LAS CRUCES (BNM) - Four students from Christian Challenge at New Mexico State University, Las Cruces, served as the summer missionaries in several New Mexico towns from late May to mid-July 2019. Mission New Mexico funds entirely funded the team’s summer travel and ministry. The team helped larger and smaller churches in both cities and rural areas.
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, engaged in one-on-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.
Christian Challenge Director DavidE* explained that summer missions matter to students’ lives. “Our commission is to make disciples of all nations. We are committed to raising disciples who make disciples [and] to 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 [Christian] 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 benefit to CC is that we see a culture of Great Commission generations developed and multiplied.”
This year’s New Mexico team, called “Pecos Team,” consisted of Jason*, Liam*, Kylie*, and Rachel*. Their mission was to conduct Vacation Bible School in various churches throughout the state. The team posted to a weekly blog which encouraged their followers to “hold the ropes for them” by sharing experiences, stories and pictures. Their first stop after leaving Las Cruces was Roswell.
Jason said, “I am very grateful that we went to Bethel Baptist [Church, Roswell] first because it was a very well planned week, and we had plenty of help. It gave me a good look at what to expect in the upcoming weeks and gave me great ideas for games for the different age groups.”
Liam helped teach the 4th-6th graders and guide them through “amazing encounters” with Jesus. Kylie worked in the 2nd-3rd-grade class, got to know the children and discussed who Jesus is and what sin means.
Rachel connected with a third-grader, Nevaeh. “She came in the first day and did not want to interact with anyone, so I made it my mission to get her to open up. It worked,” Rachel recalled. “I was hoping to talk to her after the Gospel presentation on Thursday, but I did not get the chance. She did not come to the last day, so I am praying that someone else will be able to lead her to a relationship with Christ.”
Traveling to Albuquerque, Pecos Team helped with VBS at Monterey Baptist Church. Pastor Aaron Crawford was grateful that the students came. “We have been trying to emphasize reaching our community, but it is not always easy to find enough volunteers for a project,” he said. Having the Pecos Team allowed us to plan a robust summer program, and we set record numbers for VBS attendance at our church. We were certainly blessed to have them with us this summer!” A total of eight children gave their lives to Jesus during the week.
Jason said, “We had between 45 and 50 kids every day this week at VBS. We did water games every day in rec, and I did not make it out without being completely soaked.” He also shared about the team helping kids worship with songs. “There is one song that we taught the preschoolers that has the lyrics ’nobody but Jesus,’ but convinced, the preschoolers thought it said, ‘no buddy but Jesus.’ They made sure to shout that nice and loud every day,” he said. “It was hard for me to keep my composure and explain the actual lyrics.”
Because the team supplements the church’s existing volunteers and work, team members can focus on specific children when needed. “One preschooler stood out because I was worried he would not be coming back or enjoy himself,” Jason said. “By the end of the week, he was answering all the questions and having the best time.”
Next, Pecos Team traveled south to work in VBS at Tatum. Jason narrated the experience on the blog on behalf of the team.
“This week was very different because we did everything at VBS, other than crafts/snacks. I had two students come to Christ this week that were in my class.”
“During the music session, I asked the 3rd and 4th grade class about their Bible story for the day (Jesus baptized). A kid named Nathan started asking me about what baptism was and how he could also be baptized. He was pulled aside to talk to the interim pastor, and he later accepted Christ! God is so amazing!”
“Five out of the nine kids in the 3rd-4th-grade class this week accepted Christ.”
“One out of the four 5th-6th graders accepted Christ.”
Moving on, Pecos Team ministered in a variety of cultures as they traveled from church to church. Not every student was familiar with the variations that cultures can bring into ministry, even ministry to children. Jason encountered that unfamiliarity in Anthony and described his experience.
Serving in Anthony proved to be a different experience. “I was not prepared to walk into what felt like a completely different culture this week, but what an adventure! I became aware of how little Spanish I know, but I also had a fire awakened in me to learn more and hopefully become fluent!”
