Students embark on a Spring Break mission to South Padre Island

by George Schroeder on March 3, 2023 in Stories of Impact

As winter begins to fade, Joe Osteen can hardly wait for his annual Spring Break getaway, when he’ll join thousands of college students on South Padre Island. But where some see a nonstop party, Osteen sees a plentiful harvest.

“It’s a place where there’s concentrated opportunity for the gospel,” said Osteen, director of Baptist Student Ministries at UT-Tyler.

For more than 40 years, when thousands of students have flocked each spring to Texas’ Gulf Coast, hundreds of Texas Baptists have been there, too, participating in Beach Reach. Along with Clayton Bullion, Texas Baptists’ Evangelism Discipleship Mobilization Catalyst in the Center for Collegiate Ministry, Osteen coordinates the outreach ministry, with one aim: To show the love of Christ by meeting physical needs and sharing the gospel.

“It’s a strategic moment in the college rhythm,” Osteen said. “There are a lot of people that are far from God.”

And the Beach Reach strategy is to get near to them, providing free transportation – and pancakes, too – to provide the spring-breakers an opportunity for reconciliation with God.

A snapshot from last year shows the impact. In 2022, 854 volunteers on Beach Reach teams provided 15,534 safe rides. Those resulted in 8,269 gospel conversations and 7,073 people prayed with. The teams served 6,430 pancake plates.

Most important: 207 people made professions of faith in Christ; 104 prayed to return to following Jesus; 54 people were baptized in the Gulf of Mexico.

While Beach Reach is a concentrated opportunity for the gospel, it’s also an opportunity for those who won’t be there to engage in some concentrated prayer, both in the time leading up to Beach Reach, and especially during the two-week ministry effort March 4-17. Osteen asked Texas Baptists to pray in advance for the teams,asking God to prepare the hearts of the spring-breakers they’ll encounter. Once Beach Reach begins, Texas Baptists can follow along and pray in real-time.

“That’s a great way to pray,” Osteen said. “Scroll the website and see what’s happening.”

The teams of Beach Reach volunteers who will descend on South Padre are Christian college students, largely drawn from campus ministries. The students have undergone five weeks of training in evangelism. By day, they’ll engage their fellow students in gospel conversations on the beaches and streets of South Padre Island. By night, they’ll participate in a worship service.

As the nights grow late, they’ll split into teams. Some will hop into the vans – dubbed “Jesus vans” by the spring-breakers – and begin offering rides to students. Many are based outside Louie’s, a popular bar where students gather. Others will gather in the sanctuary at Island Baptist Church to intercede for students as prayer requests come in from the volunteers in the vans.

Once inside the vans, passengers are greeted by a volunteer in each row, who attempts to start a spiritual conversation. If the passenger is willing, a gospel presentation is made. If not, the volunteer asks if he or she can pray for the passenger.

Also, there’s the pancake breakfast every morning in the Island Baptist parking lot and midnight pancakes every evening near Louie’s, served by teams of Texas Baptist Men (TBM). Teams also serve meals to the island’s first responders. And each day, they serve by cleaning Rockstar Beach.

It’s all part of a plan to tap into that strategic moment with the gospel. Every year, beyond the sheer numbers, there are salvation stories like that of the girl who came to Christ a couple of years ago during a Beach Reach conversation. She later transferred to UT-Tyler, where she got involved with the BSM, and has since participated in mission trips, sharing the gospel with others.

There is less quantifiable but potentially significant impact, too, in salvations back on the Christian students’ home campuses. For the students who serve, Beach Reach can become “a catalyst for gospel-sharing back on their own campuses,” Bullion said after the 2019 Beach Reach. “… It seems like each year we have students come to know Christ on our campus as a result of students going on Beach Reach and becoming bold in sharing the gospel.”

Texas Baptists is a movement of God’s people to share Christ and show love by strengthening churches and ministers, engaging culture and connecting the nations to Jesus.

The ministry of the convention is made possible by giving through the Texas Baptists Cooperative Program, Mary Hill Davis Offering® for Texas Missions, Texas Baptists Worldwide and Texas Baptist Missions Foundation. Thank you for your faithful and generous support.

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Read more articles in: Stories of Impact, News, Baptist Student Ministry, Evangelism