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6/27/97 Student summer missions work grows in a shrinking world

RICHMOND, Va. (BP)–“Come over to Hawaii and help us!”
That missionary request drew a group of 11 college students to the “Paradise of the Pacific” 50 summers ago.
In 1997 about 475 Southern Baptist students answered similar calls: “Come to the Philippines.” “Come to Russia.” “Come to England.” “Come to Gaza.” They traveled to nearly 40 countries to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Back in 1947, only a few years after Charles Martin made 31 bombing runs over Japan as an Army Air Corps navigator-bombardier, he traveled to the territory of Hawaii to teach in Vacation Bible Schools and help in youth revivals with the first group of student summer missionaries.
A student at Samford University in Birmingham, Ala., Martin had been elected as state Baptist Student Union president. That, plus his overseas experience, made him a good candidate for the Hawaii missions work.
This year, the International Mission Board celebrates 50 years of students on mission with God as summer missionaries. The call remains much the same for today’s generation, but the world wears a different face. The first group’s 12-hour flight to Oahu from California now takes five hours.
Lacking intense orientation, the Class of ’47 stepped out in blind faith, uncertain what they would encounter. “It’s different for students today,” said Martin, now living in Montgomery, Ala., and retired after serving as a missionary and directing student work in Alabama. “We were pioneers. We were not at all prepared. Today, there’s a lot more preparation.”
Today’s student missionaries might confront a different world, but their missions vision is the same.
Shannon Fowler of Beaverdam, Va., 21, sees her role as a teacher, a listener and a servant. “I hope my relationship with God will just explode and I can please him, and I can stay open to how he wants to change me,” she said before she left for the Philippines.
Unlike early summer missionaries who mostly worked in Vacation Bible Schools, today’s students perform a variety of tasks. They fill such roles as backpackers, friendship builders, lifeguards, camp nurses, prayer walk participants and music associates — and others.
A sports outreach request from Spain caught the attention of missionary kid and Samford student Joshua Murphy. “Missions, being an MK, has always been on my heart,” the 20-year-old said. “I’m thinking about career missions as well as summer missions. It’s a wonderful life.”
Murphy traveled to several continents with his parents, Allan and Mary Murphy, former International Mission Board missionaries to the Netherlands Antilles. He anticipates a growth in his missions mind-set from his summer experience.
“I expect it to give me a broader view … to see what God is doing around the world,” he said.
Many people who, like Murphy, first heard a call to missions as a student, have continued service in international missions work. Board President Jerry Rankin, for example, served as a summer missionary to New York, Vermont and the Philippines before becoming a missionary to Indonesia. From the first summer student group, Charles Martin and Frances Horton became missionaries to Japan and Webster Carroll became a missionary to Africa.
In recent years, the growth of student response has accelerated. In 1991, 130 students served. In 1996, that number nearly tripled, to 386.
But changed lives matter most, noted Mike Lopez, director of the International Mission Board’s student section. “The mobilization of students is more than about numbers,” he said. “We want to mobilize their hearts toward missions. They might be mobilized to give or to pray. It’s not just a missions trip; it’s a missions lifestyle.”
Lopez wants students to realize they are joining God in his mission to reach the world. “They need to be challenged to join him in whatever he’s doing,” he said.
Looking back 50 years, that’s the same challenge that drove 11 students like Charles Martin to take that first step of faith in summer missions.

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  • Julie McGowan