After getting brushed off by one too many sunburned spring breakers, the University of Kentucky student turned and said, “I don’t know why anyone would turn down free pancakes.”
More than 850 Baptist Collegiate Ministry students took part in LifeWay’s Beach Reach 2015, including 184 from Kentucky. The servant evangelism ministry offered free transportation and breakfast for two weeks in March to college students on Spring Break in Panama City, Fla.
“There’s a lot of darkness down there,” said Brian Combs, collegiate evangelism strategist with the Kentucky Baptist Convention, “but there are also a lot of people who don’t know Jesus. Beach Reach gives our students the opportunity to practice their faith, while also meeting a need of helping other people encounter Christ.”
But like free pancakes, Combs said, the offer of free salvation through Christ gets ignored, too.
Abbey Hudspeth said she dismissed God’s pursuit of her heart despite growing up in a strong Christian home and attending church regularly.
Last spring break, Hudspeth was standing in the drink-mixer aisle of a Panama City store when she was greeted by a familiar face. It was Jonathan Clark, her Baptist campus missionary at Murray State University.
“I immediately felt embarrassed,” recalled Hudspeth, now in her second year at college.
As a freshman, she had only attended a few BCM events but enough to know that Clark was in town for Beach Reach.
Looking back, Hudspeth said she was living a double life. She would go to BCM events just to have something to tell her parents, then hide the fact she was hitting the party scene on the weekends.
“I was pushing God away and even stopped believing He existed,” Hudspeth said. “I was trying to convince myself that living a lifestyle of sin was going to be OK, that I could handle it, that I would be happier.”
After the encounter with Clark, however, Hudspeth said God started working in her heart. Hudspeth purchased the mixers, but spent the rest of the week sober.
“God just kept bringing me more and more people, especially through the BCM,” Hudspeth said. “They encouraged me to be vulnerable and honest with myself and with God.”
A few months later, Hudspeth followed Christ in believer’s baptism.
As another spring break approached, Hudspeth found herself packing for Panama City once again, but this time she would be the one reaching out to lost college students.
“I really want to encourage and inspire spring breakers who are exactly where I was last year,” Hudspeth said. “I want to help reveal to them there is so much more to life than what they are doing. They are worth so much more than they are giving themselves credit for.”
Watching God at work
On an average night, Beach Reach provides free rides for about 1,200 college students, many of whom are high, inebriated – or both. During rides, BCM students quickly try to engage their passengers in spiritual conversations, sometimes by asking what they think about Jesus or heaven.
“I’ve seen people get in the van who were drunk, stinking of alcohol, and within a 30-minute ride be able to comprehend a gospel presentation and get saved,” said Jon Barron, UK’s campus missionary. “I get ‘God-bumps’ just thinking about it.”
A group of BCM students from University of the Cumberlands were able to experience a similar salvation story on their first night of van ministry.
One college athlete, who had only three days off for spring break, found himself at the right hotel chain but the wrong location. Alone and somewhat inebriated, he asked for a ride.
Some may call it coincidence, UC Campus Missionary Dean Whitaker said, “but there’s no such thing as random encounters. It was amazing to watch God orchestrate our meeting him.”
Before encountering the student, the UC van team spent a large chunk of its night helping two bare-footed robbery victims. Whitaker gave the spring breakers some money and new flip-flops he purchased from a 24-hour pharmacy. One UC student even gave his jacket to the young man with no shirt.
After praying and inviting the young men to pancakes, the team set out to pick up their last passengers of the night. It was the same group of Georgia Tech students they had transported at the beginning of their shift, and they wanted to return to their hotel – the same hotel where that athlete was accidentally dropped off.
Twenty minutes later, he prayed to receive Christ.
“God is good. He is so good,” Whitaker said as he drove the van back to camp with a wide smile.
Power of prayer (and pancakes)
While teams of Beach Reach students seek to engage Spring Breakers with the gospel through street and van ministries, an equal number gather in the chapel to pray.
“I believe the power of Beach Reach is that everything is covered in prayer. It is the muscle that moves the hand of God,” Barron said.
For hours at a time, students pray for individuals by name. Projection screens provide information about vans, their passengers and where they are going. Teams in the field text in prayer requests throughout the night.
“Pray for Willie. He lives in PBC and believes in pagan gods of nature.”
“Just had Abby in the van and she confessed she was a cutter. Please pray for healing of her heart and that she comes to pancakes tomorrow!”
“Just had a conversation with Breon, a Muslim. He had lots of questions and doesn’t know what to believe.”
“Pray for Mike. He says he knows he is a sinner and he is tired of feeling empty. He wants to pray and receive Christ.”
When someone makes a decision for Christ, the word “SALVATION” pops up in the prayer feed and the whole chapel erupts in applause.
Beach Reach is about students serving students, Combs said, and free pancakes are one more opportunity to start conversations with lost people. He said, sometimes, BCM students arrange to meet people and continue van conversations from the night before over a plate of buttery flapjacks.
Volunteers with Georgia Baptist Disaster Relief made more than 27,000 pancakes during the two weeks of Beach Reach.
“We have some BCM students who go down there and have never shared their faith before,” Combs said. “Beach Reach gets them out of their element and encourages them share their faith with total strangers.”
Zach Kiser, a BCM student at Morehead University, described his life as anything but intense – maybe even a little bit sheltered.
“I was so hesitant to go out and prayerwalk that first night that I was shaking,” Kiser said. “I’ve never been around anything like this before. But it has been a good opportunity for me to grow.”
And that push is what makes Beach Reach so impactful, Combs said.
“When they go back to their campuses, where it’s much less intense, they think, ‘Why can’t we do this on our campus?’ It pushes them out of their comfort zone, helps them have an experience that comes back directly to campus, and it positions our campus missionaries to plug them in,” Combs said.
Kentucky colleges and universities participating in Beach Reach 2015 were Kentucky State University, Morehead State University, Murray State University, Northern Kentucky University, University of the Cumberlands, University of Kentucky, University of Louisville, and Western Kentucky University.
BCM students from Eastern Kentucky University will spend their Spring Break, March 27-April 3, working with Southern Baptist Disaster Relief helping the Hurricane Sandy recovery efforts in New York.
Other university missions trips during Spring Break:
· Cumberlands women’s soccer team went to Haiti, while other groups helped with ministries in Kentucky, New York and Ohio.
· Murray State students participated in Mission Arlington in Texas.
· UK BCM students joined Immanuel Baptist Church in Lexington to help with Send Chicago.
· WKU students assisted Hell is Real Ministries in Princeton.