BeachReach leads to changed lives
Russ Rankin, Baptist Press
May 20, 2011

BeachReach leads to changed lives

BeachReach leads to changed lives
Russ Rankin, Baptist Press
May 20, 2011


BEACH, Fla. – The young man

showed up an hour early at the Panama City Beach bowling alley and shyly said

he had come for the free pancake breakfast.

Tired-looking and a bit disheveled, he sat slouched against the building,

squinting in the rising Florida

sun and eying the laughing, bustling volunteers flipping pancakes and preparing

for the day’s visitors.

Like most kids on spring break in Panama City

Beach, the young man had stories

that began to spill out when he was engaged by students – students on mission

with BeachReach.

His friends were in constant party mode. He had been in fights. He came from a

broken home. He was tired of it all. He had remembered receiving a card on the

beach advertising a free pancake breakfast at the bowling alley and had walked

four miles that morning to get there.

When thousands of college students and young adults converge on America’s

beaches every spring break, local residents and anyone else not associated with

the party scene will stay away from the beaches until the raucous festivities

run their course.

But for nearly 15 years BeachReach, a ministry of LifeWay Christian Resources

of the Southern Baptist Convention, has been a place for collegiate ministry

groups to engage in a unique mission experience of combining service with

hands-on evangelism.

During each of the two weeks of spring break in 2011, about 450 college

students from all over the nation converged on Panama City Beach for the

purpose of ministering to their peers.

Photo by Russ Rankin

Volunteer Rachel Moore from First Baptist Church in Bryan, Texas, promotes the BeachReach free pancake breakfast in Panama City Beach, Fla., with the help of Billy Luke, a student at Spring Arbor University in Spring Arbor, Mich.

“BeachReach is such a frontline ministry,” said Sarah Edwards, part of LifeWay’s

training and events staff and coordinator of BeachReach. “It’s one of LifeWay’s

best events because we’re mobilizing college students by the thousands,

immersing them in a ministry laboratory among their peers who aren’t living for

Christ and giving them an opportunity to impact their peers with the love and

compassion of Jesus.”

The process is straightforward. Each morning, students serve free pancakes

cooked up on a Georgia Baptist disaster relief mobile kitchen and engage their

peers in friendly, pointed conversation that often leads to topics such as

grace, hope, forgiveness, self-worth and redemption.

As night falls, Panama City Beach puts on its other skin and the main beach

road converts into one noisy, pulsating party as college students meet at dance

clubs and bars after a day of soaking in the sun.

For the BeachReachers, the nighttime is when their action begins as well. After

a time of corporate worship and inspiring teaching, groups divide into a

variety of strategic assignments.

Some groups walk the strip to prayerwalk and look for opportunities to engage

people in conversation. Another group works a high-tech command center, taking

calls from spring breakers looking for rides. The bulk of the BeachReachers

divide into their 15-passenger vans to provide spring breakers a free and safe

ride during the evening.

When the van doors open, the BeachReachers have to be ready for anything.

“You get two types of people getting on the vans at night – those who are all

excited about getting to a party and then there are those girls who are scared

and see the van as a safe haven,” said Rachael Moore, who went to BeachReach

for the first time four years ago as a student at Texas A&M University.

This year she returned as a collegiate leader of a group of 63 students from First

Baptist Church in Bryan, Texas.

“It can be scary,” Moore said. “They’ve

come to the beach with these dreams of fun partying with no parental

distraction, but then they realize that it’s not what they came expecting. It

breaks your heart to see that, but that’s why we need to be here.”

Cruising slowly down the main drag one night, Moore’s

Texas A&M teammates prayed fervently that they would have the opportunity

to share Christ’s love in a clear, relevant way with their passengers.

“This type of ministry and outreach involves an intense amount of spiritual

warfare,” said Garrett Milner, a ministry associate in the First

Baptist Bryan college department. “The first night we go out,

you can see our students are a bit apprehensive. But all it takes is that first

conversation. By the end of the week they can’t wait to get in the vans at

night for the ride ministry.”

Milner’s wife of eight months, Leigh, sat beside him serving as navigator and

receiving command center calls relaying pickup instructions. Throughout the

night, Leigh multitasked with her cell phone, sending prayer requests via text

messages that were being shown in real-time in the prayer room.

Photo by Russ Rankin

Leigh Milner engages a van rider after answering a call to pick up a group of students during spring break in Panama City Beach, Fla. Milner and her husband Garrett led a BeachReach team from First Baptist Church in Bryan, Texas.

In the back of the van, BeachReacher Josh Tual, a junior at Texas A&M, said

the confines of the van are disarming.

“No matter what they’re like when they climb in the van – happy, mad or drunk –you

can see that so many of these students out here are feeling insecure, lost and

lonely,” Tual said. “Most are open to sharing with us and appreciate that we

are actually interested in spending a few minutes climbing into their story.

“It’s very real to me that we only have a few minutes, so the intentionality of

presenting Jesus in a real way is so important,” he said.

Edwards said that while BeachReach “is such a successful and rewarding event

for LifeWay because of the planning and participation, the significant thing is

so beyond what we can do. It really is a movement of God.”

Mark Mangrem, pastor of Connect Church

in Arlington, Texas,

and speaker for both weeks of BeachReach, has been going to BeachReach for 12

years, even though his first year was supposed to be his last.

“I had just become student pastor at a church. The college group was scheduled

to go to BeachReach, but I had my own ideas for what we should do,” Mangrem

recounted. “But since it was too late to cancel, we went ahead and came but

with the understanding that I would be changing the missions focus the next year.

“God did a major work in me at BeachReach,” he said. “He got me out of my

comfort zone and gave me a heart for lost people that I did not have before. As

a result of our participation, our student ministry just exploded, and I’ve

been back ever since.”

The best byproduct of BeachReach, Mangrem said, is that students return to

their campuses with a sense of urgency to share the Gospel on their campuses.

He even planted a church in 2003 based on the approach taught at BeachReach.

“It’s all about the intentionality of reaching lost people,” he said. “The

people who had been to BeachReach before who helped plant the church just got

it. It clicked, and that is our approach at church. BeachReach is about an

intentional investment with the Gospel.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Russ Rankin is manager of editorial services for LifeWay

Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention.)

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