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Students can be major players in global missions strategies

5/18/1999By Mike Creswell BATTLE, England (BP) -- They were just foreign students with backpacks, not a threat of any kind, the soldiers in a Last Frontier country thought. But these particular American college students were Southern Baptists on mission -- sharing their faith in Christ with university students. They risked harassment and even arrest to hold long witnessing dialogues and pass out Christian materials before heading back to the United States. They went home with greater faith, and they had done something long-term missionaries could not risk. Increasingly such scenes are taking place around the world as more and more Southern Baptist students head overseas on short-term missions trips -- and missionaries and administrators are delighted with the results. That was the gist of a four-day meeting in southern England during early May as student workers from five states met with more than three dozen International Mission Board workers from Europe, Asia, the Middle East and northern Africa. The idea was to mobilize the campus ministers so they will in turn mobilize their students for overseas missions, said Mike Lopez, who coordinates the International Mission Board's enlistment and mobilization of college and seminary students for overseas missions. "College students are not just responding to the overwhelming needs in the world, but they're also responding to what God is doing on the field," Lopez said. "They see how God is working in areas of the world and they want to be a part of that." Ten years ago the board sent just 100 or so students overseas; in 1999 that number will be well over 1,000, he said. As of May, more than 300 requests for students overseas remained unfilled. About 1,000 students have gone to China alone in recent years. The board has adopted a "whatever it takes" approach to enlisting college students for overseas assignments, said Lopez, a former missionary to Taiwan who now works out of the board's headquarters in Richmond, Va. Southern Baptists must adopt a similar attitude about missions financing to make more student missions ventures possible, Lopez said. "It takes a lot of creativity and 'coloring outside the lines,' but we want to do whatever it takes to involve students in overseas missions so they will come back in the future as missionaries," he added. Missionaries agree experience in missions makes young people more sensitive to God's leadership in missions careers. But missionaries also value the role students can play in missions strategies, both in accessible countries like those in Europe and more restricted ones in Last Frontier areas. Campus ministry workers from the United States agreed that increasing numbers of Southern Baptist students are both willing and able to participate in international missions projects. They also noted that student directors themselves are catching the vision of international service after they have participated in overseas projects. "I went to China in 1995," said Loy Reed, director of collegiate ministries for the Florida Baptist Convention. "It made such an impact on my life that I came back and we started pointing more students toward international missions," he said. The International Mission Board helps finance discovery trips for campus ministry workers and other key workers to produce just that kind of opening. The board has sent Southern Baptist campus workers to 18 countries since 1996. Taking students overseas makes a major impact on their lives, Reed said. "When we get them out of the country, one of every two students comes back and makes a commitment either to church vocations or to missions full- time," he said. "Since we're in the business of life change and leadership development, that's what we're most concerned about. We're using a greater percentage of our budget towards international missions." Workers also discussed the problems that can develop even on short-term missions trips, such as when students want to spend their money on expensive fast food instead of more basic items. But the consensus was that such minor problems are worth the vast pay back that occurs from involving students in missions. College and seminary students wanting more information on overseas opportunities can visit the International Mission Board's website at www.imb.org/students or call toll-free 800-789- 4693.

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