Kirsten Ellis, a senior sports management major at High Point University, put her last summer of college on hold for whatever God wanted her to do, but that decision wasn’t easy. When she started attending Mercy Hill Church in Greensboro, her freshman year, Ellis already felt called to spend that summer with City Project.
BR photo by Seth Brown
Courtney Homa, a student at Mercy Hill Church in Greensboro, was part of a team serving in Bangkok, Thailand. City Project students spent the last two weeks of the summer getting a glimpse of God’s mission internationally.
Known for its intensive discipleship experience, City Project equips students to serve on mission locally, nationally and internationally.
“I kind of ignored it because it was my first time away from school, and I wanted to go home for the summer and work and be with my family,” Ellis said.
At home, she attended The Summit Church in Raleigh-Durham, where she met a student who was participating in The Summit’s City Project and listened to her experiences.
“It was extremely evident that the Lord was calling me to do that in the next summer,” she said.
Ellis spent her two remaining summers with Mercy Hill’s City Project. Mercy Hill is a church plant of The Summit and maintained The Summit’s original City Project structure.
City Project involves three parts, starting with one week of door-to-door evangelism in New York City. Over the following four weeks, students receive theological and missional training from Mercy Hill pastors and serve the Greensboro area through internships and working with ministry partners. They spend the last two weeks abroad, serving alongside international church planters and missionaries.
For Ellis, the week in New York was the hardest. In groups of about five, students engaged Muslim, Buddhist and Hindu households, offering prayer and leading gospel conversations. She said some were open to listening, while others were not.
“It sets the pace for the rest of your summer,” she said, “having your mindset focused on laying yourself down, laying your approval of man down from the start.”
It was worth it for Ellis, who saw four individuals come to Christ that week.
This being her second year with City Project, Ellis served in a leadership position. She helped lead a small group in Greensboro during the second portion of the summer and an international team in Bangkok, Thailand.
Paul Howington, Mercy Hill’s assimilation associate director, organized the Thailand team.
For two weeks, students worked at the Baptist Student Center in Bangkok, which offers English classes to Thai students and locals. “Bangkok is a very international city with lots of Western businesses. If you can speak English, it moves you up,” Howington said.
City Project students sat down and talked to Thai students every night to help them practice English.
“The intention was to ultimately share the gospel through these conversations,” he said. “If that happens, then we’re able to connect them with a Thai believer who works there.”
Howington said it typically takes at least seven conversations with Thais before they even consider putting their faith in Christ. Thai believers who volunteer at the center incorporate Bible stories into English lessons.
Howington doesn’t usually supervise City Project teams. A ministry resident with Mercy Hill was scheduled to go on the trip, but had to stay in Greensboro. Howington found out he was going to Thailand three weeks before the trip.
He valued the experience, especially as a pastor who doesn’t always get to work with college students.
“The biggest thing for me was watching college students get to share the gospel every night – I’d guess probably in two weeks, they shared the gospel over 200 times, making connections with Thais.
“We got probably 50 names for Thai believers to connect with. The idea is that we weren’t coming in to make a big impression by building something, but we made a bigger mark eternally by connecting people with Thai believers.”
Team assignments varied throughout the project.
On Thursdays, they partnered with Calvary Baptist Church in Bangkok by joining the refugee ministry team on visits to asylum seekers at Bangkok’s Immigration Detention Center. (See related story.)
Ellis recalled meeting a Christian man who fled religious persecution in his home country. During the hour they spent together, he talked about spending most days studying the Bible, worshiping and praying with other Christians in the group cell.
“He’s in such a terrible position, being detained for not having a visa but running from persecution,” Ellis said. “But he’s still so optimistic because he has the freedom of the gospel.”
Three-tier structure equips students for leadership
City Project aims to show students how their lives fit into God’s story, said Jon Sheets, Mercy Hill’s college ministry director. The three tiers “give them a glance at what’s happening globally in the mission of God. There’s a lot of overlap between what the team did in Bangkok and what they did in New York City. They’re still working with unreached people groups but in different contexts.
“In Greensboro, we’re training them for some stuff that’s coming up in the semester, so that they might be ready to reach their campus. … It’s how we view sending.”
City Project ultimately hopes to train students to make disciples that make disciples, said Sheets. Through intensive discipleship and training, leaders want to develop individuals who will move from being members to leaders themselves – like Ellis, who now leads a community group on campus.
“‘We don’t want a menu, we want to make a road map.’ That’s what we say,” Sheets said.
Among City Project veterans and graduates, several are now doing a two-year college residency with Mercy Hill. Some have committed to being journeymen with the International Mission Board. Some work with unreached people groups in Quebec through the North American Mission Board, while others have joined church planting teams in U.S. cities.
Ellis plans to return to Thailand, though she doesn’t yet know when or for how long. City Project, she said, expanded her heart for all parts of God’s mission, including where He has strategically placed her today.
“I’m on mission with college kids because that is where I’m at right now,” she said. “We never take a day off. We never rest because we aren’t international teaching unreached people groups about the Lord. Every day, every part of your life, if you’re a Christian, it’s what the Lord has called you to do.”