BOSTON (BP)–Katie Warnock came to Boston wanting to spend her spring break for a worthy cause, but she left the city a changed person.
The University of North Carolina freshman was one of about 650 students who participated in the Boston Plunge, a collegiate ministry initiative focused on sharing God’s love with residents of Boston.
“The biggest thing that stood out in my mind was the perspective [the trip] gave me,” said Warnock, who spent a night with others from her group at a Red Cross shelter during a severe snowstorm, which yielded an opportunity to talk to a variety of people and share their faith.
The three-week effort was the first major project of Hearts for Boston, the name for Southern Baptists’ Strategic Focus Cities outreach emphasis being held in the city this year. The event — conducted in partnership with the Baptist Convention of New England and the Greater Boston Baptist Association — brought students from schools in 13 states.
Curtis Cook, Boston-area collegiate coordinator for Baptist Convention of New England, was impressed by the response.
“It’s exciting that students have gained a vision and passion for ministries in the cities and for Boston,” he said. “It’s good to see that God is raising up laborers for Boston. It’s an answer to prayer.”
Volunteers spent their time prayerwalking college campuses and other areas of the city, passing out Pop-Tarts and hot chocolate, helping with construction at some area churches and ministries, and serving as volunteers at Boston-area nonprofit organizations, including the Greater Boston Food Bank, Red Cross and ministry bases such as The Salvation Army in the South End and Urban Outreach Center in Dorchester.
Many of the groups also participated in vision tours, in which Hearts for Boston leaders pointed out historical and cultural sites and existing ministry efforts, and discussed the need for more outreach in the city.
“It was a very positive event for a number of ministries in the city,” Cook said. “We were able to assist them and provide needed laborers for them … and introduce students around the country to the ministry here.”
Ignatius Meimaris, executive director of the Greater Boston Baptist Association and co-city coordinator for Hearts for Boston, said the effort “helped in making a really good first impression with the churches and other organizations we will be working with this year and in years to come. The students really set the pace in terms of their dedication, commitment and creativity.”
The snowstorm meant a lot of changed plans during the week Warnock’s group was there, but they adapted, she said. Her team improvised and spent time passing out hot chocolate and playing with neighborhood children, engaging them in snowball fights.
“We don’t do enough and as the church we could do so much more. … Maybe that’s why God took us there [to Boston],” she said.
For Jimmy Mauldin, a senior at the University of Texas at Arlington, the time in Boston was a time of preparation. “I came away with a deeper vision of what [God’s] doing in Boston,” said Mauldin, who will be entering Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary this fall.
Mauldin was impressed by the friendliness of the people, but he also sensed spiritual need in some of those he encountered.
“I talked to one guy on the bus and asked him what he did every day,” Mauldin said. The man told him he goes to work and then goes home, and that was about all. “I asked him if his life had any purpose; he said he didn’t know.”
Many of the students pledged continued support of the Boston effort. Hundreds committed to be prayer partners for the city, and dozens of others felt led by God to possibly return to Boston as transfer or graduate students. Others felt challenged to spend time as a semester missionary here, or to move and plant their lives here, according to written response forms.
And students weren’t the only ones affected. Lance Martin, a volunteer who works with the Baptist Student Ministry at the University of Mississippi in Oxford, said that despite his Mississippi roots, “I really feel direction in my life to serve in Boston.”
Getting out of the South enabled God to reveal new things to him. “I know that God worked in my life in growing me a few more steps personally,” he said. “All in all, I think it’s just about being open to what God wants.”
(BP) photos posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo titles: SINGING IN THE SUBWAY and BOSTON PLUNGE OUTREACH.