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When you give free rides in a van dubbed the “Bisquick Bomber,” passengers naturally ask questions, said Baptist Collegiate Ministry (BCM) campus minister Lee Woodmansee. Most ask why the free ride, which Woodmansee said is the perfect segue for gospel conversations. “We had over 300 people in the van and took 60 trips–some for 3 minutes and some for 25 minutes,” said Woodmansee. “I’m confident we had over 250 gospel conversations.”  Woodmansee and 9 students from the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith (UAFS) served in Panama City Beach, Florida for BeachReach, LifeWay’s annual spring break outreach evangelism event. In a collective, three-week period, students from across the nation served 12,630 free pancakes, gave 13,247 van rides and saw 42 salvations. One UAFS student-to-student gospel conversation stood out for its length, location, and heartfelt response. It was 2 hours long in Harpoon Harry’s parking lot and included a personal outcry of the sinner’s prayer with about 80 onlookers. “Apologetics classes and evangelism training are necessary,” said Woodmansee. “But at some point, you have to do evangelism.”  

While Woodmansee’s group focused on faith conversations, 11 students from Southern Arkansas University (SAU) focused on floors. It took at least 8 hours a day to complete their Hurricane Michael disaster relief task which they did as part of a larger nationwide GenSend collegiate initiative of the North American Mission Board. “Mexico Beach was devastated,” said SAU BCM campus minister Mike Sandusky, a veteran volunteer who also took disaster relief teams in years past to Texas, Michigan, and New Jersey. Sandusky said that out of 2,700 homes, only 300 in the area are livable even after six months. They replaced between 4,000-5,000 square feet of flooring in the sanctuary and two halls of First Baptist Church Mexico Beach. “The students go into it saying, ‘Okay, there’s physical labor,’” said Sandusky. “But then they see the response of the community being overwhelmed with gratitude.”  He also noted that there are minimal volunteers in that area so, students were truly making a difference.

Hollygrove, one of the highest crime-rated neighborhoods in New Orleans, was impacted by 19 college students from the University of Arkansas and their leader Josh Mauldin alongside 15 students from Metro BCM with campus minister Adam Venters coming to make a difference for Christ. Venters said the average yearly income for the area is $25,000. A high percentage of the population is uneducated. The team worked with youth at Level Ground Community Church and at the Trinity Community Center. They also helped the Tulane University BCM host an international dinner. Venters said his Metro BCM students came back from New Orleans “just glowing talking about the trip.” As a leader, Venters said he hopes short-term mission trips turn into long-term opportunities. That may happen. Three of the students who went on this spring break trip have applied for future positions at the Trinity Community Center.     

Sometimes a college student who goes on a mission trip accepts Christ, as was the case this year in another part of New Orleans. “We knew Jorge was lost, but we also knew he was close to a decision,” said Jeremy Woodall, BCM campus minister at the University of Arkansas at Monticello. Woodall took 14 students to assist Lakeshore Church in Bucktown, a fishing village in the New Orleans metropolitan area. Every time the group went into the community to share their faith, Woodall said he made sure Jorge was either with him or his assistant. They took spiritual surveys in City Park and helped Lakeshore Church clean up and do yard work. Additionally, the group passed out backpacks/care packages for the homeless at the Baptist Friendship House. By mid-week, Jorge had accepted Christ. “His three older sisters that are a part of our ministry have come to Christ in the last three years,” said Woodall. “All three were baptized at First Baptist Church Monticello.” Woodall said Jorge hopes to set a date for his own baptism soon.

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