One thing that is a rude awakening for many freshly graduated college students entering the workday world is the lack of spring break–something they’ve come to expect every middle of March. At 30 years old, it’s been a little while now since this examiner has had a spring break. As time passes, this examiner recalls three specific spring breaks, 2003, 2004, and 2005–weeks that were memorable thanks to Baptist Student Union.
When I was a freshman at Holmes Community College in Goodman, MS, I got involved in the Baptist Student Union and over the next two years, BSU meant the world to me. It was where I forged friendships and was challenged in my walk with God. BSU is the campus ministry arm of the Southern Baptist Convention. Our leaders, Karen Ivy and Tamara O’Bryant, had hearts for the students on campus, believers and unbelievers alike. They weren’t “pastors”. As Baptists, they themselves didn’t approve of female pastors. Nevertheless, they did a remarkable job shepherding the students entrusted to them.
I was pushed to see the faith as something more than merely cerebral–it was something that should result in servanthood. It seemed we always some sort of activity or outreach going on at school. Sometimes we would go to the neighborhood apartments and play with the children and offer them a Bible story. Each spring break, we would take a mission trip, usually one that involved ministering to inner city children. Something that was particularly important to Karen was the need to recruit students to be involved in summer missions opportunities. One night each year would be set aside for students who’d done summer missions the year before to get up and give a testimony of what God had taught them through their experience.
During missions night, my friend Tara talked about her summer at Camp Barnabas, a Christian camp for mentally and/or physically disabled children and adults in southwest Missouri. Tara had said during her talk that God taught her what it means to be a servant and to put yourself aside through her time as a staff counselor at Barnabas.
I’d previously heard stories of Camp Barnabas and seen pictures and videos, but had never before had a desire to go. It sounded like fun, but not something I’d be cut out for. After BSU that night, Tara’s talk on camp ended up having a drastic effect on my life. Today, I make a living by working among adults with special needs, but I never would’ve been put on this path to begin with had it not first been for my experience at Camp Barnabas. And I never would have gone to work at camp if I hadn’t been persuaded to via BSU missions night.
Something else that BSU introduced me to was World Vision. The previous year, we’d attended a Sonic Flood concert in Jackson. Toward the end, the lead singer took several minutes to encourage audience members to consider sponsoring a child through World Vision. He even had the humility to say, “If you have to choose between buying one of our c.d.’s on the table outside or sponsoring a kid, I hope you won’t buy our album.”
He was for real, and not just in the Christian music business for the money, I could tell. I was hooked and signed up that night to sponsor a girl in Bangladesh. As the years passed, I began to see more and more just how important feeding starving children is. Over 30,000 children die everyday. As Christians, it’s impossible to not care about that. If we are Christians, we must feed the hungry.
My roommate and I decided to join the BSU Ministry team, which spent the spring semester traveling around to area churches on Sunday evenings, doing skits, singing songs and sharing testimonies. I was appointed to lead dorm devotions for BSU, which was a huge learning experience, getting to lead devos for a group of five or six guys a week. For our material, we would usually use some essay or something written by C.S. Lewis or one of my other favorite writers.
I just didn’t feel competent to “teach Scripture” to my peers, so I let other more accomplished writers do it. Sometimes my dad would come up to the dorm and celebrate communion with us. Sometimes we would sing or watch a video. Being put in a position to teach was a tremendous learning experience for me.
For spring break of 2003, I decided to join the BSU in its trip to work with Street Reach Ministries in Memphis at Brinkley Heights Baptist Church. The trip made a huge impression on all of us who were involved. We divided up into groups and held Bible clubs for the neighborhood kids in some of Memphis’s worst neighborhoods.
My group went to Leahy’s Trailer Park where some of the most run down camper trailers imaginable were inhabited some poverty stricken families, for the high cost of $300 a week. It shouldn’t have been legal to do to those poor people what the tyrannical landlord was doing. Most of our kids were Hispanic and the language barrier was occasionally an obstacle, but we, I hope, managed to convey to the kids that we loved them and that God loves them.
Every morning, we would play games with them, followed by a Bible story, and end with some sort of arts and crafts activity. We always had the evenings free. One night, we went down to Beale Street and ate at the Hard Rock Café.
The following year, after I’d transferred to Belhaven College in Jackson, I still joined Holmes for their BSU spring break mission trip. We returned to Memphis, and I got to see many of the kids I’d befriended the previous year.
While at Belhaven, I got hooked up with the campus BSU (it later became Intervarsity Christian Fellowship), which was my favorite activity that I ever got involved in while at Belhaven. It was led by Reid Vance on a volunteer basis. During the stressed out times, BSU at Belhaven got me through. Coming together mid-week to pray and sing and learn was a huge source of encouragement to me. Our 2005 Belhaven spring break trip was to Dallas, Texas.
Suffice it to say, I can’t say enough about the benefits of getting plugged into a campus ministry while in college. It will not only make your spring breaks more fulfilling, but your entire college experience. College is too formative of a time in life to walk through it without spiritual support. Campus ministers might not always see immediate “results” from the work they do, but their work is so important. I will always appreciate Karen, Tamara, and Reid for all they did for me.