“This week the team worked with the youth from a church in Anthony. The youth spoke both English and Spanish, but the congregation spoke only Spanish for the most part.”
“It was a lot of fun connecting with some of the youth at the lock-in while playing various card games.”
Liam shared about the team’s Anthony ministry: “On Thursday, while we were hiking, we did a review [with the students]. It was encouraging to hear that they were listening to us during the week and taking it to heart!”
Once again traveling north, the team’s next stop was Española.
“We only had two kids show up two out of the five days for VBS,” the team’s blog shared. Nonetheless, staying true to its mission, the team stayed faithful. “Although this was discouraging at first,” the blog continued, “we found ways to connect with the kids on a personal level and different ways to serve the church. On Wednesday night, we did the theme song for the church. It was so much fun watching the older people performing the dance moves with us.”
Jason and Rachel shared some of their Española experiences. “On Sunday evening, we went to a pizza place for dinner. As we were about to get in the car to leave, a lady approached me and asked if I could buy her and her two friends some food,” Jason wrote. “Rachel came with me back inside, and we got them some food. After they ordered, we had the opportunity to sit down and share the Gospel with them. They knew a little bit already about the Bible and being a Christian, but still had a lot of questions and were very curious.” The pair of team members spent 20 minutes talking with the lady and her friends about the Gospel and what being a Christian means.
The team offered this summary of their last work in Española, “We were able to help the church by cleaning up two Sunday school classrooms and a supplies closet. We were blessed to see how grateful some of the church members were on Friday before they left.”
Pecos Team also spent a week in Roy.
The team’s blog shared the following account.
“At First Baptist Church, we started our fifth VBS of the summer and had quite the turn-out for a small town. The grandson of our hosts helped run rec this week. I shared the Gospel with him on Thursday. He opened up and said that due to some things in his past, he had denounced his faith. When everyone was about to go to bed, I pulled him aside and gave him my entire story. I was able to use it to relate to him and connect with him. At the end of the night, he told me that he is strongly considering recommitting his life to Christ.”
Kylie shared that the team helped the church clean out some classrooms and painted the church’s front door. She shared one moment that astonished the college student: “While cleaning, I found two books published in the late 1800’s!”
Rachel’s favorite moment in Roy was coloring with a little boy until his parents arrived. She wrote, “All I heard was ‘This crayon is broken!’ I looked up to see him holding a white crayon and coloring on white paper!”
For its final stop, Pecos Team traveled to Paragon Church, Rio Rancho. There, team members encountered the largest VBS ministry of their summer. Approximately 80 children attended the church’s three-day “Lego Camp.” One of the church’s passions is serving children with special needs and their families. So, 20 percent of the children had special needs. Once again, the team encountered unfamiliar experiences. Their blog recorded, “This week was a challenge for our team, as none of us had worked with special needs children much before.”
Despite the inexperience, the team added to the church’s ministry. One team member wrote, “Kylie met a girl in my class who was autistic and very loving. She did not want to be there, but I was able to encourage her to stay, She had a blast! She would hang around me for those three days and wanted to help me carry the bag. For the rotations, she would want to stay right by my side.”
The blog also told the story of a similar experience Rachel encountered. Rachel wrote, “I met a little girl with Down syndrome. Almost as soon as she saw me, I became her ‘person’ for the camp. I sat with her during the different rotations, carried her from place to place, and just kept her company!” She continued, “I had not worked with [children who had] special needs very much before, so this was completely new territory for me. God provided me with patience and energy, though at times it felt as though both were lacking. I enjoyed the challenge, and it showed me a different perspective on … kids that I had not seen before.”
End of mission prayer requests in Pecos Team’s last blog entry expressed what each team member felt. The team members each hoped “that I would take what I have learned over the past several weeks and apply them as I go back to everyday life [and] that I would continue to reach out and serve others, even after this summer.”
*For safety purposes, the Baptist New Mexican uses altered names or pseudonyms for Christian Challenge staff and college students.