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Southwestern Seminary students ‘change the world’ in N.M.

GALLUP, N.M. (BP)–Three students and a professor from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary ministered to Navajo youth and adults as they worked with churches in Gallup, N.M., and the surrounding Navajo Nation June 8-19. They also joined more than 270 youth and student leaders June 10-17 for a World Changers project in Gallup.

During the week, seminary students spent their days roofing, painting, building a wheelchair ramp, landscaping and building fences in the community. In the evenings, they led seminars for potential youth leaders and for parents and grandparents of children and teenagers. They also led sports evangelism projects through basketball clinics and tournaments in Gallup and the surrounding area.

Students from Southwestern participating in the project were seminary students John Whitaker and Austin Vann and The College at Southwestern student Zach Bradley. Wes Black, professor of student ministry, directed the project and served as group leader.

After arriving at the World Changers project site, participants were divided into work groups composed of 12 to 14 students and leaders from various churches and were assigned to work on the home of a community resident.

“I’m just thrilled,” said Maxine Scott, who had her house repainted and a fence put up. “I’m so glad that I got chosen for this project. These kids have been such a blessing.”

Working on homes near the Native American mission churches added credibility and increased awareness of the team’s work in Gallup, Black said. At Tohatchi, a small Navajo community 25 miles north of Gallup, teams repaired the roof of one home and rebuilt a sheep pen at another home.

“This gave us the opportunity to have a witness with Navajo families that we otherwise would never meet,” Black said.

Seminars led by Southwestern students offered leadership training for youth workers in churches in Tohatchi and Church Rock, another small Navajo community just east of Gallup. According to Black, “These small, struggling churches do not have any trained leaders to reach out to Native American teenagers, one of the most unreached people groups in the United States. We wanted to equip them to reach and disciple the Navajo youth in their communities.” Whitaker, who is studying to be a student minister, led the seminars for potential youth leaders.

Parenting seminars offered suggestions for Native American parents and grandparents to guide their teenagers away from the issues that plague so many of their children. Bradley assisted Black in conducting seminars at Tohatchi and Church Rock. Alcoholism, drugs, sexual immorality and poverty are just a few of the problems facing Native American youth and the seminars addressed ways parents can deal with these issues.

Sports evangelism projects also reached out to children and teenagers in the Gallup area.

“Basketball is huge among the Navajo youth,” Black said.

David Shivers, minister to young adults at Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, Texas, and a former pro basketball player, joined the team in Gallup for a one-day clinic and witnessing opportunity. Following a mini-camp in a large city park, Shivers gave his testimony and shared the Gospel. Two youth indicated they accepted Christ as a result of the basketball mini-camp.

In two other sports evangelism events, children and youth learned basketball skills and played in tournaments. In all of the events, participants were given free T-shirts, a Frisbee with a Gospel message on the back, water bottles and duffle bags. In Tohatchi and Church Rock, the sports evangelism events were led by Vann, a Master of Divinity student studying for military chaplaincy. Whitaker assisted by organizing the basketball tournaments, and other team members helped with the clinic. In these two events, 19 youth indicated they accepted Christ as a result of the basketball mini-camps.

“As I look back on God’s activity among the Navajo people, I have become convinced the way they will come to Christ is through individuals like us modeling Christ’s love to them regularly, which will in turn break down the historical barriers present between us and them,” Vann said.

During the week, a conference for pastors, missionaries and their wives was conducted at First Baptist Church in Gallup by the Native American Mission Support organization, founded and directed by Don Bradley. Featured speakers included Henry Blackaby, who spoke of the growing interest and expectation of revival among Native Americans, and Black, who explained details about Southwestern Seminary’s efforts to reach out to Native Americans who are called to ministry.

“It was a joy to work with the group from Southwestern Seminary,” said Robert Tavares, youth pastor at First Baptist. “They truly have a heart for ministry. Fruit is already visible from the outreach and leadership events they were involved in, but only time will tell the full impact of their ministry.”

This summer, more than 25,000 students were registered to participate in more than 100 World Changers projects across the nation. Sponsored by the North American Mission Board in Alpharetta, Ga., World Changers included not only the week in Gallup, but also in cities from Alaska to Pennsylvania to South Carolina.
Wesley Black is associate dean of Ph.D. studies and professor of student ministries at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.

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  • Wesley Black