is, and say ‘Look at me. I was where you were. See how I’ve been delivered now.’”

Jenkins said, “We set up about six long foldout tables. We had a table full of clothes, we had hot dogs, chips, drinks, rice cakes and truly that community could just come and walk through and grab anything they needed.” 

“I would say there were at least three or four blocks; there were people out there shoulder-to-shoulder sitting on the ground or maybe in a foldout chair or they had their tents set up in rows,” said Richards. One man Richards encountered said had come to Los Angeles a while ago pursuing a dream shared by many who headed west—to break into the entertainment industry. Things didn’t pan out and he was evicted. 

“He comes out to the road actually and is waving his hands and he’s going ‘hey you guys, I need prayer.’ We get on the crosswalk, go to that side of the street and talk with him. He’s got an old couch cushion and a few other possessions. We’re just sitting there listening and he’s telling us his story,” Richards said. He also met a woman known in the community as the “Bible trivia lady,” who spends her time on Skid Row ministering to others.

“The girls didn’t take part in this, but the guys rode the subway system. Their whole time on the subway was just sharing the gospel with people around them. They would stop at different stops of the subway just trying to share the gospel. One student was sharing the whole time ‘I was so scared to do it,’ but it didn’t stop him from doing it,” Jenkins said. “I think it really encouraged them to step out of their comfort zones… just with the heart of wanting people to come to know the Lord.”

Jenkins commented that although there are limits to what someone can do on a short-term mission trip, she feels they were able to “love on” people with Jesus’ love while they were there. They also assisted in helping their host church remove carpeting damaged from recent flooding.

Some students had gone on mission trips before, some had not, but Jenkins commented, “I feel like they were willing vessels in the aspect of truly just whatever was asked and whatever was needed, they were eager to do that.”

“There are just a lot of stigmas and stereotypes here that out in California, in LA, there’s a lot of drugs and all of this sin and things like that, but in reality, sin is everywhere and they are no different from us; they just made some different life choices; but they’re still human and they’re still God’s creation and we should treat them as such, get on their level and build connections with them,” Richards said. 

Panama City Beach, Florida

A group of students from Anderson University, along with James Hanson, director of campus ministries and campus pastor, and Teagan Dunning, residence director of Stringer and Whitaker, traveled to Panama City for a week of personal evangelism with students at the popular spring break destination. They were there along with colleges and universities and college departments of several Southern Baptist churches from several states as part of BeachReach, organized by Baptist Collegiate Ministries (BCM).

The students were Trinity Bagnati, Gabriel Lindner, John Martinez, Jordan Opatt, Chloe Sweatt and Carolyne Valentine.

“On the first day we handed out little business cards with our phone number on it for students to be able to call, and then we’d offer free rides to students who had been drinking or just anybody who had the phone number, really, but our target audience was students who had been in Panama City Beach,” Dunning said. 

“We would go from around 9 p.m. to 2:30 in the morning, up and down Panama City Beach’s strip, taking them back to their hotel room or AirBnB,” said Lindner, a junior majoring in emergency services and homeland security. “There were seven or eight of us from AU always in the van. The goal was to be one-on-one with the passengers… try to relate with them and give them the gospel.”

While many students talked about growing up in church, personal experiences ran the gamut. 

“A lot of the students, by the time we started talking about the gospel, had already warmed up to our students in the van and were pretty open to having that conversation,” Dunning said. “We had one student we gave a ride to, he told one of our students in the van that he was going to call his mom and thank her for bringing him to church at such a young age. Not every conversation was like that, but definitely there were a lot of really sweet ones.”

“Before our first ride out, I was extremely anxious about it because I had never shared the gospel in that setting before with a non-Christian. That was really scary for me. Then talking to people, they were very open and receptive, so it wasn’t like I dealt with anybody who was upset about it,” said Valentine, a sophomore majoring in human development and family studies. “I think the Lord gave me a lot of boldness.”

Valentine spoke to a student from Belgium. 

“I asked him what he knew about the Bible and he said he couldn’t tell me because he’s never learned it in English and been able to translate it, so I took that as an opportunity to share the gospel with him about Jesus’ life, death and resurrection and he seemed very open to me,” Valentine said. 

Among some international students they picked up, according to Hanson, was an English student—an atheist who verbally pushed back on what they were sharing. Lindner struck up a conversation with a large Iranian guy they picked up. Though Lindner admits he was a bit intimidated by him, he hopes seeds were planted.

“Our goal isn’t to win an argument obviously but to leave them with something to think about,” Hanson said, adding that students, wherever they were in the spiritual part of their lives, got a breakdown of the gospel in understandable terms.

“It’s interesting as the week goes on that they’ve had a taste of that party life and seen that it’s fairly empty, so they’re a little bit more open to some truth,” Hanson said.

During that week, all college and church BeachReach teams together transported nearly 5,000 spring breakers. Within that, there were 1,657 gospel conversations, 1,031 people prayed with and 12 salvations. 

“Everybody I take gets multiple opportunities to share the gospel. It’s almost like an evangelism lab where you go out one night, you share, you come back, you talk about it—debrief a little bit—then you go back and do it again. And we do it for five nights in a row,” Hanson said. “The power’s not in our words or our ability, it’s in the gospel.”

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