As Jenny’s van prepared to make its last pick-up of the night, Jenny and the other Tarleton University Baptist Student Ministry (BSM) students prayed that they would have meaningful, gospel-centered conversations with whoever entered their van.
It was about 2 a.m., and the students had been giving van rides, taking shifts in the prayer room and answering van hotline calls all night. They were tired but excited by the chance to present the gospel to one final group of spring breakers before calling it a night.
“We were tired and ready to go to bed, and we said, ‘God just give us one,’” Jenny said.
A few minutes later, a group of girls piled into the van, asking for a ride to a popular local bar. Jenny struck up a conversation with the girl who sat next to her, Angelina, and learned that she was from a Catholic background. When Angelina went to college, she felt like she was not good enough to earn God’s love. Jenny shared the gospel with Angelina and told her about God’s grace. She prayed that Angelina would feel the spirit of the Lord around her. After the prayer, Jenny asked Angelina if she would like to accept Jesus into her life, and she said yes. Angelina was one of 207 people who made professions of faith during Beach Reach 2022 on South Padre Island.
Beach Reach is an outreach program that takes place over spring break. BSM students around Texas go to South Padre Island to serve their fellow college students and the island community. The primary purpose of the mission experience is to share the love of Christ with fellow college students through acts of service and intentional gospel conversations.
In 2022, 854 Beach Reach students and volunteers served over two weeks. Jenny’s van was one of 80 vans that drove spring breakers around the island while engaging in spiritual conversations.
After years of doing this ministry, the vans are well known by spring breakers and islanders alike, who have dubbed them the “Jesus vans,” a nickname the students inside are happy to embrace.
At Island Baptist Church, a command center was set up, with vans coming in and out of the parking lot regularly as calls from around the island came in. A hotline room hosted a group of Beach Reachers, who sat with headsets and computers, answering calls from spring breakers and dispatching vans accordingly.
Tristan, who came with Schreiner University BSM, explained that the hotline was a vital part of the ministry, ensuring that students find the vans so that they can be engaged in meaningful, spiritual conversations.
“This is an easier way to get spring breakers to the vans so that we can talk to them and share the gospel,” he explained.
As he talked, a cheer went up from around the room. They just got word that a spring breaker had come to know the Lord in one of the vans the hotline had dispatched.
Meanwhile, another group of Beach Reachers were taking their shift in the prayer room, which was set up in the church’s sanctuary. The walls and floors were lined with maps of the island, Bible verses and prayer prompts, and a projector in the front of the room shared live updates on prayer requests coming in from the vans.
More than just pancakes and vans
Across the island, Texas Baptist Men (TBM) set up a tent in front of one of the local bars, where they serve pancakes from 11 p.m. to 3 a.m. each night. Phil, a TBM volunteer from Alvin, TX, has been coming down to Beach Reach for five years.
“I love to come out and see the energy of these kids and their compassion in Christ as they witness to their peers,” Phil said.
This year, TBM volunteers made and served 6,430 pancakes to spring breakers and community members.
The pancakes are another tool Beach Reachers use to connect with people on the island. As people stand around the tent eating, students engage them in conversations. It is a way to meet and interact with people they would normally be unable to talk to.
“It’s hard to explain what an impact Beach Reach makes when you just talk about pancakes and vans, but those are the things that lead to life-changing conversations,” Reid Burkett, director of the BSM at The University of Texas in San Antonio, explained.
On the last day of each week of Beach Reach, BSM students went out to the beach to celebrate all that the Lord has done. Everyone who accepted Christ throughout the week was invited to join them, and the Beach Reachers gathered around them to pray. Then, the group ran out into the Gulf of Mexico, where they celebrated as the new believers were baptized beneath the waves.
With each profession of faith and baptism, a shout went up from the crowd, with students and leaders alike celebrating. Curious onlookers watched from the shore, asking questions and leading to even more gospel conversations. Though Beach Reach is over, for the students whose lives have been forever changed, this is just the beginning. Over the coming weeks, Beach Reach leaders will make sure the new believers find churches to connect with so that the commitment they made on South Padre Island will be fostered and continue to grow.
For more information on Beach Reach visit, beachreachspi.org.