Students prepare the soil for church planters By Ann-Margret Hovsepian
When six Appalachian State University (Boone, North Carolina) students signed up for the Parachute Project last summer in Los Angeles, none of them were sure what to expect. Looking back now, they see an indelible mark left by the experience—not only in their own lives but in the lives of people they encountered during the trip.
Campus Minister Jonathan Yarboro was excited when he heard about the new NAMB church-planting strategy and pulled together a team of six students he felt were ready to mobilize. “My role with Baptist Campus Ministries (BCM) at ASU involves helping students view themselves as missionaries on campus while they’re here,” he says. “There are more than 16,000 students in the school, but fewer than 1,000 are connected to a ministry or church.”
The Parachute Project—so called because the idea is to equip participants and then “drop” them into strategic locations—grew out of Current, the Canadian National Baptist Convention’s existing church-planting ministry for students. “We adapted their principles for our context,” says Steve Canter, a consultant for NAMB’s Missional Networks Team, who developed resources for the Parachute Project pilot.
Canter is passionate about empowering students to release their creativity, energy and thoughts. “Sometimes we think we have all the answers,” he says, “but if we can pull from a larger number of people—from students—they come up with a lot of ideas we wouldn’t have thought of. They can connect with people that strategists who have been in an area for years haven’t been able to connect with.” The idea is simple: build relationships, seep into the cracks and crevices of the culture and live missionally.
Josh Littlejohn, who graduated in May 2009 and now serves as associate campus minister, had originally planned to go to Thailand for the summer. However, when Yarboro told him about the Parachute Project, he felt God leading him to California instead. He and Bruce Bentley spent much of their time in a Santa Monica Starbucks, taking turns sitting at a table with a sign that said: “Tell me your God story, good or bad, for a free cup of coffee.” While one chatted with curious customers, the other sat elsewhere in the café and prayed.
They developed relationships with a number of people, including Jeff, a member of a local universalist community. For about a month, once a week, Jeff met with Littlejohn and Bentley, sharing about his life and hearing their testimonies. At the end of the trip, the young men introduced him to a local church planter who has continued to follow-up that connection.
In another part of town, Kelsey Morris and Storm Stuart spent part of their time helping the staff at a non-Christian outreach for domestic violence victims and telling them about Jesus Christ. A fond memory for Morris is the day she visited a local college and noticed a girl studying by herself. “God laid it on my heart to talk to her. At first she freaked out when I approached her and asked how she was doing, but we ended up talking for two hours. She came from a different religious background and I was able to influence her view of Christians.”
Luke Summey grew up in Jordan as a missionary kid and leads a campus men’s ministry called Epoch, but the Parachute Project was an entirely new experience in a culture that caught him off guard. “It took us over two weeks to feel comfortable,” he says. “Los Angeles is probably the most spiritually dark place I’ve ever been, so we prayed through that a lot.”
Summey and Thomas Chavez started by prayerwalking the Venice Beach strip and talking to some shopkeepers. They decided to take a Kung Fu class and develop a relationship with the teacher, a Chinese Buddhist named Tony. “It was a small class so we were also able to have breakfast with the students. We hoped to see some of them saved before we left but eight weeks proved to be too short. We did leave Bibles with some of them.”
Recognizing that Tony approached Kung Fu as a serious art, Summey and Chavez tried to gain his respect by taking it seriously, too. “We showed up several times a week to practice, and he gave us extra lesson time.” When the Project wrapped up, Summey gave Tony a Mandarin Bible, as well as an English one for his wife. “He started to cry and hugged us. He’d heard of the Bible but had never seen one.” He adds: “We stay in touch on a regular basis.”
Littlejohn, who provided leadership for the team, feels like a big part of his role was helping the others discover their gifts. “Storm was the only one who had never shared her testimony or done any evangelism. I helped her see that God’s given her a story that’s worth knowing. It’s neat to see how she’s evolved into someone who’s so confident in sharing her faith now.”
Today, all of the pilot project’s alumni are leaders at the BCM at Appalachian State. “Every week, they put into practice what they learned in L.A.,” says Yarboro. “We’re seeing a lot of fruit; some of team have decided to go into church planting.”
Morris came home with a new understanding of missional living. “It’s about making it a daily way of living, like you’re always on a mission trip,” she says. “You can make a big impact in people’s lives by loving them.” OM
Ann-Margret Hovsepian is a writer living in Montreal, Quebec.
Check out http://laparachuteproject.blogspot.com for the daily blog written by the six team members while they were in Los Angeles. To learn more about the Parachute Project, visit www.churchplantingvillage.net/parachute.
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