At the end of my week at Beach Reach, I saw a t-shirt for sale in a local shop at South Padre Island asking a simple question: "Who's your Padre?" First, the shirt struck me as a funny play on words. And then, I thought about it from a spiritual perspective and realized the heart of Beach Reach was seeking to ask students on spring break the deeper question: Who is your Father? Do you have a personally relationship with God, the Father and His Son, Jesus?
South Padre Island is known as a party place for spring breakers looking for a "good time." As I drove the hour from Harlingen to Padre, I was amazed at the number of billboards advertising local bars like Louie's and Clayton's, ads on the radio for the concerts and parties and local shops offering beer bongs and discounted liquor. It was apparent from all directions that Padre was the place to be for college students on spring break.
The two things I knew prior to going to Beach Reach at South Padre were there would be van rides and pancakes. While it's true that around 21,000 pancakes were served over the course of two weeks and more than 27,000 people rode on vans, the impact of both weeks was far greater than those numbers.
Beach Reach would not be possible without every person on the trip using their gifts to serve the body of Christ. Lives were changed because 1,060 BSM students (representing 39 different groups), their leaders and other volunteers came together in so many ways throughout the week. Each piece was important. Each working hand mattered.
Ephesians 4:15-16 Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.
Drivers in 15-passenger vans with names like Raisin Van Crunch and VANilla Wafah, logged countless hours along the three major streets on the island. While many were not specifically engaged in conversations with riders, they provided safe, reliable transportation so students on the vans could share the Gospel.
Kyle Crim, campus missionary intern at Angelo State University, knew as a van driver he would not be able to share his faith much. As the week went by, he said, "I was able to hear the Gospel from every mouth of our students on the van. Driving allowed me to take a step back and realize it's not about me. This is the most joyful I've been at Beach Reach to see everyone share their faith."
The navigator of each van also played an important part in the week, staying in touch with the hotline number and receiving assignments on where to pick up the next group of waiting passengers. It was important for each navigator to keep track of riders, spiritual conversations, as well as directing the driver to each location, whether that be a bar, hotel or local residence.
While the driver and navigator were leading the way, BSM students in the back seats looked for ways to engage each rider in a spiritual conversation. With the majority of spring breakers being college students, finding a commonality was typically pretty easy.
Bridgette Kelley, a student from Angelo State University, was nervous about van rides going into the week.
When I asked her how she spent the majority of her time, she replied, "On van rides!" with a huge smile spread across her face. "It's ironic, and a total God-thing. The part I was really scared of is all I've done. It's been such a comfort to tell people about the grace and compassion God gave me," she said.
Back at Island Baptist Church, where Beach Reach was headquartered, students and leaders manned the hotline during the day and into the wee hours of the night, responding to thousands of calls for rides.
On one of the last nights, Erika Sanchez, a student from West Texas A&M University, was covering the hotline around 2:45 in the morning. Ready to finish her shift at 3 a.m., Erika reluctantly answered her last incoming call. The man on the other side of the phone was irate, questioning why his ride had not arrived, although he had placed a call some time before. As Erika began responding to him, her heart was broken for the caller. Although his tone was full of anger and his words were hurtful, all she could do was respond with patience and love.
"In every prayer this week, I've been asking God to break my heart for the salvation of others," she told me. "God transformed my heart that night. I was broken for him."
The sanctuary served as a converted prayer room for the duration of Beach Reach and was a powerful place during the day and night. Verses, prayers and pictures were strung across the room on rope. A live Twitter feed was displayed at the front, rolling in prayer requests in real time.
As students and leaders gathered in huddles, or sat in a quiet place, prayers were lifted up for salvation, for the Gospel to go forth and for safety and strength.
Pancakes also provided a huge ministry opportunity for students to engage with spring breakers in spiritual conversations. In the morning, from 8 a.m. to 12 p.m., of Weeks Two and Three, volunteers from the Tarrant Baptist Association disaster recovery unit for Texas Baptist Men, served pancakes at Island Baptist Church. Each night of Week Three, disaster response volunteers from First Baptist Church Plains and Monterey Baptist Church in Lubbock, served pancakes from 10 p.m. to 3 a.m. outside of Louie's, a local island bar.
I was talking with John Hooser, the blue cap for the Tarrant Baptist group, and he said his volunteers find the time so rewarding he actually had to turn people away from serving because his team was full this year.
Serving the younger generation was uplifting for his team, many of which were retired adults. "I see these young people from BSMs all over the state and it tells me that the Church is in great shape," he said. "By us serving, not only are we sharing the Gospel, but we are also keeping these kids safe. Spring breakers are getting food, but they are also being cared for physically and spiritually."
Without each one of these pieces, the 11,765 spiritual conversations that took place on the beach, in line for pancakes or on van rides in the middle of the night may not have happened. Take a moment to process that number again, 11,765 people were engaged in a conversation about Jesus. Some had heard of Him before, but for others it was the very first time. By each Beach Reacher doing the job assigned to him or her, every other person was enabled to do their job well and thousands heard of the name of Jesus.
Through the course of three weeks of intense evangelism on South Padre Island, 110 new believers prayed for salvation and 32 recommitted their lives to Christ. Praise the Lord for the lives forever changed!
And at the end of the second and third weeks, Beach Reachers gathered on the shores of the Gulf of Mexico for a great celebration - the baptism of 53 believers (12 in Week Two and 41 in Week Three). Amidst a crowd of sunbathers and beer pong players, hundreds of BSM students congregated to witness the testimony of lives transformed through this amazing ministry. Witnessing new brothers and sisters in Christ follow in Jesus' example of baptism and giving their lives to Him was worth every effort given through the week.
"I pray this is not the end of your endeavor in missions," Buddy Young, Beach Reach coordinator and BSM Director for WTAMU, said during worship on Tuesday night. "I pray that your heart will be so stirred by the lost that you will go where they are, that this week will dramatically change who you are and how you relate to people."