NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Tapping the so-called Millennium Generation’s desire to experience things firsthand, Southern Baptist mission boards and agencies are responding with initiatives to nurture tomorrow’s church leaders and missionaries.
SBC leaders are challenging every Southern Baptist young person to spend at least one summer or semester on a U.S. or international mission field before college graduation.
International Mission Board student section director Mike Lopez recognizes it takes a lot of effort to place young people overseas for a missions experience. “But these are going to be our missionaries in a few years. How much trouble is it worth to get them acquainted with missions and give them a heart for people? That’s called growing your own mission force. If we don’t make that investment, then there won’t be any missionaries in the future.”
One pilot project aimed at providing youth a realistic overseas experience is M-fuge Ecuador, the brainstorm of International Mission Board staffer Vickie Polnac. The cooperative effort of LifeWay Christian Resources and the IMB was the first international version of the popular Centrifuge program begun in the United States a few years earlier.
The M-fuge on-the-field missions training camp for Southern Baptist youth offered experiential learning games, worship services, devotional groups and ministry projects.
“Our prayer is that one day some of these young people will look back on their time in Ecuador and say, ‘That’s when God began to call me to missions,'” said co-coordinator David Blanton of Fort Worth, Texas.
Stateside, planning continues for 200,000 teens to attend YouthLink, a mammoth seven-city satellite-linked conference planned for New Year’s Eve 1999. Southern Baptist youth leaders are hoping the event’s emphasis on missions participation will stir many of the teens to someday serve as career missionaries.
Half a million teenagers influenced by the True Love Waits campaign’s success will enter the next century intent on keeping their pledge to remain sexually abstinent until they enter a biblical marriage relationship.
Recent evidence shows they are part of reversing a longstanding trend: The percentage of teenagers who have had sex has declined for the first time in 20 years, according to a government study. Birth rates among 15- to 10-year olds have also dropped.
“Although True Love Waits is not the only player in the sexual abstinence movement, it has had a tremendous impact on many young lives,” stated Jimmy Hester, co-coordinator of True Love Waits for LifeWay Christian Resources.
In 1994, more than 211,000 True Love Waits cards covered the National Mall in Washington and in 1996, more than 350,000 cards were stacked to the roof of the Georgia Dome in Atlanta. TLW officials hope to see a national display of cards on the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco this October.
An international display with teens’ commitment cards from all over the world will be sent to New Zealand in December to be displayed near the International Date Line where the year 2000 will first arrive.
High school students also are flocking to First Priority clubs being established on public school campuses across America. NAMB provides financial and staff support to the nationwide strategy for evangelizing teens, while LifeWay has been involved in publishing the movement’s materials. First Priority has been at the forefront of an explosion of Christian clubs on school campuses, growing from 200 clubs in 10 cities in 1995 to more than 3,000 clubs in 165 cities last year.
College-aged students, meanwhile, are turning to CrossSeekers for an intensive discipleship commitment, utilizing materials written by Richard Blackaby, president of the Canadian Southern Baptist Seminary, in cooperation with his father, Henry Blackaby.
The CrossSeekers Covenant promoted through LifeWay’s National Student Ministry calls collegians to a lifestyle of integrity, spiritual growth, an authentic and consistent witness, service, purity and Christlike relationships.
Art Toalston, Terri Lackey, Mary E. Speidel, Erich Bridges & James Dotson contributed to this article.