MIAMI (BP) — As the world watched first responders search for survivors in the wreckage of the Surfside, Fla., condominium collapse in June and July, several North American Mission Board (NAMB) GenSend student missionaries helped serve food and pray for rescue workers, government officials, family members and other volunteers.
“When we were in our first week of GenSend Miami, that’s when we woke up with the news that the condo had collapsed,” said GenSend student missionary Tiara Pérez, a student in the Conservatory of Music in Puerto Rico and a member of Iglesia Bautista Castillo Fuerte. “We joined in prayer for the families and residents there, most importantly that the Lord would give us an opportunity to help and share the hope we had in Christ.”
A door opened to serve alongside a Jewish organization in the community that needed volunteers to assist in preparing and serving meals in the wake of the tragedy that claimed the lives of 98 people. The GenSend team’s practical acts of service generated opportunities to share the gospel.
“As we were serving the community, our team served incredibly during a twelve-hour shift,” Pérez said. “As we looked back, we definitely know it was the Lord strengthening and sustaining us. The Lord also granted us opportunities to have gospel conversations with other volunteers.”
NAMB mobilizes college students across North America each summer. These GenSend student missionaries work with church planters and compassion ministry missionaries, helping them serve and reach their communities for six to eight weeks. Students learn about how to live on mission and share the gospel in their everyday lives.
In 2021, GenSend missionaries served in 14 cities or regions, including Miami, Pittsburgh and Puerto Rico. In total, 258 students served following a year in 2020 when COVID-19 grounded GenSend during pandemic lockdowns.
“This year was a great year, especially in light of the challenges we faced coming out of 2020,” said Steve Turner, NAMB’s director for next gen mobilization. “We’ve heard incredible reports of life change across the nation as our GenSend leaders, coaches and students engaged cities with the hope of the gospel.”
In Puerto Rico, GenSend students helped rebuild a house for a resident as the island continues to recover from 2017’s Hurricane Maria and a series of earthquakes that occurred in 2020. They also painted Send Relief’s new ministry center that focuses on adoption and foster care in Puerto Rico.
“I learned the importance of trusting God on a day-to-day basis,” said Grace Minter, a student at Oklahoma Baptist University and a children’s director at FaithCO Church in Shawnee, Okla., after serving on the team in Puerto Rico. “The Lord taught me to value intentional friendships and to be present in the moment. Through weekly discipleship meetings, I learned more about how to lead gospel conversations.”
In Pittsburgh, students took part in an outreach to members of the international community to pray with them and provide Bibles written in their language along with other resources that presented the gospel and taught about the spiritual life found in Jesus Christ.
Many students walk away from GenSend not only with more confidence in how to share their faith while in school but a vision for how God is calling them to serve for the rest of their lives.
“I feel like a lot of the practical side of living missionally is something I will be able to easily apply on my college campus,” said Matthew Hembree, a student at Tennessee Tech Univeristy and a member of Stevens Street Baptist Church in Cookeville, Tenn., who served in Pittsburgh. “I also know that God confirmed in me a call to pastor a dying church in a revitalization or replant effort.”
In a typical year, about a third of students who serve with GenSend say that they plan on returning to the city where they served in order to live on mission in the community.
“Those who invest their summers through GenSend learn what it means to be a missionary and put it into practice in neighborhoods that need the gospel,” said Turner. “One of the most encouraging elements of this ministry is seeing so many decide to invest more time in these communities.”