LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)–A cold winter weekend Feb. 12-13 had no chilling effect on the 43rd annual student missions conference at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville. Ky.
Students from 16 colleges in Ohio, Indiana and Kentucky joined students from the seminary and its James P. Boyce College of the Bible at the conference, titled, “Missions: For God’s Glory.” They braved below-freezing temperatures to do street witnessing and door-to-door canvassing. Others worked in a homeless shelter.
George Martin, associate professor of Christian missions at Southern, led three plenary sessions that challenged students to view missions in a different way.
Rather than using Bible verses that specifically illustrate and mandate evangelism, Martin, a former missionary to Indonesia with the SBC International Missions Board, referred to Acts 3 and the healing of the crippled beggar. The lame man’s reaction to healing reflected the first lecture’s topic, “Missions: An Explosion of Joy.”
“This lame beggar knew nothing but despair all of his life, until he came ‘face-to-face’ with the power and the reality of the Savior,” Martin said. “And a natural explosion of joy took place. He couldn’t help it!”
The beggar jumped up, telling everyone what had happened to him. That’s the pattern that ought to typify the daily lives of people who claim to be Christians, Martin said.
Throughout the Book of Acts “people are changed. They tell others about this Savior they have found and the Savior that has found them.”
Near-zero wind chills made the buildings of downtown Louisville look like stone cold giants. But in their icy shadows, 16 students from the conference broke into teams, walked up and down the sidewalks, handed out gospel tracts and shared the Christian message with a warm smile.
Eldridge Smith and Mark Swan, two Southern M. Div. students who are leaders in the seminary’s “Southern Evangelistic Teams,” led the street witnessing campaign.
“It was great to see Christians move out of their comfort zone and approach people with nothing but the gospel,” Swan said. “Unless Christians tell the good news of Christ, how will others hear?” he asked.
From the dozens of contacts made, two people prayed prayers of repentance and decided to follow Christ. The students who told them about Jesus had what the beggar had: “… not just a personal religion — he had a religion that affected others,” Martin said in his second address, “Missions: A Sprinkling of Salt.”
While some evangelistic methods of today are “seemingly contrived and forced,” Martin said the evangelistic methods recorded in Acts “reflected the glory and the majesty of God.” That ought to make a difference in Christians’ lives and their world, he said.
For a few hours that cold Saturday, about 24 students made a difference in the world of some homeless and mentally challenged men as they swept and mopped floors, cleaned bathrooms and organized clothing and dishes at Louisville’s Jefferson Street Baptist Center.
Ligeia Jewell, a freshman from Shawnee State University in Portsmouth, Ohio, said she had other plans and doing missions wasn’t part of them. “But things have been changing so much for me lately — I just never imagined being involved [in missions].” Jewell has also signed up to do a summer missions project with the Southern Baptist North American Mission Board.
“Missions, above all else, is an invitation to worship the Lord Jesus Christ,” Martin told the students, alluding to the title of his third address. While people’s salvation is one goal, “there is an even greater goal,” Martin said. That “the Savior himself be glorified. We invite the nations to come with us and to worship this God, this Savior who is worthy.”
Across the Ohio River from Southern Seminary, in a Clarksville, Ind., neighborhood, about two dozen students went door-to-door asking people if they’d be interested in a worship service or Bible study being started there.
With 10 teams surveying almost two hours, 37 people responded saying they wanted to know more about the service and Bible studies.
Students involved in the Southern’s Center for Church Planting joined in the canvassing effort. The center is the first of its kind and is part of the Nehemiah Project, a church-planting partnership between Southern Seminary and the North American Mission Board.
“As the students left for the survey, they looked hesitant. But they returned victoriously and with confidence,” said Jay Lowder, a Ph.D. student in the seminary.
“It is so easy in ministry to become cynical and to forget that people are hungry for the truth,” Lowder said.
The lame beggar, Martin recounted, was hungry, and he begged Peter and John for some alms to “buy bread, or maybe some clean water to drink.”
But instead, the beggar was healed. He leapt for joy and he told people what happened. “As a result, people were filled with wonder and amazement,” Martin said.
“Have you ever wanted that kind of response when you preach?” or witness, Martin asked.
Coupling the story of Pentecost in Acts 2 with the beggar’s story in Acts 3, Martin suggested that if Christians would respond to the power and love of God as the beggar did, “then people would draw near and ask, ‘What must we do to be saved?'”
Bryan Cribb contributed to this story.