Senior Drew Ballesteros had a lofty goal for the University of Mobile – to share the gospel in all 50 states during one academic year. It would be dubbed the “Great American Road Trip.”
“We believed that if we stepped up our game, our university could somehow make history,” said Ballesteros, who graduated from the university in Mobile, Ala., this May with a bachelor of science in theology.
Joe Savage, executive dean of the university’s School of Christian Ministries, said, “We prayed and said it is doable. When school began, we launched. Our students took on this initiative to make God known across this nation.”
The road trip began on the first day of the University of Mobile’s academic year on Aug. 19, 2014. And it was completed April 19, 2015 in Maryland, several weeks before the academic year ended.
The responses from those they met varied, Ballesteros noted.
“In New England, people were extremely nice to us, but were not extremely responsive to the gospel,” he said.
In contrast, people in the Midwest appeared to be more willing to listen to the message from the students.
“Overall, numerous people had the willingness to sit down and talk with us as long as we were respectful and showed sincerity,” Ballesteros said.
While many of the students were already involved in ministry teams in the local area through a variety of university-sponsored service projects and ministries, Ballesteros said, “We wanted to give them the opportunity to not only share the gospel on a local level, but on a national one.”
The School of Christian Ministries led the project. Other university departments involved in the road trip were students, faculty and staff from Campus Ministries, Campus Life and the Center for Performing Arts. Each department planned mission trips, service projects and Christian concerts across the nation.
Traveling road trip groups consisted of 11 students and three faculty members from the School of Christian Ministries, four music ensembles from the Center for Performing Arts, and Campus Life teams. Each group of students and faculty was assigned a region of the United States to cover.
Individual students reported their own trips across the nation to the School of Christian Ministries, noting the states where they had intentionally shared the gospel with someone.
“To the best of our knowledge, and according to our research, we are the first university or seminary that has taken the gospel to all 50 states in one academic school year,” Savage said.
Students and faculty spread God’s message across the nation at various venues in each state, from local churches to Indian reservations, social and civic organizations, coffee shops, college campuses and wherever they stopped along the way.
The New England Region team traveled to seven states in six days. They focused on meeting and working with church planters across the Northeast. The Northwest Region team drove 21 hours over the course of three days and spent time in the Dakotas serving Native Americans, Ballesteros said.
“Although those teams already had contacts in their specific region, our other four trips had the sole objective of sharing the gospel with whomever the Lord put on their hearts,” Ballesteros said. Each team trip covered from three to seven states.
Students traveled during academic breaks and extended weekends. Music ensembles toured across the Southeast, while Campus Life groups took ministry trips to New York, Chicago, Seattle, Cleveland, Atlantic City and Salt Lake City.
As the end of the academic year neared, Savage said they knew there were seven states that still needed to be covered.
Savage and Ballesteros packed their bags, split the seven states, and in six days the University of Mobile had spread the word of God in every state in the United States of America.
“I believe our students learned to rely on the Lord to provide everything,” Ballesteros said. “Each team went out to different cities not knowing where they were going to lay their head at night, yet all of them were safe and had a nice bed to sleep in. We wanted them to know and live out the understanding that if God has called you to do something, He will provide for every single need.”
Ballesteros said the students weren’t the only ones who learned something from the 50-state road trip.
“I hope the people outside of the school can learn that there are strangers in this world who actually care about them,” Ballesteros said. “The mission of this project was to not only share the gospel, but also bring light to a country that seems to becoming oh so dark at such a rapid rate.”
John Baker, a junior, said the road trip was an adventure with life-changing impact. Baker and junior Thomas Padgett took the gospel to Texas, Colorado, Wyoming, Oklahoma, New Mexico and Kansas.
Baker recalled a particular moment on the trip that happened in the small town of Guymon, Okla. While stopping at a boot store, the two students were about to share the gospel with the store owners when things took an unexpected and “amazing” turn.
“They ended up sharing (their faith) with us,” Baker said of the hour-long conversation. “And they poured back into us.” He said the owners then “walked up, grabbed our hands and began praying over us. It was one of the most beautiful times that I will cherish for the rest of my life.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Released by the University of Mobile. The University of Mobile is a Baptist university located in Mobile, Ala. Approximately 1,600 students are enrolled at the school.)