WORCESTER, Mass. (BP) – When Charlotte Mullane enrolled in Worcester State University in Worcester, Mass., she noticed the school lacked a fellowship and service group designed for Christians.
She and classmate Jennifer Lima responded by founding the Worcester State Christian Fellowship, utilizing skills they learned while enrolled in the Baptist Convention of New England’s (BCNE) Quest discipleship and leadership program for junior high schoolers.
Now juniors at a state public university, the two spread the Gospel on campus. The Worcester State Christian Fellowship has about 25 consistent members, with service projects attracting greater participation.
“It helps people to explore faith because it’s a secular campus as well. Some people have had like a bad background in church before, or they’ve just had their parents’ faith for a while,” Mullane said. “Some of them have never even heard the Gospel before. We’ve been kind of a light on campus in that way, because we’ve just been sharing it with anyone we can.”
Mullane credits Quest, which she and Lima completed in 2016 and 2017, with equipping the two to found the group and boldly share their faith.
“Quest really equipped me with the skills and the characteristics I needed to be able to reach people, just being able to get out of my comfort zone,” said Mullane, who served in the Dominican Republic. “If I can go to a different country and a different language and share the Gospel with them, then why can’t I do this back home in school? So I would say that Quest gave me a lot of confidence in my faith, and it gave me a lot of boldness in my faith as well, that I didn’t have prior to the experience.”
BCNE Quest leader Allyson Clark said the program is designed to teach male and female high school juniors how to serve like Jesus. Since its inception in 1999, the program has produced 454 diverse Quest alumni from churches across the six states the BCNE serves, including areas considered the least religious in the nation.
“Some of these kids are coming from a school where they’re the only Christian in their whole school,” Clark said. “To be able to be around other students who are their age over the course of their junior (high school) year, it really is an encouragement and a challenge to see what it looks like to live out your faith in New England.”
Quest enrolls about 25 to 35 Christian students annually in a three-phase discipleship program designed to deepen their spiritual walk. Students are recommended by church leaders and complete an application process. They learn to cooperate as members of a ministry team, explore their spiritual gifts, share their personal faith stories and grow as servant leaders. The months-long program ends with a 10-day international mission trip that has included nine different locations since the program’s inception.
This year’s team is composed of 25 students from 18 congregations spanning five states, namely Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine.
“Because of our diversity in New England, just the group itself is an incredible representation of, I think, the body of Christ,” Clark said. “You have ethnic diversity; you have urban, suburban, rural. We’ve had kids from the top of their class. We’ve had kids with learning disabilities. … They come from different economic backgrounds, and so you’re able to pull them together with the central focus being Christ, growing in your relationship with Christ, and then learning to serve like Christ.”
Mullane said she appreciates the program’s diversity.
“We had completely different people and it was really cool to meet them all and be a part of it,” Mullane said, “because it really showed how God was working in completely different situations, completely different lives, all at the same time.”
Organizational meetings during the COVID-19 pandemic have mainly been virtual, but the pandemic has not canceled the program. A 2021 mission trip to Puerto Rico is scheduled for July. Students enrolled in the 2019-2020 program completed mission trips in February, 2020, with students dispersed among trips to Scotland, the Dominican Republic, Hawaii and Puerto Rico.
Quest alumni are active in the U.S. and abroad in various professions, including teachers, chefs, doctors and medical personnel, engineers, service men and women, pastors, missionaries and other ministers.
“We don’t anticipate all of these students being in ministry full time,” Clark said. “What we’re looking for is Christ followers that are living out their faith through the local church as they continue to grow and serve.”
Participating in Quest can cost as much as $2,300 per student. Questies, as they are called, agree to earn at least $500 through sweat equity, working in such jobs as fast food, babysitting and lawn care, and secure the remainder through fundraising. Funds are used cooperatively, as some churches are able to contribute more to students chosen from their congregations. With the financial constraints of COVID-19, the trip to Puerto Rico is being arranged at $1,200 per student, Clark said.
“I want them to see how God provides financially too,” she said. “It’s an encouragement to see … that when we’re doing God’s work, God provides.”