For three weeks, college students from across the nation come to Panama City Beach, Florida. Some come to blow off steam through drinking and partying, but some others come to share the Gospel through a mission trip called Beach Reach.
Describing Beach Reach to someone who’s never had the opportunity to go is a challenge. Organized by campus ministers through BCNet, hundreds of Christian college students from BCMs and church college ministries from many different states come to Panama City Beach. At its core, Beach Reach is an opportunity for college students to share the love of Jesus with spring breakers in a practical way. “It’s caring for people’s present safety and future salvation. Some people might think it’s really weird that we’re sharing the Gospel with drunk people. First and foremost, we want to provide people with safe rides, regardless if they want to talk or not. If they are willing to talk, we’d love to share the grace, the hope, the peace that we find in Christ” said Erin, a Launch freshman and first-timer on Beach Reach. This year, Launch Campus Ministry sent 31 students, staff, and volunteers to serve during the second week alongside 512 others from 19 other ministries.
This mission is a coordinated effort between the call center, shuttle rides, street teams, and intentional prayer. The call center connects spring breakers with a shuttle to go wherever they need to get to safely. When the shuttle picks the spring breakers up, a Beach Reach team that’s already in the shuttle intentionally begins to get to know spring breakers and asking them if they have any spiritual beliefs. This opens the door for the opportunity to share the Gospel with the spring breaker, allowing them to ask questions or make a decision to follow Jesus.
Street teams not only help get spring breakers connected with the shuttles by passing out cards with the call center number on it, but they also have Gospel conversations. Teams serve to meet a variety of practical needs on the streets, from emergency situations, someone drunk and out of control, or walking people back to their hotel so they are not alone. For a lot of the spring breakers, all they need is to hear that God still loves them or an opportunity to grieve past hurts. First time Beach Reacher and Launch student Caleb will always remember running into a spring breaker named William on the street, whose sister died of an overdose six months ago. Caleb told me more of William’s story: “He opened up and began grieving with our street team. He kept asking why she had to die. I was able to share about Job and how bad things do happen to good people, but God is there through it all. I really think he does believe, but he’s mad at God right now and thought that God wouldn’t take him back because of the things he’s done. We told him that Jesus didn’t come for the unbroken; he came for the broken. And we’re all broken. That will probably be the person I remember the most.” Since meeting William, Caleb has been able to keep encouraging him via text.
Beach Reach isn’t just a time to share the Gospel with the lost people visiting Panama City Beach; it’s a time for the Beach Reachers to grow in their walk with Christ as well. Before the teams go out each night, Beach Reachers get together to worship. In addition, there is a prayer feed where Beach Reachers can send in real-time prayer requests throughout the week, either personal or for spring breakers they meet. There is always a group in a designated prayer room, praying over the spring breakers, the students out sharing the Gospel, and each other. Launch student Erin talks about how the prayer room experience has impacted her: “It’s changed the way I view prayer – everything was bathed in prayer. Pray continuously. I’d been trying to do that before Beach Reach, but Beach Reach encouraged that…I’ve learned to pray more on my own and pray more with my fellow Christians. We always say, ‘Oh I’ll pray for you,’ but what’s stopping us from praying right now?” Oftentimes, these prayer room nights lead Beach Reachers to change some aspect of their prayer life or quiet time when they come home.
Over three weeks, 191 people committed to following Jesus, including at least two of our own Beach Reachers! 8,387 people got to hear the Good News that Jesus is Lord, 6,693 people were prayed with, and 18,920 safe rides were provided during that time. Launch students and staff were able to have 202 Gospel conversations, 145 times to pray with spring breakers, and 7 salvations between the street teams and shuttle teams. It is evident that God is moving in these spring breakers’ hearts and in the city of PCB. Our mission does not end there – every spring breaker who made a decision to follow Christ or wanted to get involved in a campus ministry or church back home will be followed up with by a student, campus minister, or pastor in their area. 12 students from Purdue gave us their contact information so that we could invite them to Launch and continue to encourage them in their faith. For our Launch students, coming back opens up another mission field to take the skills that God and the leaders have taught them and reach students on their own campuses.