Lee Dymond said that when his team of students arrived in Puerto Rico to do spring break missions, they found a man running on overdrive.
“We were going to do mostly disaster relief, but what happened was we kind of focused on one church and its pastor instead,” said Dymond, campus minister for Auburn University at Montgomery (AUM).
That church was Iglesia Misión Urbana in Mayaguez, a large city on the island’s west coast still struggling to get back on its feet six months after Hurricane Maria. The church had been adopted by Montgomery, Autauga and Elmore Baptist associations as part of a nationwide effort to get the island’s pastors back on their feet.
“The pastor there, he’s been in that community for 27 years, and he’s a rock star,” Dymond said. “Everybody knows him. He walks everywhere he goes.”
And in the aftermath of the hurricane, Pastor Carmelo Jimenez and the rest of his church had just been giving and giving and giving, Dymond said.
“It became really clear that we needed to encourage our brothers and sisters who had been in the thick of it,” he said.
For the first couple of days, the team of students from Baptist Campus Ministries (BCM) focused on ministry to the church itself, organizing its clothes closet — a big room stacked floor to ceiling with donated clothes.
“The area is very poor, and when they invite people in, they give those clothes away,” Dymond said. “We helped organize everything into plastic tubs bought with state disaster relief funds.”
They also did community outreach, walking around the community with the pastor and meeting the neighbors.
“Some of our groups would be talking to somebody in their home and they would start weeping because they felt like they had been forgotten,” Dymond said. “For the students it was humbling. They were kind of taken aback by everything they saw there.”
Across the United States
The AUM team was one of two that went to Puerto Rico for spring break — and one of 14 BCM teams that served in different locations across the United States. Students did disaster relief in Houston; served alongside church planters in New Orleans, Indianapolis and Phoenix; did beach outreach in Panama City and did community ministry in New York City.
“Spring break is a time when students have an opportunity to give back,” said Chris Mills, SBOM student missions mobilizer for the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions. “Reports are still coming in, but the teams have had large numbers of opportunities to engage with people. It changes those people’s lives, and it is a life-changing experience for the students too.”
The AUM group came back with a “real-life picture of the devastation” and some powerful experiences sharing with those affected, Mills said. And in New York, students had some “unique experiences” and walked away with new knowledge about human trafficking, he said.
Kim Andrews, campus minister for the University of Alabama, said that was definitely true for her students.
Her group served with Passport New York, a weeklong missions effort that gathers students from across the country to experience ministry in the city and give them a chance to consider coming back and planting their life there for a longer period of time.
During the week, students serve in different ways, such as with Let My People Go, an organization that fights human trafficking by caring for the vulnerable.
“The experience with Let My People Go made a lasting impression on our team,” Andrews said. “We left challenged and more equipped to love the vulnerable on our campus and in our city.”
Craig Hawkins, campus minister at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB), said his team’s experience in Phoenix also challenged students to be courageous in sharing their faith when they got home.
“On one day of our trip, we joined Christian Challenge, their version of BCM, to do evangelistic surveys on campus,” Hawkins said. “That was great for our students. It encouraged them to start doing that kind of outreach here at UAB.”
While in Phoenix, they also worked alongside a North American Mission Board church planting strategist, serving in the poorer parts of town and helping promote Easter services.
“For some of the students, this was their first time to encounter church planting in unreached areas,” Hawkins said.
“It challenged them to think about how they could possibly support that or be a part of that with their lives in the future. One of our students had some conversations about the possibility of him finding a job in that area and joining those churches in their ministry after he graduates.”
David Sumner, campus minister for the University of North Alabama in Florence, said he prayed his group’s trip to New Orleans would similarly open doors for future ministry.
“What I’m hoping is that I can get my students to see the vision to possibly plant their lives in New Orleans,” Sumner said. “It’s in desperate need of church planters.”
His group worked alongside students from the University of South Alabama in Mobile, canvassing neighborhoods and helping with community ministry.
“Our students have already seen what all takes place here in New Orleans,” Sumner said. “There’s a definite need and a definite darkness. I’m praying this will change their lives and prompt them to see ways they can spend their lives for the sake of the gospel.”