LAS CRUCES (BNM) - From late May until mid-July 2019, 17 students from Christian Challenge at New Mexico State University served as summer missionaries overseas and in North America. They were part of a larger group of 72 summer missionaries that represented all of New Mexico's Christian Challenge ministries.
David E, state collegiate ministry director for the Baptist Convention of New Mexico, explained why summer missions are so important in the lives of the students. He said, "Our commission is to make disciples of all nations. We are committed to raising disciples who make disciples and mobilize them to do that for the rest of their lives. The evangelization of the world must be a central part of the disciple-making strategy. Therefore, our Challenge ministries must be deliberate and strategic in raising laborers for the harvest who are available to go wherever and whenever the Lord leads."
The 17 NMSU students who participated in this year's summer ministries are all active students in Christian Challenge on the campus. Students must meet several criteria to qualify as a CC summer missionary. They must be growing and investing in God's Kingdom, sharing the Gospel, engaging in one-to-one disciple-making, and participating in and committed to ministry's growth and effectiveness. They must be emotionally balanced, able to endure the strains and challenges of college life, and able to withstand the trials and unknowns of the mission field. They also must function socially in a healthy manner, be ready to invest themselves, manage conflict, and demonstrate honorable boundaries - all with a servant's heart. Finally, students must be physically fit.
Five teams served for eight weeks of the summer months. Each team member posted to a weekly blog, which encouraged the readers to continue holding the ropes for the groups and shared experiences, stories and pictures. For security reasons, the students used code in their writing on the blog.
Students receive assignments and destinations for the summer. Sometimes those plans change unexpectedly, as was the case with the team assigned to travel to East Asia. At the last minute, that door was closed, and God simultaneously opened the door to go to London. The London team consisted of Sarah*, Coleton*, Ruth*, Zeke*, Emily*, Caleb* and Melene*.
On the blog, the students communicated with those praying for them back home many stories and experiences about people encountered during the eight weeks they were away. Some of the stories the team wrote were about their ministry assignments, but it seemed the focus was on the people they met and spent time getting to know. People from various countries were able to hear the Gospel from the students in a casual setting. The students talked with people from Portugal, Northern Ireland, Korea and many other countries. One woman invited the group to ride the cable cars with her and eat with her friends from different religious backgrounds. A student wrote, "While we were eating lunch, every single one of them got to hear the truth multiple times! You would think with that many people hearing it at once, someone would get offended or argumentative, but not a single one did!"
Another person said, "We have shared the Good News with over 28 different people, each with a different nationality. Praise be to Father that the nations get to hear about His name here in London!"
The students met people who previously gave their life to Jesus and were eager to learn how to share their faith and study the Word.
Students wrote on the blog, "This week, we began attending the local fellowship that we will be helping this summer. Listening to them is very difficult because much of what they preach is prosperity gospel."
"We met one young man, Patrick, from Northern Ireland, who was open to talking about spiritual things. He was honest when he said that he thought good things about God and church, but felt it had lost its 'magic.' We were able to help Patrick see that Jesus' approach to the sin of the world is set apart from the other faiths of the world," the team wrote on the blog.
Others they met openly admitted that they did not understand the Bible, that it did not make sense to them. The team was able to explain Scripture to them in words that they could understand. The little time they spent with them gave them a desire to study the Bible.
A highlight for the team was when they met a woman named Sonia, a Catholic from Korea. They were able to share the Gospel with her, explaining that salvation is only by grace through faith and not by our own doing. She completely agreed with them and decided to put her faith in Jesus.
The Southeast Asia crimson and white teams both served in Bridge City. The first team included Caleb*, Levi*, Summer* and Amanda*. Brianna*, Amber*, Nathan* and Gustavo* served on the other team. When they were all together, they called themselves the pink team.
Nathan had served in Bridge City before. He said, "It feels like I never left Bridge City. The people, the smells, the food and the city are all so familiar. It is so fun to be back."
