SOUTH PADRE ISLAND—During Spring Break, more than 50,000 college students from across the nation travel to South Padre Island to party, drink incredible amounts of alcohol, have sex and indulge in worldly passions.
But this spring break, 375 Christian students came from universities and colleges from Texas, Arizona, Arkansas, Minnesota, and Missouri to bring the light of the gospel into that darkness.
The students hoped to share their faith with spring break vacationers through servant evangelism. They served free pancakes each morning at Island Baptist Church and every night in front of a bar, gave fee van rides around the island every night, spent time with students on the beach every afternoon, handed out free sunscreen and prayed in the all-night prayer room during a weeklong Beach Reach event.
“If you watch TV or the media, you would think this generation is utterly lost,” said Buddy Young, coordinator for Beach Reach and director of Baptist Student Ministries at West Texas A&M University. “And I would agree, except for a remnant of students who want to see their generation reached for Christ.”
The Beach Reach ministry consisted of five teams that ran 40 vans in five different shifts each night. Texas Baptist Men volunteers prepared the pancake meals.
The efforts were rewarded as Beach Reach volunteers gave 8,414 van rides, provided 6,500 people with pancakes and saw 68 people accept Christ as Savior. Overall, Beach Reachers were able to serve 21,063 people.
“The goal of this week wasn’t to convert people, but to further the kingdom of God and to let God’s glory shine through people,” said Stella Almblade, a senior at the University of Arizona.
Almblade went on to say that she had many opportunities to share the reason for this ministry through the free van rides.
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“Many people were grateful just to have a free ride,” Almblade said. “When they said that, I would tell them why we were here. It was such an easy way to bridge the conversation to other spiritual beliefs and who they thought Jesus was and what they thought about the Bible.”
To prepare to share their faith boldly, students met five weeks prior to Beach Reach to train in personal evangelism and pray for God’s blessings.
“I just wanted to see him do something ridiculous, to see him do something bigger, and he did,” said Richard Benavides, a senior at Texas A&M University in Kingsville.
In one instance, Benavides shared the gospel and led a prayer for salvation in Spanish.
“I don’t really know enough Spanish to do that,” Benavides said. “I believe God’s Spirit came down like in Acts chapter two. It was tripped out.”
Late in the week, Benavides met a girl from New York on the beach and had a conversation with her about Christ.
“She was worried we were going to become the Bible-thumpers, but we got to show her love instead of judgment,” Benavides said. “A lot of what we are doing is breaking down walls built by generations of legalism and judgment.”
Seeing “how much God himself loves each one of those very drunk partiers, how much God wants to do in them” broke Benavides heart, he testified.
“It opened my eyes to how each one of them is important, just as important as those of us wearing Beach Reach shirts.”
On the last day of Beach Reach, all 375 of the Beach Reach workers gathered on the island’s main beach. They rushed into the waves of the Gulf of Mexico to attract attention to the baptism service for those who had accepted Christ that week. Twenty-three students were baptized.
One of the prayers of the leaders involved in Beach Reach is that the students who participate will catch a vision to reach their peers and verbally share the gospel when they return to their campuses.
“We have a generation of students who are not sharing their faith verbally,” Young said. “They share their faith through music or t-shirts, but not verbally. It’s always been our goal at Beach Reach to train, mobilize and empower students to verbally share their faith.”
Because Beach Reach is based on students reaching students from their own campuses, it is necessary for other universities and students to become involved with this ministry, Young continued.
Many Spring Breakers at South Padre are from universities in Oklahoma or are African-American or Hispanic. The best way to reach these groups would be to have more African American or Hispanic believers and college ministries from Oklahoma coming to share the gospel, he said.
Since the beginning of Beach Reach in 1980, more than 5,000 Christian students have been trained in personal evangelism, and at least 3,000 people have accepted Christ.
Buddy Young (left), Baptist Student Ministries director at West Texas A&M University, baptizes a new Christian in the Gulf of Mexico during Beach Reach. (Photos by John Hall/BGCT)
A Beach Reach volunteer from the Baptist Student Ministries at Texas Tech works the phones during the evangelistic outreach on South Padre Island.
A Beach Reach volunteer prays for God’s blessing on the servant evangelism efforts of fellow students.