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Leaders scrambling to keep up with world-hearted students

ROCKVILLE, Va. (BP)–College students are embracing God’s vision for reaching all nations so quickly that Southern Baptist campus and church-based college ministers are “running to keep up with them,” report attendees at two recent mobilization conferences sponsored by the International Mission Board.
“This generation is way ahead of us. We need to catch up with them,” said Brenda Sanders, former campus minister at Samford University in Birmingham, Ala.
Sanders, who recently left Samford to mobilize Texas students as a missions consultant with the Baptist General Convention of Texas, joined more than 40 other ministers from 35 colleges and seminaries at the March 11-14 Baptist Campus Ministers Mobilization Summit.
That gathering — and a separate conference Feb. 22-24 for more than 30 church-based college ministers — focused on ways to steer thousands of students already excited about missions in the right direction, as well as ways to get many more on board.
College students serving annually through the International Mission Board didn’t break the 200 mark until 1992. In 1998, more than 700 went. This year, an estimated 1,200-1,500 will participate in about 200 IMB-related mission projects, including assignments in some of the world’s hardest-to-reach places — physically and spiritually. And that number is only a fraction of Southern Baptist students now heading abroad to spread the gospel.
Involving college students in missions is the key to helping them grow into faithful disciples, IMB President Jerry Rankin told the college ministers. When students finish college and enter the work world, what most helps them stay on track as believers “is not an interactive study program or a group they’ve met with during college, but the experience they’ve had of God working through their lives to touch a lost world,” Rankin said.
During both conferences, Rankin and other IMB leaders shared their vision for joining God’s mission to take the gospel to every people group on earth. He also talked about some of the agency’s plans to involve students in outreach in strategic places.
The campus and church ministers quizzed mission board leaders — and each other — about ways to mobilize students more effectively.
“I’ve been amazed to learn about the different possibilities there are for students on the mission field,” said John David Edie, college minister at Second Baptist Church, Springfield, Mo. “They’ve talked about things that I never even thought of — like using students to design [Internet] web pages. This has really opened my mind to what could happen for some of our students.”
“The information we’ve been exposed to has been incredible,” added Kathy Wideman, who with her husband, Jeremy, serves as a lay minister to students through Hillcrest Baptist Church, Stillwater, Okla. “We’ve learned so much about the opportunities, not just for college students but for adults and youth, too.”
The Widemans, like other college ministers who attended the conference, are committed to helping students discover God’s heart for the nations.
“We want them to catch the vision that there are people in the world who can’t worship God because they don’t know him, and that God’s overarching purpose in all of history is for the nations of the earth to glorify him,” said Kathy Wideman, a 24-year-old high school teacher and church secretary.
At the end of the second conference, IMB student mobilization team leader Mike Lopez asked six college and seminary students attending to share their passion for the world. Their testimonies brought many of the ministers in the room to tears.
“It took me going overseas to come to a point in my life where I realized it no longer can be me, me, me,” confessed Paula Chaney, 26, a student at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, who has completed two extended assignments in the near-anarchy of Albania and Bosnia. “God had to take me out of America and take every single thing I was comfortable with out from under me. So here I was, stranded with me and God — surrounded by people who had never had the opportunity to know him.”
Lopez doesn’t believe students like Chaney are just the “future” of missions.
“These students aren’t the future of missions — they’re the present,” he declared. “They’re doing it. They’re out there. They want to go to the hard places. They say, ‘We’re out on the edge, and we love it.’ You can’t argue with that!”
For more information on getting college students involved in international missions, call 1-800-789-4693, or check out the IMB student web page: www.imb.org/students/.

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  • Mary E. Speidel