HOUSTON (BP)–More than 6,000 students and youth leaders fanned out across the Houston area to rake leaves, bag rice, minister in nursing homes, pick up trash and share the gospel of Jesus Christ as the old year ended and the new began.
The students were part of the more than 10,000 who attended YouthLink 2000 at the Houston Astrohall Dec. 29-Jan. 1. The event was part of a nationwide effort, which linked more than 46,000 students and leaders via satellite to six other sites across the nation and Israel.
YouthLink 2000 was held simultaneously in Tampa, Atlanta, Philadelphia, St. Louis, Denver and Anaheim, as well as Houston. It was co-sponsored by three Southern Baptist Convention agencies and an auxiliary: International Mission Board, North American Mission Board, LifeWay Christian Resources and the Woman’s Missionary Union.
Scores of state conventions and churches joined in to help plan and execute the event.
In addition to five mainframe sessions, students were given an opportunity to do hands-on missions projects Thursday and Friday afternoons in each of the cities. Celeste Pennington, coordinator of information for the national effort, said preliminary estimates are that more than 20,000 of the 46,041 attending participated in some mission activity.
Nancy Hamilton, Acteens and Youth on Mission coordinator for the Woman’s Missionary Union of Texas and project coordinator for Houston, said reports indicate 5,995 students and leaders took part in some mission activity in Houston.
Many stayed at Astrohall where they bagged 40,000 pounds of rice into two-pound family-size packages for shipment to Venezuela flood victims.
The rice project was an ecumenical effort, since the food was provided by the Christian Alliance for Humanitarian Aid of Pearland, a United Methodist entity, and the labor was done by students and leaders attending the Baptist-sponsored YouthLink.
Kathie Mann, director of missions for the Christian Alliance said the youth made it possible to ship the food to the needy people much faster than would have been possible otherwise because of the holidays.
The family-size portions were boxed, loaded aboard trailers, taken to the docks and put on tankers bound for Venezuela. It was estimated they would be feeding hungry people within a week, Mann said.
In addition to the 1,500 or so who formed assembly lines for repackaging the rice, the students and leaders fanned out across Houston to do a variety of projects, including cleaning up overgrown and trash-filled areas of the city.
About 1,100 students did a variety of projects to help Park Temple Baptist Church, a multi-cultural inner-city church on the near north side.
Pete Slagle, the 67-year-old bivocational pastor of the church, which is 70 percent Hispanic, 20 percent African-American and 10 percent Anglo, said he was contacted by YouthLink missions leaders who were “looking for churches to have kids come out to experience inner-city missions.”
Cary Tolar, youth minister and worship leader at First Baptist Church of Richwood, who worked with Hamilton in setting up the missions projects, said leaders were afraid they would have difficulty finding enough sites, particularly on New Year’s Eve.
He said he was referred to Slagle and called to ask how many students he could use.
“I asked him now many he had,” Slagle recalled. “He said he had a lot, and I told him that however many he had I would use, and would let them do whatever they felt comfortable doing: street evangelism, door to door, backyard Bible clubs, surveys, handing out tracts ….
“They started coming and we gave out maps and started sending them out. The first day we had more than 500 and the next day they had had so much fun that even more came, about 600,” he continued.
“I don’t know how many decisions were made for Christ, but there were a lot of contacts. We had three people in church the next Sunday as a direct result. We probably have 4,000 to 5,000 contacts to follow up on. They covered a great mass of people.”
Slagle said he became bivocational pastor of the church eight years ago when it had 25 people meeting in a falling-down building. Now, it is a mission of First Baptist Church of Houston which “doesn’t give us much money but gives us a lot of help.” The church averages 135 in Sunday school and about 250 in worship.
“This was just wonderful,” Slagle said. “We have a real revival going now.”
He added he is saddened when he sees an inner-city church close because there is “such an unbelievable need. The people are here. The need is here. It is wonderful when anybody says they want to come to do missions work. If anybody wants to do mission work, we can use them.”
Another 500-plus students took part in an effort spearheaded by Keith Coast, minister of youth at Central Baptist Church in Baytown.
He was preparing to take his youth to the event — which was being held less than 30 minutes from the church he serves — and noticed that there were no sessions scheduled Thursday and Friday afternoons.
“I called and was told that missions projects were planned for those afternoons, but that they didn’t have anything available, that the needs were all filled,” said the student at Lee College in Baytown.
“I got to thinking that we could do our own mission project,” he said. He scurried around and set up projects at six housing authority projects near the church, several nursing homes, an apartment complex for elderly people, several cleanup projects and a painting job at Central Baptist Church, which is in the “old part” of Baytown.
More than 500 students and leaders took part in the Baytown Project.
“We did Bible clubs in four of the complexes, did yard work, filled in ditches, visited the nursing homes and the kids played Bingo and sat and talked. In another place they raked 100 bags of leaves and distributed 90 bags of groceries. We also gave out more than 2,000 letters from the church inviting people to worship with us.
“I could go on all day telling you what God is doing,” Coast said.
“One of the great things about this is that we have touched people from all over town. We had at least five in church because of a food bag or a letter on the Sunday after the effort,” Coast said.
According to Houston leaders, 10,270 registered for the event, and attendance peaked at 9,269. On decision cards collected from the participants, 251 indicated they had prayed to receive Christ as savior; 1,611 surrendered to be missionaries and an additional 989 say they want to be involved in full-time Christian service.
Nationally, Pennington said 46,041 registered. Of them, 1,491 said they made first time professions of faith in Jesus Christ; 9,131 said they felt called to be missionaries and 4,985 indicated a call to full-time Christian service.