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African-American outreach part of BreakOut ’98 success

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (BP)–A multiracial group of 120 Baptist college students took to the beaches of Daytona April 17-19, sharing their faith among the thousands attending the Black College Reunion (BCR) spring break weekend.
Although a large-scale block party that was the focus of the event had a lower-than expected turnout, 33 individuals were led to faith in Christ during the weekend and student volunteers left eager to make such witnessing encounters a regular part of their lives.
“If it’s that easy to reach out to someone while they’re trying to party, then it should be much easier on our own campuses to talk to people,” said David Bernard, a sophomore at Florida State University who said he had never shared his faith with strangers before. “It’s worth it to go out and tell someone about Christ and not get too caught up in our everyday lives.”
The Black College Reunion “BeachReach” effort capped off BreakOut ’98, a series of three spring break missions projects coordinated by the Southern Baptist Sunday School Board’s National Student Ministry (NSM). Held in March in Panama City, Fla., the other two events relied on a time-tested combination of beach opinion surveys, free van rides and free daily pancake breakfasts to provide witnessing opportunities for participating students. According to NSM consultant Bob Hartman, 839 collegians participated in the three BreakOut events, and 132 professions of faith were recorded.
The North American Mission Board and Florida Baptist Convention also were sponsors of the Black College Reunion event, the first Southern Baptist evangelism effort at an African-American spring break venue.
The makeup of the Daytona Beach volunteer corps, by design, included about 60 percent black and 40 percent white students, Hartman said. African Americans and whites often worked as teams in witnessing.
The first full day of the event found students fanning out across the beaches and streets conducting spiritual opinion surveys, passing out tracts and otherwise finding opportunities to share their faith. They also passed out flyers for the Urban Block Party planned for the next day at City Island Park about a mile from the beaches.
The nine-hour event on April 18, sponsored by the North American Mission Board, included performances by some of the top names in gospel and Christian rap music and a number of door prize as drawing cards. Plans were made for thousands, but registration peaked at just over 500 for the day and many of those were local residents. The low attendance was not unique to the block party. A major secular concert the night before at the same location also drew only a small crowd, prompting relocation of another heavily promoted concert the following night.
NAMB officials said organizers had assured them the park location would be a center of activity. As it happened, Black College Reunion activity was almost exclusively on the beaches and nearby streets, as well as the bridge leading to the beaches from the mainland. The primary activity appeared to be “seeing and being seen.” Students passed the time in traffic visiting between the cars, posing for photos and video, listening to music, and occasionally exposing themselves for the cameras.
Despite the environment, volunteers said the first day in particular gave them exciting opportunities for sharing their faith. About 20 people prayed to receive Christ that day. Seeds of the gospel were planted in others as volunteers shared their faith, and there were frequent huddles on the beaches as BSU students prayed with spring break participants.
“It was great just meeting people and seeing them from a different perspective,” said Roger Wright, a white student at Stetson University in nearby DeLand. “I expected far worse, and the people were great. They were really polite.”
Amy Hunsucker, a student at Florida State University, said that she too was pleasantly surprised.
“What I saw was not what I expected to see,” she said. “When you see some of these guys you think they are going to be tough and hard, but they weren’t. … It was very surprising to me, just because of the whole atmosphere.”
Florida State University’s Bernard, a Haitian-American, said the experience was markedly different from his experiences a month earlier during a BeachReach in Panama City. There, he said, the favored activity appeared to be alcohol consumption. The African-American students — possibly because they were not drunk and possibly because they were not as influenced by other religious groups — seemed to be more willing to talk about their spiritual condition.
“I think a lot of them would have come to the block party, but everybody was going toward the beach and our thing was away from the beach. And a lot of them told me, ‘We’re not going back,'” he said.
Brian Valentine of Lincoln University in Missouri said he had faced numerous personal hurdles in participating — including an expensive airline ticket and a breakdown on a rental car. But he was glad he came and hoped to return next year.
“It was so encouraging to see brother and sisters, black and white, joining together to lead others to Christ,” he said.
The changed lives made the effort particularly worthwhile for many.
Michele Woods, a secretary at the North American Mission Board, told how she saw one high school junior sitting in the grass looking down. He was concerned particularly about the relationship with his father, and she was able to share with him the hope found through Christ. She even arranged for him to talk with one of the members of The Original Gospel Gangstaz rap group that had performed earlier. The young man and his friend both prayed to receive Christ.
“Tears were rolling down this guy’s face, and it was the power of the Holy Spirit that moved on these gentlemen,” said Marcus Goodloe, a Golden Gate Theological Seminary student and recruiter who said the encounter was a highlight of the weekend
“I was really excited, because some people were saying we didn’t have enough people,” said Woods. “Well, I say the Lord doesn’t count numbers. … If one person is saved, he’s going to be happy.”
Herb Brisbane, multicultural consultants manager in evangelism for NAMB and coordinator of the block party, noted a statement by New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary president Charles Kelley in assessing the strategy for the weekend.
“He said that Southern Baptists are a harvest-oriented people, but we’re living in a non-seeded generation,” Brisbane said, noting many people know virtually nothing about God. The event was successful not only because of the lives that were changed, he said, but also because of the lessons learned that will make next year’s effort stronger.
Loy W. Reed, director of student ministries for the Florida Baptist Convention, said he was encouraged by the “holy boldness” exhibited by the students.
“Every day we went out and asked that God would protect our eyes and our hearts,” he said. “And I was so proud of these kids because they absolutely went out there with holiness, they shared Christ unashamedly, and they were just not intimidated.”
The SSB’s Hartman also reiterated the enthusiasm and excitement of the students as they crossed racial barriers to share Christ in a manner never attempted before. “In talking with campus ministers and students, to a person they all said they’d be back next year,” he said.

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  • James Dotson