A group of seven California Baptist University students and their leader leave their hotel in Birmingham, England, headed on their 20-minute trek to the doors of Bloomsbury Hope Centre. They pass apartments and townhouses where the nations have literally come to life. They stroll beside a park where children run and play. In just a few hours, after they eat lunch and prepare for the day with the volunteers from the church plant, the doors will open, and around 75 of these neighborhood kids will flood the old church building.
While the building looks traditional — an old church in a Birmingham neighborhood — the ministry there is anything but typical. The kids’ families come from all over the world. Most of them don’t worship the One True God. In fact, in this international culture in Birmingham, England, multiple ethnicities and religions are represented. Before the kids memorize verses and passages at their Holiday Club (equivalent to a Vacation Bible School in the U.S.), the volunteers are intentional to get parents’ permission to teach the principles and truths from Scripture to the kids.
“Look, you have the nations at your table,” IMB missionary Keri Sheckler said to one of the CBU students during small group time. It was true. At that table alone, there were Eritrean, Kenyan, Somalian and Chinese kids.
Through this mission trip, these CBU students reached the nations. The trip, from May 25 – June 8, was part of CBU’s International Service Project program. They offer two options, a two-to-three-week trip, called an Encounter trip, or an eight-week option, called an Immersion trip. Students prepare for the better part of a semester for the trip, attending seminars to learn how to effectively share the gospel cross-culturally and other important things they’ll need to know to bless the missionaries they’re going to be partnering with. These seven Encounter students joined four other CBU Immersion students who are spending their summer in Birmingham as interns for the Shecklers.
Each day, the students were invaluable to the ministry of Keri and her husband, Kevin, who served with the IMB. Bloomsbury Hope Centre is their church plant in Birmingham, England. They hold their Sunday service at 4 p.m., giving the immigrant families time to “lie in” (their version of a chill Sunday morning), and do their housework and shopping. After their late afternoon service, the church gathers for a meal, taking the time to fellowship and truly get to know each other.
During the youth night the church held, Cristian, one of the CBU students, had the opportunity to share his testimony. As the CBU student sat on a panel in front of a group of teens, he saw boys who had grown up like he had — with wounds caused by an earthly father.”
In this immigrant community, fathers aren’t always in the homes. Occasionally, fathers have multiple wives or work in another country.
Cristian knows that hurt personally. He’s had his own struggle with feelings of pain from his own father’s abandonment. His emotions led him down a path of sin, he shared with the teens. The ways of the world couldn’t satisfy him though. After Cristian heard the gospel, his life was transformed. He was able to let go of hurt and resentment. He told the kids they could experience this healing, too. He was living proof.
As he shared his story, vulnerably and honestly, many of the boys trusted him. Cristian spent the next week building relationships with and investing in them.
Every week, the IMB workers do street evangelism on a college campus. This activity is perfect for visiting college students to help with. They call it “whiteboard ministry” because the students take a dry erase whiteboard to the sidewalks of a local college, and they invite passersby to write down a question, any question, they would ask God, if they had the chance.
Through this approach, opportunities to share the gospel abound. Students learn that sharing the gospel doesn’t have to be complicated.
“It was really encouraging for the students to realize that this was something they could do,” Marnie Kavern, a CBU staff member and the trip leader, said. “Almost unanimously they walked away more confident in their faith, very surprised that it was easier than they thought it would be.”
As the trip leader, Kavern put the spiritual discipline of Scripture memory to use during the whiteboard ministry. Kavern shared that in one encounter, she was able to quote a portion of Scripture, helping answer a whiteboard question.
“I need to read this,” the Muslim college student responded to the Scripture. Kavern showed him how to download a Bible app and pointed him to a good place to start.
Students from CBU have been partnering with the Shecklers for these trips for eight of the 10 years the family has been on the field. In fact, before the Shecklers were IMB missionaries, the couple worked at CBU. Keri’s role was to coordinate mission trips for students, just like these. Now, they’re on the receiving end of the students.
The students are invaluable to the church plant, because things like the Holiday Club or other big events are only possible through the ministry the students bring to the small church plant. They also help bridge an age gap between the missionaries and the next gen they seek to reach in their ministry.
While the students aid in the missionary task overseas, they’re gaining life-changing experiences. That is the whole point of this missions focus at CBU. As the students bring value to the ministry, they get to see their extensive training pay off for the kingdom.
One of the young women on the trip shared with her leaders, “The experience was so amazing for me as I saw God’s faithfulness through it.”
She continued, “I thought training was important, but actually applying it was the most rewarding.”
Kris Smith, the CBU staff member responsible for facilitating mission trips for the students, added, “What we know is we’re not going to change the world in three weeks, but we also know that our students’ lives can be changed in just a few short weeks.”