Perhaps this is only supposed to happen in movies. But with a little help from Google and one click of a mouse, Sarah Reese Hunt found her life’s direction and then her husband.
The North American Mission Board (NAMB) can’t guarantee the same result for every college student. But NAMB can guarantee that checking out Generation Send (GenSend) can be life-changing for college students and the cities they serve as summer missionaries.
Hunt, a native of Louisville, thought she had her life figured out. After high school mission trips to the Philippines and Guatemala, she became further engaged in missions during her senior year in high school in a Louisville community called Portland. The area is rough, Hunt said, but she was able to minister by tutoring inner-city kids and doing Bible studies with the girls through a Salvation Army boys and girls club.
“I had been overseas,” Hunt said, “but 25 minutes down the road from me people were broken.”
The tutoring pointed her toward education as a college major at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va. During a church-planting emphasis week there, her plans began to change beyond a “traditional” church ministry role.
NAMB Photo by Susan Whitley
2015 Send North America Week of Prayer missionary Sarah Reese Hunt holds a photograph of herself with fellow GenSend missionaries while they served in Portland, Ore. Hunt is completing her studies through Liberty University and plans to be part of a church planting team in Denver.
“If I am the cornerstone of the church and the church is the vessel that I want to accomplish My purpose with,” Hunt said paraphrasing the words of Jesus, it would make sense to be a part of the church’s mission.
Seeing the GenSend initiative on the Web, she applied and was accepted for assignment to another Portland – in Oregon. GenSend is the student portion of NAMB’s Farm System, assisting churches in the discovery, development and deployment of everyday missionaries.
After arriving in Oregon in the summer of 2013, Hunt and the Lord “woke me up to the need for healthy bodies of believers to exist within America. Coming from the South, it’s hard to fathom that within America there are places where healthy [church] bodies don’t exist. When you see the darkness and the idolatry and the lostness … the gospel is not planted like it needs to be planted.”
Hunt’s assignment sounded relatively simple: Go, live and learn how to do life in Portland. The formula NAMB gave the team she joined also was simple: Identify the city, invest in relationships, invite people into your biblical community and increase through sustainable discipleship.
The objective was not so much to start a church in one summer as it was for the students to learn how to be a biblical community and to discover the foundations of church planting.
In addition to Portland’s liberal socio-political bent, Hunt said she often encounters religious pluralism espousing multiple pathways to know God. Consequently, she doesn’t find hostility toward the gospel. Mostly, it’s apathy.
“Oh, you’re a Christian,” people will say. “Good for you.”
NAMB Photo by Susan Whitley
Sarah Reese Hunt, a 2015 Send North America Week of Prayer missionary, studies with friends on the campus of Liberty University in Virginia. Hunt has served as a GenSend missionary in Portland, Ore., with the North American Mission Board and as a campus mobilizer at Liberty.
That response represents what Hunt calls a facade of tolerance.
“I had never been exposed to that where I was looking into the face of a real person who believes that [pluralism],” Hunt said. “Going overseas did not prepare me for the culture shock I’d find within our own country.”
Spending the summer in Portland hooked Hunt on urban church planting, and she wanted other students to have the same experience. She became a NAMB GenSend mobilizer. Her assignment: Recruit 10 students from her university to go back to Portland, one of 32 cities in NAMB’s church planting initiative across North America.
Hunt returned to Portland for the summer of 2014 with a team. Three other GenSend teams went there as well. With 42 students on the ground, two teams focused on two areas of urban Portland: Saint Johns and the Pearl District. Neither is impoverished as some envision inner cities to be. Hunt worked in the Pearl District, an area she describes as “super wealthy” with many young urban professionals. The students’ work was foundational for church planters who would eventually be coming to those areas.
“The Lord has convicted me that being part of church is what we’re called to do,” Hunt said. But like most Millennials, she believes that church can’t be the way it’s been for so long.
One of those differences is how Millennials view the church. They see it as the body of Christ forming authentic biblical communities.
“The body of Christ is a very biblical term,” Hunt said. “My devotion needs to be to His [Jesus’] bride, the church. Church planting is how we bring the bride to places where she’s not.”
Denver is similar to Portland in many respects except, for Hunt, there is one major difference: Her husband Jonathan Hunt is co-planting with a lead church planter through Send North America: Denver.
Hunt met his future wife during NAMB’s Send North America Conference in 2013. He was a Southern Baptist Theological Seminary student in Louisville and attended Highview Baptist Church, as did her family. But they didn’t know each other then. The couple became engaged in the summer of 2014 and married later in the year.
Sarah Hunt, in addition to changing her marital status, changed her major at Liberty to women’s ministry and hopes to focus on developing girls and women as disciples. In a church planting context that can mean any number of ministry avenues for women.
“Everyone needs the gospel,” Hunt said. “The white, middle-class suburban churchgoing little girl needs the gospel just as much as the little girl on the streets of Pacux, Guatemala, who is starving.
“The gospel is the foremost need.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Jim Burton is a writer in Atlanta. To learn more about the Week of Prayer for North American Missions, the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering, with a 2015 goal of $60 million, and how your church can be mobilized to help reach North America, visit anniearmstrong.com. NAMB’S GenSend initiative is on the Web, along with a video, at SendNetwork.com/GenSend.)