Jacob Novak’s team gathers to pray at a baseball field in Boston.
Courtesy of Jacob Novak

Alabama students experience life-changing, ‘eye-opening’ summer on mission

Jacob Novak only has one semester left before he graduates from the University of Alabama in Huntsville. The whole time he’s been there, he’s been a commuter student.

But this semester is different — he moved on campus for the first time.

It’s because he spent his summer doing missions in Boston with the North American Mission Board’s GenSend program.

Serving there “really influenced how I think of sharing the gospel,” Novak said.

Because people in Boston are often closed off to the gospel message, NAMB church planters in the city focus on friendship evangelism, he noted.

“To be most effective with the time and resources that we have, we focused on building friendships with people, actually getting to know them and then speaking the gospel into their specific context,” Novak explained. “I think that just really changed my view of how to reach college students.”

And he decided he needed to spend his last semester in the dorm.

“It helped me see, if I really want to reach my campus effectively, I need to be present on campus day in and day out, having normal conversations with people so I can build friendships with them and then have a chance to share the gospel,” he said.

Novak was one of 64 students from Alabama who spread out to 25 locations this summer — five international and 20 in North America.

Serving across the globe

They served anywhere from one to 10 weeks, said Chris Mills, student missions mobilizer for the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions.

After last year — in which most missions opportunities that involved travel were canceled — it was “encouraging to see many students take a step of faith and serve across the globe this summer,” Mills said.

“A summer missions experience is one that changes lives,” he added. “It changes the lives of those that the student missionary serves. It changes the life of a student missionary.”

And God blessed their efforts — 34 professed faith in Christ as students shared this summer, and many students felt a call to vocational ministry or spending their life in missions service.

“I’m grateful to get to play a small role in His work in the lives of these students,” Mills said. 

“I’m praying that He continue His work using these students to not only impact those cities they served in but the campuses across our state that they are back on this fall.”

Laurel Carter is one of those who plans to bring a new gospel intentionality to her campus this semester. She spent her summer serving in Rochester, New York, doing ministry in the community and helping a new church plant build relationships.

God didn’t stop

One day she and her team prayed God would give them someone to talk to, and a little later they started a conversation with a man named Donald who was crossing the street at the same time they were.

He invited them to have coffee with him, which led to a nearly four-hour conversation about life and faith. 

“We ended up meeting up with him every week,” Carter said.

But God didn’t stop with Donald. He introduced them to some friends, and one day he insisted on giving Carter’s team a monetary gift.

After refusing at first, they accepted it reluctantly, and almost immediately met up with someone on the street who had come to a local church for food distribution and found it closed.

“We gave him the money Donald had given us and found out the man had been to church one time when he was younger and hadn’t been in 52 years,” Carter said. “We got to talk to him and pray over him right there, and he ended up coming to church with us on Sunday. Now he’s joined the church.”

When Carter’s team arrived at the beginning of the summer, there were 10 to 15 people attending the church plant each week; when they left there were 30 to 35. 

Living intentionally

Carter, who also is a student at UAH, said she feels a burden to pursue friendships back at home the same way she did in Rochester.

“It showed me how unintentional I was being back home in Alabama,” she explained. “I feel like a lot of people — they struggle with those awkward moments (of approaching someone to start a new friendship), but it only takes a few awkward seconds to change someone’s eternity.”

Joshua Madigan, a student at Auburn University in Montgomery, served in Alaska this summer with a team from all over the U.S., that flew from location to location helping churches with Vacation Bible School and community ministry.

“It was just a wonderful experience to spend the summer with like-minded Christians just wanting to serve,” he said. “It taught me a lot about what ministry looks like in Alaska and what ministry feels like in general.”

Maggie Beard, a student at Auburn University, said her one-week trip to Provo, Utah in July through One Mission Students also was “really eye opening.”

As she shared with someone she met there, the young woman told her she’d never before met someone with beliefs like Beard’s.

“Speaking with her made me realize even in places where we think, ‘Oh, they know the gospel,’ that’s not necessarily the case,” Beard said. “It gives you a sense of urgency.”

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