The team connected with many college students, and members planned to sit down with each one to study the Bible. Very few of them have read the Bible. The team explained that they were there to ensure the college students were reading the Bible, so the Lord could lead them."
The team wrote on the blog, "It is heart-breaking to see so many people setting their hope in idols that do not fulfill all that they promise. They enter temples where they bow down in reverence to their gods."
"As we walked up the steps to the entryway of the temple, I felt a darkness strip away the light from around me and I knew there was a demon in the temple. We did not enter and left quickly."
"Not only are many people going there to worship false gods, but also this temple is a large tourist attraction," the team wrote.
Caleb and Nathan were able to reconnect with an old friend, Nate, spending 15 hours hanging out with him, exploring the city and sharing with him. He agreed to read a couple of chapters of Ephesians with them and explained that he reads the Bible on his own from time to time. Nate is eager to befriend a fellow "M" here that is close to his age.
Meeting people and getting to know them opened the doors for a Gospel conversation. They asked them what they thought about Christians, and then addressed their misconceptions about believers and answered questions they still had. As they said goodbye, they shared that their hearts filled with joy and sorrow: sorrow since they did not decide to follow Christ, but a great joy that they were able to share the Good News.
One week, they were able to go inside the mosque with friends and have some good conversations. They wrote, "We had the opportunity to talk to some members of a heretical church who used the Bible to justify a mother god. They were spreading their beliefs in the mall. We were able to have a good conversation with them about what verses they were using to justify themselves and what the Bible says about God. They gave us their phone numbers, so maybe we will be able to talk to them again."
One of the ministries they were asked to participate in was to prepare enough food to feed 300 people for a festival-like event on campus. This event includes a variety of food from all kinds of different places. The team was to prepare food, set up tables and serve the food. The group decided to make quesadillas, and the crowd loved them.
As the team traveled around the city, they were able to share their faith with their drivers. They were pleased to see how open the people in the town are to talk about their faith.
One team member said, "Jenny lives in China, and we met on a plane. The conversation led to the Bible and what it was. I pulled out my Bible, and she expressed that she had never seen one before. I gave mine to her and am hoping to read through it with her. Because she is from China, I will not see her again this summer, but we have been in constant contact."
"Pray that my investment with the women of Southeast Asia will continue through texts and calls."
Nathan* and Sean* were the two students who ministered primarily to the Jewish community in Toronto, Canada.
They wrote on the blog, "Friday evening we went to our first Shabbat service at a local synagogue. Then, again, on Saturday morning, to a Messianic synagogue. The difference between the meetings was interesting, and it has been convicting to see the need of Jesus in non-messianic Jews' lives."
The two struggled to build meaningful friendships with anyone. When they were not actively seeking people out or at the university or community center, they were participating in what is called the "Signs Project." The purpose of the project is to walk large sections of the city where the team's focus people group is known to live. They took pictures of every sign they saw along the way, whether it was a street sign, graffiti or advertisements. In doing this, they could hopefully learn about the area of the city and help the long term partners engage well.
The young men invited a boy named Aaron to the place they were staying and shared a two-hour Bible study with him. They taught him what we believe and pointed him to Daniel 9 and Zechariah 12. They discussed some critical timing of events with him and that it is an impossibility that the Messiah had not come to earth. The passage in Daniel was entirely new for him, and he wants to talk to his teacher about it. The team was the first to ever sow these seeds into him, and he mentioned that they taught him more about the Jesus portion of the Bible than his Rabbi. On their last visit with Aaron, they introduced him to people who could identify with him and continue to share with him after they were gone."
A final blog post from Southeast Asia team sums up the summer, "Thank you all for holding the ropes and lifting us this summer. I am so grateful that there is a community that has a heart for the Father to be given glory all across the globe. Thank you to the people who supported us financially. I hope that you will all continue to invest in this region and lift the people who continue to fish here and the students who will fish here next summer. Thank you all!"
*For safety purposes, The Baptist New Mexican uses altered names or pseudonyms for Christian Challenge staff and college students.