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Unconventional mission trip crosses Europe

MOBILE, Ala. (BP)–While chatting about sports and crazy roommates in a Parisian youth hostel, two travelers share the love of Christ with a new friend.

The travelers were Mat Alexander and Matt Davis, team members of the University of Mobile’s Youth Hostel Missions trip. As part of a five-member university team, their goal was to experience and impact a post-Christian European culture, an environment where Christianity is no longer the dominant worldview. For one month earlier this summer, they traveled as traditional tourists through major European cities while meeting and building relationships with fellow travelers.

With fellow university students Bethany Arndt and Laura Lovelady, and University of Mobile director of spiritual life Neal Ledbetter, they traveled through Holland, France, Switzerland, Germany, the Czech Republic, and Austria May 14-June 13.

The group’s motto: “12 cities, 30 days, 5 friends, 1 purpose.” That purpose was to build relationships through conversation as a means to share the Gospel. The five — who often referred to themselves as a family — ate and journeyed together while sleeping at youth hostels, supervised lodgings that served as a temporary home to young people traveling the continent.

“These were people who might have never met a Christian otherwise,” said Ledbetter, who had led groups of students from the private Baptist-affiliated university on the unconventional mission trip the previous two years.

Davis, who is from Collierville, Tenn., and a member of Shiloh Baptist Church in Saraland, Ala., said the group built a common bond with other travelers before sharing the Gospel, often by listening to music and playing board games with their hostel roommates. When conversations turned to questions about God and religion, the students shared their beliefs and explained their reasons for being born-again Christians.

“It was all seed planting and relying on God,” Davis said. Rather than being “abrasive, in-your-face,” he said, the team just “waited for the conversation to go there.”

The people they met, Ledbetter said, were curious about them. In a culture where religion is individualized, the Christian Americans stood out. When people saw the group camaraderie, they would linger to find out what was different about the University of Mobile students.

“For the first time, some people saw the genuine community that is only possible when fellow believers are together,” Davis said.

Alexander, a member of First Baptist Church in Boaz, Ala., and a Boaz native, added that when “the Holy Spirit is drenched on people, it’s almost irresistible.”

In a place where buildings from Christianity’s past are empty and now museums, Ledbetter said, the team members’ hope was to point out how God is at work in their lives and in the world, and that this realization would bring others to accept Christ as Savior.

Team members built relationships with fellow travelers, primarily non-Christian students seeking out the bar scene. They would start conversations while eating or doing chores like laundry. Traveling formed a brotherly bond between the university group and other youth hostel patrons, making conversation flow easily. While chatting with their new acquaintances, the university students listened to their new friends share their philosophies, thoughts and travel experiences.

“When you develop that relationship, they’re a lot more likely to listen to you, and they realize someone really cares about them and wants to get to know them,” said Lovelady, who is from Prattville, Ala., and is a member of Dauphin Way Baptist Church in Mobile, Ala.

The students are staying in contact with some of the travelers through e-mail and Facebook.com, a social networking website. The extended contact opens doors for further ministering opportunities.

“If nothing else,” Davis said, “some people now have someone praying for them when they wouldn’t have before.”

One struggle the group faced was an indifference to the Gospel.

“There used to be an opposition to talk about Christ,” Ledbetter said. But on this trip, he said, many people would listen to what the group had to say and not care, or accept it along with all their other beliefs. Rather than hostility, the team encountered apathy.

“It’s the ‘modern spirituality’ mindset — a little bit of everything or indifference,” Ledbetter added.

Lovelady said the indifference was difficult to handle.

“All you can do is pray for them that their eyes will be open to the truth,” she said.

And pray is just what the university students did. In fact, they had begun praying long before meeting any of the travelers. The group began meeting in November 2006, shortly after forming the team, to start prayer and preparation for the trip. The students prayed specifically for the people they would meet, asking God to open their eyes and ears to the message of the Gospel. Although the group may never know what happened in the hearts of those they interacted with, their prayers were answered because they were enabled to build relationships and share with many people.

“It’s awesome to see how God answers prayer,” Lovelady said.

Alexander described the mission trip as a “priceless opportunity.” In addition to sharing the Gospel, the students visited historical sites such as Utah Beach in Normandy, Dachau Concentration Camp, the Berlin Wall and Prague Castle. They hiked through the Swiss Alps, lounged in parks near the Eiffel Tower and traveled through Europe via train. Each member of the mission team kept their families and friends informed of their daily excursions by writing on an individual travel blog and posting pictures on the university’s website, which can be viewed online at www.umobile.edu/blogs.

Bethany Arndt of Chicago, Ill., summed up her youth hostel missions trip experience in her blog.

“I still cannot comprehend the idea that I have just spent an entire month traveling with 4 other people throughout Europe,” she wrote. “I can’t wrap my brain around the idea of the blessings that the Lord has given me, the opportunities I have had to share Christ with people and the culture I have been able to dive into.”

Other University of Mobile students have also had the opportunity to spend time during their summer on mission trips. Various groups of students traveled to Australia, Bangladesh, Niger, Brazil and Wales.

“We are told to tell of Jesus to everyone, everywhere, in every context — making disciples, or followers of Christ,” Ledbetter said. “[Mission trips] expose people to the world that exists outside their neighborhood and the need for Jesus to be made known.”
Editor’s note: The article was written by Rebecca Capone, a senior majoring in communication and a staff writer for the University of Mobile public relations Office.

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  • Rebecca Capone